Friday, February 17, 2017

This is what my pokemon profile looks like:

Note that when I go to edit profile, my avatar image disappears.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Level Screw Series - Part 1: When CLA Turns into Level Screw

This is the follow up to my Card Level Advantage (CLA) series. In these articles I wrote about one of the most important aspects of randomness in Solforge. I described how it can be measured and also how its effect on the game is very dependent on the cards themselves. In the last two articles I wrote about how players can build their decks to account for CLA and how they can play to both take advantage of it when you're ahead and minimize the disadvantages it can bring.

I really enjoy the game of Solforge and dealing with CLA is a big part of the game and is part of the randomness that makes the game dynamic and challenging. However, its not without its problems.I believe there are two main problems with this: 1) It is confusing for beginners and 2) It is frustrating for veterans. For this article I will talk about problem 1 and in future articles I will go into all the details that revolve around problem 2.

Was it luck or was it me?

In my experience, when someone discovers Solforge, they will usually get hooked on the simple but addictive gameplay and the exciting level-up mechanic which gives a very clear sense of progression within each game. Eventually, they'll play a game where they lose because for a couple of turns they drew level 1 cards while the opponent drew level 3 cards. The main problem here for people starting out is that it is difficult to distinguish when a game state has been influenced by extreme bad luck (which certainly happens) or if it was just a little bit of bad luck aided by bad choices on behalf of the player.

Many new players I've seen immediately blame luck fully and do not stop to consider the possibility that if they had done some things differently, they could have won somehow. Even if winning was impossible due to extreme bad luck, a good player should always look back at a game and look for opportunities for improvement. Having said that, getting beaten up by what seems like really bad luck can take a toll on human nature and discourages learning.

Positive ACLA can win the game

In part 1 of the CLA series I defined what is Acumulated Card Level Advantage. If you haven't read it yet, please do so. In general, the player with the highest ACLA in the game will have an advantage and it is to be expected that, all things equal (specifically player skill and deck strengths), that player will win. Community member Dehboy wrote a statistical analysis of Solforge, showing evidence of this behavior.

I should clarify that Dehboy's analysis is measuring level 3 cards played and that doesn't measure ACLA exactly since it doesn't take into account cumulative CLA over multiple turns nor does it account for cases when the highest level card wasn't played or how leveling cards make it more likely for one player to draw higher level cards but gives them a board disadvantage in the early turns. Regardless of this, the conclusion should be the same, the player who draws more powerful cards is more likely to win.

This can be a turn off for players wanting a more skill based game but its exactly how all other card games based on randomness work. The important thing to realize is that in most games, ACLA will hover around 0, going back and forth between the players, keeping the game relatively fair and allowing each player's skill and deck strength to determine the outcome. This is why win rate is fairly consistent for each player.

How luck affects different skill levels

I don't have access to Solforge numbers but if the player base follows the same patterns that most other games do and we graph win rate vs number of players we should see a bell curve with its hump centered at the 50% win rate line, meaning a large percentage of the players are close to a 50% win rate.

Having a graph that looks like that means that the closer a player is to the 50% line, the more luck affects their games. This is because they are more likely to face opponents of similar skill since most players will actually have a win rate close to 50% and the closer the skill level is to an opponent's, the more effect luck has on the outcome of the game since both will have a similar quality of play and be making a similar number of mistakes.

Most people will start with low skill and improve as they understand the basic rules of the game, but while they are learning the subtleties of the game, they will undoubtedly end up in the 50% bell curve hump, along with a good percentage of other players and during this time, most games will actually feel like they depended completely on luck.

New Player Experience

Combining all this should give a picture of what the new player experience can be like. After understanding the basic rules, they might try to play more competitively but will end up losing to what always seems to be bad draws. While it may be true that they are losing during a moment of negative ACLA they won't realize that they could have made many decisions during deck building and during their earlier plays that could have allowed them to minimize the effects of that negative ACLA so that they could then take advantage when the ACLA turned the other way, which is what usually happens. This can leave a new player with a very bad taste in the mouth and if the only source of feedback are other players making them feel like they are dumb or ignorant then its unlikely they will come back to the game.

This is an unfortunate side effect of how the randomness works for Solforge. Its so in-your-face that it hides the way that gameplay decisions affect the game and trying to explain this to someone often end up sounding patronizing.

Leveling Up The Tutorials

I think that making sure that new players understand the subtleties of ACLA that I have tried to explain in these articles is important and its a great opportunity for improvement in the Solforge client. There is currently a tutorial that explains how the game works but it only focuses on the basic rules and the interface, which is enough to get a person playing but in no way good enough to understand what you can do against the randomness in the game.

Stoneblade has repeteadly stated that one of their highest priorities is working on a single player campaign mode and that it will also work as their new tutorial. I have high hopes that this will help to educate new players on the random elements of the game. I'm hoping it has some form of teaching the tips I mentioned in the CLA series articles about underdrops, blocking, and all the other suggestions that matter in the game. Perhaps as the adventure in the campaign goes along you will be given specific cards and suggested to play them in certain manners, helping you see how they affect the game in the long run.

Linking to Knowledge

Even with a well executed tutorial there will always be a lot of information missing because its not possible to fit it all or make it work in a tutorial. For that I'm hoping that Stoneblade adds ways to access the wealth of information that exists on the web directly from the client, or at the very least from their home web page.

The Solforge official site has many useful articles that can help a new player get much better by they aren't accessible unless one is searching for them by name or tag, making it useless for someone who doesn't know what they are looking for. In addition there are multiple community created strategy sites like Ghox's Socks and DeadOnBoard that host many useful articles, including, for example, Konan's guide for beginners.

Solforge also has a very prevalent group of streamers that show exactly what one needs to think of when playing. It would be great if Stoneblade linked to these streamers and had some way for them to tell players in the client that they are currently streaming.

Closing Notes

Solforge is a fantastic game, but its design makes the randomness seem harsher and more uncontrollable than it really is. Any player can drastically improve their win rate by understanding the subtleties of the game. Unfortunately, at this time its not easy to figure out those subtleties and I believe many players can get turned off by this. In my opinion it is very important that Stoneblade create an engaging campaign that teaches the knowledge required to get past the randomness in the game and also improve their client and web site so that the information that already exists is made more accessible to people interested in the game.

While its entirely possible to increase your win rate by building good decks and playing them properly, its undeniable that there will be games where negative ACLA goes beyond a certain limit and makes it impossible to win. This causes a great deal of frustration and is a whole different problem with the way the leveling game mechanic is implemented and not amount of knowledge or skill can get rid of it.

With the release of Set 3, Stoneblade has designed many new cards to try to reduce this frustration but its still an interesting problem to  analyse. In the next article I write, I'll go into a deeper analysis around the whole concept of level screw, the real and uncontrollable level screw, how it affects players and I'll look at some of the suggestions that have been made to try to tacle it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

CLA Series - Part 4: Playing to deal with Card Level Advantage

Welcome to the 4th and final part of the CLA series. I've already explained what CLA is in part 1 and given some examples of how its effect vary greatly depending on the cards played in part 2. Lastly, in part 3 I described the types of cards that you can put in your decks to ensure that you minimize a negative CLA.

Dealing with CLA variations is one of the most important elements of Solforge and is key to playing it successfully. Doing it effectively means both getting the most out of a positive CLA and mitigating the effects of a negative CLA. This is easier said than done but it can be accomplished by building and playing a deck correctly. In this part I will go into how specific actions can affect the degree of the advantage you get from CLA and the probabilities of CLA being a deciding factor.

Making the Most of Positive CLA

They say the best defence is a good offence and that applies very much to Solforge. In most games you can expect to gain card level advantage at some point and making the most of it is vital to winning. A lot of games end at a point where one player gains CLA and outright wins because the cards involved in that advantage are just too powerful for the opponent to recover from. This can make it seem like the win was solely a consequence of the CLA, but generally its due to the player with the advantage being able to use effectively.

Using CLA effectively involves leveling up cards that become very powerful in their later levels. In the case of draft, these are usually bombs like Scrapforge Titan or Nightgaunt that have bodies that are difficult to deal with. In the case of a constructed it involves creatures that at the higher levels are extremely resilient and have strong abilities like Zimus, the Undying or  Scorchmane Dragon. It also means having creatures that are just all round strong at every level like Ionic Warcharger in draft and Oros, Thundersaur or Brightsteel Gargoyle in Constructed.

These are the key cards that should be leveled early so that the deck will have threats that aren't dealt with easily and that will truly create an advantage when drawn against a hand of underleveled cards. Not only will having these cards give you opportunities to finish the game and win, but also to gain enough board position and keep your health up during the mid game so that when you are on the negative end of CLA, you have the time and board presence to recover.

Know When to be Aggressive

Being aggressive involves focusing on getting damage through to the opposing player, usually ignoring damage done to yourself and putting less priority on leveling cards for the future. In general, all decks want to be as aggressive as possible while keeping their long term plan intact but often it pays to go all in and its important to know when.

There are decks that want to be fully aggressive from the very start. These decks include cards with powerful level 1 stats both in offense and defense and use them to gain board advantage and deal damage early on. It is then possible to force the game to end quickly and therefore minimize the possibility of running into CLA for either player.

Slower decks become aggressive later on in the game but always be on the lookout for the right moment. It is a common mistake to not realize that your opponent is close to losing and play a large creature to block a smaller creature instead of putting it in an empty lane. This is often a mistake because it gives your opponent a chance to finish off your creature by placing another creature in that lane. If the new creature is placed into a new lane then the opponent will need to either draw an equally large creature or use two more creatures to deal with it, which is problematic when you can only play 2 cards each turn. By limiting their options any  CLA advantage you get has more potential to win you the game.

Be very Careful when playing spells.

Almost all spells in the game depend on at least one specific board condition: having targets. With the right target, a spell can be very powerful and can give immediate board advantage. Unfortunately, playing a spell usually means neglecting to level up another creature and this can mean that in the later turns you draw a spell as your leveled card and may find that you don't have the proper targets for it. This can deny the possible CLA that having an effective leveled up card would give. This also applies to creatures with powerful spell-like abilities but weak bodies like Bizerark Spitemage.

Level the right cards

Knowing what card to play is often a very difficult choice to get right when playing Solforge, but its one of the things that makes a great player. During player level 1 you are given 4 turns to choose a total of 8 cards to level up and they will essentially draw your game plan for the rest of the game as they will usually (but by no means always) be your best options to play during player level 2.

Sometimes the choice is clear cut because you can play a card that both levels up into a powerful threat and at the same time gives you a great board position at that moment. Other times you have to chose to take a hit on the board position in exchange for considerably improving your deck in future turns. Keeping a strong board position will give you more time to recover in case of a negative CLA, but leveling up strong threats will allow you to take better advantage of positive CLA so in each game you have to consider how aggressive your opponent's deck is, what cards you have already leveled up, what cards you have seen and won't be able to level up until the next player level, what cards you opponent has leveled up or could level up, etc. The answers to these questions change from deck to deck and even from game to game so I can't answer them here, but know that these are key questions to answer to be able to deal effectively with card level advantage.

This is a good place to point out a common rookie mistake: Blocking with a level 3 card that is going to die when a level 2 card would be just as effective and also levels an additional card. Another related misconception is to be at player level 3 or beyond and end up playing mostly level 3 cards but to have them dealt with efficiently by a mix of level 2 and 3 cards from the opposing player, then enter the next level and find that you are drawing very poorly. In that case, its not bad luck, its the law of probabilities working normally because your opponent, having leveled more cards, will now be consistently drawing and playing level 3 cards while you likely won't.

Damage or Board Position?

When all you have is an underleveled hand and you are facing a leveled creature you have to consider two main options: placing your own creatures in other lanes while you wait to draw a hand with a creature that can deal with it and in the meantime take damage or blocking the creature with your weaker creatures to whittle it down and avoid taking damage but losing board position. If you have a lot of health and know that you are likely to draw a card than can block the threatening creature effectively, it can be convenient to leave the card unblocked and hope to draw better next turn. That also means that you get to block it on its attack, giving you a minor advantage when blocking (in case of pumps). However, if you are low on life or if you think the creature could get out of hand if you don't start blocking right now (or if you know you don't have very high power creatures) it could be better to block it immediately even though you will lose board position.

Take into account previously played and unplayed cards

A subtle but important consideration when playing in any given turn is to consider the cards that you have seen both in your hand and on the board. By keeping track of what cards have been in your hand, you know what the odds are of seeing any given future hands within the same player level and can take that into account when leveling. For example if on turn 3 you have card A and B which are both equally convenient to play and level, but you have seen card A twice before in your hand but never played it, then you should play card A because you certainly won't have another chance to level it this player level.

Similarly, by looking at what your opponent has played, you know what threats they have and you know if you need to be leveling up any cards that can deal with those threats or cards that they would have a hard time dealing with, given what they have leveled up. Playing with this information in mind goes a long way to both increase the advantage you can get from a positive CLA and to easily recover in the case of negative CLA.

Going Forward

So that's about it for now. As you can see there are many tools that one can use in the game of Solforge to get ahead, both in the form of cards you can put in your deck and in the way you play them. The best players use all these tools to their advantage and that's why they win consistently regardless of bad luck and negative CLA. Any player that learns and masters these tools can also increase their win percentage.

However, while the whole levelling system is fun, innovative and very well designed, its not without its problems. From my point of view there are two main problems: 1) It can cause new players to believe that the results are far too dependent on luck 2) It can cause frustration when the value of ACLA goes to high. Join me as I analyze those two problems in the next series of articles I will write.

In the meantime, please take a look at some additional content I wrote, analyzing some of the cards from set 3 that effectively give us new tools to battle ACLA.

CLA Series - Bonus Content: The Secret Tools of Solis.

Since many of the mechanics in Set 3: The Secret of Solis have been revealed, its worthwhile to take a look at them and see how they will help use to deal with ACLA.


The first keyword revealed for set 3 was "Consistent". Cards with Consistent have a higher priority to be drawn each turn so unless you have over 20 consistent cards, each player level you are guaranteed to see a card with consistent. At the time of writing this 5 consistent cards have been revealed (plus the Forge Guardian Omega which doesn't really count for deck building) and all of them have very weak level 1s and some even level 2, but they all have extremely powerful level 3s. This means that they are not meant to be played as mid ranged cards that give you nice smooth draws but instead they are late game finishers, meant to be played in a deck that has the tools to stay alive during the first few levels while setting up a powerful threat for later. Expect to combine it with Alloyin leveling cards or with aggressive creatures that can make up for the low power of consistent cards in the early game.

Its interesting that the way consistent works is similar to one of the first suggestions that were made by some people in the official forums as a way to reduce ACLA. Implementing that idea as a core gameplay mechanic could have introduced a number of potential problem. By having it be a part of a card, Stoneblade can experiment with the idea without affecting the whole game and can easily modify it if necessary, as well as control just how many cards have the ability. Kudos on them for adding this keyword to the game.


There has only been one card with the banish ability revealed: Toorgmai Guardian. Its a card in the style of Ebonskull Knight, with very strong stats at all levels but with a weakness. This card's weakness is that you must be able to banish a card in your discard pile to get the full creature, otherwise you get a weak version of it. 

Before we go on, lets look at the banish keyword and how it affects the game. It should be no surprise that banishing a card has a considerably lesser effect on your CLA probabilities than leveling a card. Lets visualize that with an example. In a normal game that has no leveler or card draw effects, after playing your 8 cards in level 1, you will have a about 45% probability of drawing 6 or more level 2 cards during the course of the 4 turns in PL2. If you played 3 Technosmiths and were able to level 11 cards, the probability jumps up to 92%. If you played 3 Torgmai Guardians and were able to banish a level 1 card each turn, the probability only goes up to 67%. 

That should give you an idea of how banishing a card from your deck improves your odds of avoiding negative CLA. Its certainly not as good as leveling extra cards, but in this card you get an extremely powerful creature at all levels as opposed to the weak bodies the Technosmith carries. I wouldn't be surprised if other cards have banishing tacked on to very solid bodies, and that will make them quite effective.

In the case of this card in particular, the banished card needs to be a plant. In addition, not banishing a card reduces the power and health of the creature. Both of these things together create a huge liability for the card because it limits its effectiveness considerable. For starters, you usually don't want to play it on the first turn of any level, which makes it weaker 75% of the time. You can always play it as your second card and banish the first card you played but that considerably weakens your deck so you would only want to do that during later levels or if you are being extremely aggressive. But the fact that it has to be a plan is the major drawback. This could have been an excellent card in draft but unless there is a large number of plants printed at common in set 3, it will be very difficult to draft a deck that can consistently play this creature at full strength. However, if you can get enough plants into a deck, and that is certainly possible in constructed, this will be a great card to have.

Cinderbound Barbarian

This card features a mechanic that I hope to see in many more cards. At level 1 it is a 3/3 that reads "When Cinderbound Barbarian enters the field, if you are rank 2 or higher, it deals 6 damage to target creature an opponent controls". The fact that its ability only triggers on a rank higher than its level makes it blatantly obvious that this card is meant to be used as an underdrop. This is confirmed by the power of the ability it carries. Compare to Magma Hound which is a 4/3 that deals 2 damage to a creature. That's about 50% more damage. Having a level 1 card be able to deal 9 damage is very strong and can counter many level 2 creatures. The fact that you can distribute it over 2 lanes is even better. Its also levels up very well, including having a very competitive level 3.

I believe there is a cycle of these cards and hopefully we see more cards like this beyond that cycle. They will most certainly be draft staples if they are all at similar power. I'm not sure about constructed though, since underdrops in constructed are often based on synergy, but we'll see.

 Oratek Battlebrand (efficient leveling)

Oratek Battlebrand is a rare spell that deals damage and lets you level an extra card if you are allied to Alloyin. The impressive thing about it is that at level 1 it deals 6 damage. That's enough to destroy most of the level 1 creatures in the game, making it a very powerful spell. Its limitation is that it doesn't level too strongly but that shouldn't be a problem because effectively when you play it, you are also leveling another card, completely making up for its low power curve, at level 1. During the next level, you will now have the card you leveled and a removal spell which is likely better than any underleveled card.

Monday, August 11, 2014

CLA Series - Part 3: Building a Deck for Card Level Advantage

Hello and welcome to part 3 of my series of Card Level Advantage. In part 1 I presented with some ways to measure part of the luck factor that affects the game of Solforge, the main one being Accumulated Card Level Advantage (ACLA). In part 2 I explained how the cards themselves and how they are played can magnify or nullify the effects of ACLA and I showed a few extreme examples to clarify it. In this part I will discuss a few of the tools that Solforge has to deal with ACLA, in particular, the types of cards you can include in a deck to minimize negative ACLA. 

High Power Level 1 Cards

In draft, the most common way to mitigate a negative ACLA is with the use of creatures that have high power at level 1 so that when you play them as underdrops, they still affect the board significantly. Having high power at level 1 allows a creature to still have a significant impact on the board against higher level creatures and that's why they can work well without leveling them up.I classify these underdrops in 3 categories: Large creatures that level badly, High power, low defense creatures and Large creatures with a drawback.

Large Creatures that Level Badly

The large creatures that level badly are the most common of the three and are, for example, Deepbranch Prowler, Storm Caller or Scavenger Scorpion. These creatures have both high power and high defense at level 1 and have a decent body at level 2 but are usually underwhelming at level 3. They are generally better suited for aggressive strategies and unfortunately are the worst tools for mitigating level screw because, by playing them, you are missing out on improving your deck by leveling up a creature with a more impactful higher level.

High Power, Low Defense Creatures

The second group, creatures with high power but low health, are better suited for underdrops because their leveled versions will usually scale quite well. Examples of these are Grave Geist and Swampmoss Lurker. The fact that they have low health isn't such an issue when playing as an underdrop because a high level creature will likely destroy any underleveled  creature put in front of it. The important thing is that they have enough power to destroy the opposing higher level creature or at least leave it damaged enough so that just one more blow will finish it off.

Large Creatures With a Drawback

The last group only has a handful of instances and includes creatures with a large amount of both power and health but that have some kind of draw back. For example Ebonskull Knight dies at the end of a player level and Xithian Rotfiend will get weaker when a creature is placed in front of it. These are excellent creature to have in a deck because they can work well both as underdrops or as aggressive creatures if the situation arises.

Creatures that Enhance or are Enhanced by Other Cards

There are creatures that have an effect on existing creatures or that trigger an effect when a new creature comes into play. These are one of the most powerful types of effects in the game and are the best and most consistent at mitigating level screw. Examples of cards like these are Weirwood Patriarch, Battle Techtician, Tarsus Deathweaver and the Shaper cycle. These are usually cards you want to prioritize leveling up because they can greatly mitigate lower level draws with their abilities. For example, If your opponent plays two level 2s: 10/10 and a 9/9 and you play a Darkshaper Savant and a Grave Geist, you can use the Darkshaper's trigger to make the 10/10 a 7/7. Now both of your cards can trade with your opponent's cards so the board is basically at parity even though you played a level 1 and 2 while your opponent played two level 2s.

Cards that Affect Multiple Lanes

The cards referred to in the previous point are usually rare or heroic and are difficult to get in draft. Fortunately there are common options that have a similar effect: cards that affect multiple lanes. These are cards like Matrix Warden, Magma Hounds or Grove Huntress, which place a small creature in one lane and have an effect that can apply to another lane. The reason for why these cards are so effective is because it is very common to require just a little bit more damage to finish off a creature or to avoid getting a creature destroyed and these cards give that extra support. This means that they can increase the gain from a positive CLA by finishing off a creature and letting your threats stand unopposed, but at the same they can also reduce the effect of a negative CLA by allowing you to deal with two leveled cards with just three underleveled cards as opposed to having to use up four, which is usually the case.

Buffing or Debuffing Effects

Some cards have certain abilities like armour, regeneration or mobility, that make them almost immune to small creatures. In those cases having a powerful buff or a debuf spell in your deck is important so that you can combine them with a creature to take down the threat more effectively than continuously blocking it with multiple creatures. This is specially important in draft where there are hard to deal with bombs like Nightgaunt or Scrapforge Titan. Good examples of buffing effects are Enrage, Spirit Leash and Primordial Slam, while good debuffing effects include Vyric's Embrace and Electro Net.

Ungated effects

An ungated effect refers to effects and abilities that can apply to any creature, regardless of their level. There are also soft leveled effects, which refer to cards that can affect a card that is one level higher than their level. These effects are very important because they can allow you to play underleveled cards but have an effect over a higher level creature on the board. There are a number of spells and creatures that have ungated effects, for example Glacial Crush, Shallow Grave, Borean Mystic, Oxidon Spitter, Jet pack, Uranti Icemage, etc. Some of these cards require specific conditions in order to work, like Glacial Crush, and are better suited for constructed where a deck can consistently create those conditions. Others, like Jet Pack, will work fine in any deck and are great in draft.

Synergistic Effects

There are a lot of cards that have powerful effects when used together. These types of cards can be used on level to immediately generate board advantage and to take advantage of positive CLA but they can also be used very effectively to mitigate a negative CLA. For example, Xrath's Will combined with Vyric's Embrace will be able to remove larger creatures and still allow playing a Zombie of any level. This allows a Zombie deck to focus the first few turns on leveling their end game cards like Zimus, the Undying, and still be able to make effective plays in the later turns by combining a Xarth's Will with a Vyric's Embrace.

Cards that Level More Cards

One of Alloyin's biggest strengths is access to cards that let you level more than one card when you play them. Examples of these are Technosmith, Metasight, Metatransfer and Synapsis Oracle, among others. The other factions also have cards that allow this, though those cards actually let you play the cards, not just level them so they can also count as part of the group of creatures that are enhanced by lower level cards. Examples of these are Master of Elements, the Frostwild Tracker and Soul Harvest. Obviously leveling up more cards increases the probabilities of seeing leveled up cards at later levels however, it should be noted that if you only level up one or two cards the probabilities don't increase that much so the probability of a bad draw won't go down noticeably unless you have a deck made up of many leveling up cards. The best way to take advantage of such cards is for strategies that want to go into the later levels and so it needs to have other cards that can stall aggressive decks.

Cards that Draw Cards

Another Alloyin characteristic is to have cards that draw more cards. Card draw effects usually draw multiple cards and so they can actually give you a better chance of getting a good draw in the short term. Examples of these are Ghox, the Metamind Paragon, Metamind Adept, Metamind Overseer and Energy Surge. Constructed decks that take advantage of card draw always feel very consistent, but they are also slower and often lack proper removal so they can be susceptible to fast aggression and utility creatures.

These are the main types of cards you can include in your deck to make it more robust against negative ACLA. Understanding how these cards works and interact with ACLA also helps to improve your deck building skills, specially in draft. You can read some more suggestions for building draft decks in Konan's Introduction to Draft Deck Building and in Chad Ellis' The Care and Feeding of Underdrops.

But this is only one part of the equation. Make sure to read part 4 where I will talk about cards you can use to take advantage of positive ACLA and the types of play decisions you can make to improve your odds when dealing with any kind of ACLA.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

CLA Series - Part 2: Effects of Card Level Advantage

This is Part 2 of the Card Level Advantage (CLA) Series. If you haven't already done so, please read part 1 where I explain just what CLA is. In this post I will focus on how CLA can have very different effects depending on the cards played.

Quantity vs Quality

In very general terms, the effects of CLA will usually be improved board position and/or damage to the opposing player. However, the quality of those effects will depend on the degree of CLA, the number of turns the CLA is maintained and more importantly, the cards themselves and how they are played.

There isn't much that can be done when CLA goes beyond a certain value and due to the random nature of the game this will sometimes happen. However, most of the time, CLA will go back and forth in such a way that a well built and well played deck should be able to handle.

There have been a number of informal studies done by members of the Solforge community, looking at the probabilities in a game of going past a certain value of CLA. One of those is the analysis by Bobby2 previously mentioned in part 1. The other two are by FrostedBacon and QuantumNinja. These studies focus on CLA independently of the cards in the deck and how they are played. While this simplification is necessary to achieve any concrete probability values, it is important to realize that in practice, the effects of CLA vary tremendously due to the cards themselves. Lets look at a simple example to make this clear

If Player A can play two level 3 cards while Player B can only play two level 1 cards, but Player A's cards are Deepbranch Prowlers (a 9/9 at level 3) and Player B's cards are Shardplate Mutants (9/9 at level 1) , there won't be any differential on the board. However, if the cards Player A plays are two Chrogias (40/40 with Breakthrough and Regenerate 5 at level 3) while Player B also plays Chrogias (1/1 at level 1) then with a single turn Player B will be very unlikely to be able to do anything about the board state and will lose.

In addition to leveling differences in the attack and health stats, there are many cards in Solforge that enhance other cards, which can reduce the power difference on the board regardless of the card level advantage. For example, a level 2 Weirwood Patriarch (7/10) gives all creature with 5 or less power a +3/+3 bonus when it comes into play. So playing a level 1 Weirwood Patriarch (4/7) and then playing a level 2 version, will effectively be equivalent to having played two level 2 Patriarchs because the level 1 version will have its power and toughness increased to 7/10 from the bonus.

The first example shows that the same CLA with different cards can have wildly different effects on the game. The second example shows that even while having a negative CLA, there are cards that can mimic not having a negative CLA at all. These are just two examples of how the card quality and the play decisions have a very big effect on how CLA affects the game. In the following two posts I will point even more things that players can do to modify how CLA affects the game. The fact that there are so many tools and gameplay elements that allow this is why there is no exact value of CLA that indicates when a given player has too much advantage.

Stay tuned for part 3: Building a Deck to Handle CLA.

Monday, July 28, 2014

CLA Series - Part 1: What is Card Level Advantage?

Hello, my name is Gabriel Moreno though I'm known to the community as Gabo. I'm a video game developer living in Canada and a family man. I used to play paper Magic The Gathering until my life became too busy so I moved into its online counterpart, but then my life grew even more busy and I had to stop. Then I found Solforge which has bite sized games and an awesome and innovative system and so I became addicted.

One very interesting but polarizing aspect of the game is the leveling mechanic. I have been analyzing the random aspects of the leveling mechanic and how players can interact with it and I would like to share my thoughts on the matter. 

Defining Card Level Advantage

In the game of Solforge players duel each other by drawing 5 cards and playing or discarding 2 of them each turn. Those cards  "level up", that is, they are sent to a discard pile as a more powerful version of themselves. After every 4 turns the players themselves level up and at that point the full deck is reshuffled. During the turns after this, each player will usually draw a mix of leveled up and non-leveled up cards. In most cases, being able to play as many leveled up cards each turn will give an advantage because the cards are more powerful than their unleveled counterparts. Card Level Advantage (CLA), a term coined by Bobby2, can be used to measure this advantage. It is originally defined like this:

Card Level Advantage for a given player is equal the sum of the levels of all cards played by that player minus the sum of the levels of all cards played by that player's opponent.

I'd like to expand this definition to account for a few gameplay elements. First of all, sometimes it is better to play an underleveled card, but that doesn't mean that the player is at level disadvantage. It should also take into account that there are cards that can make a player draw and/or play additional cards but those extra cards and plays should be considered as effects of the two cards initially played. This is because CLA is meant to be a deck-agnostic measure of how randomness affects the cards drawn. Therefore, a more accurate definition would be:

Card Level Advantage for a given player is equal to the sum of the levels of the two cards of the highest levels initially drawn by that player each turn minus the sum of the levels of the two cards of the highest levels initially drawn by the opposing player.

Here is an example of CLA: After entering the second level of play (also written as turn 2.1 and 2.2) Player A drew and played a level 1 and a level 2 card in turn 2.1 and another level 1 and level 2 card in turn 2.2, for a total card level of 6 ((1 + 2 ) + (1 + 2)). Player B also played a level 1 and a level 2 card in turn 2.1 and at the beginning turn 2.2 has drawn three level 2 cards. This gives him a total card level of of 7 ((1 + 2) +(2 + 2)) since he only counts two of the level 2 cards in his hand. The total CLA at this point in the game is +1 for player B or, likewise, -1 for Player A.

Note that we can differentiate a "turn CLA", the CLA only for that turn, from the "game CLA", which is the sum of CLA for all turns.

Accumulated CLA

If suddenly you find yourself with game CLA of -2 but the next turn the CLA goes back to 0 because you are able to play 2 levels more than your opponent, there shouldn't be too much of a disadvantage even though your opponent got the positive CLA first. However, if a couple of turns go by before the game CLA recovers back to 0, then you will likely find yourself at a disadvantage. We can call this difference Accumulated Card Level Advantage (ACLA) and can measure it by accumulating the game CLA each turn.

For example, if player B gets a CLA of 1 after turn 2.1, then in the next turn both players draw a hand of 5 level 1 cards, the CLA for that turn would be 0, the total game CLA would still be 1, but the ACLA would now be 2.

Level Count and Distribution in a Deck

In any given game, CLA will usually be going up and down for both players from turn 4 onwards and it is highly unlikely that CLA stays at zero for the whole game. However, the higher it goes for one player, the less probability there is of it continuing to grow as it means that player has already drawn higher level cards and now the rest of their pool will have fewer of them, while the other player will have not drawn their higher level cards and will have a better chance of drawing them. 

Given this, if both players level cards the same number of times, we can expect CLA to trend towards 0. This changes if one of the players is able to level more times than the other, changing their level count. If that is the case, then the expected CLA will be a fraction above 0 for that player.

Besides the sum of all the levels in a deck there is one other measure that is relevant when discussing card level advantage:  the distribution of these levels among cards, which can be used to calculate the ratio of risk vs reward. A deck with its levels distributed among more cards will have a lower risk of having a big card level disadvantage, but a deck with fewer leveled cards of a higher level will have the possibility of a powerful turn with high CLA, but also runs the risk of getting a sequence of turns with low level cards, giving the opponent the advantage.

For example, if two players start a turn and Player A has 16 level 2 cards and no level 3 cards, while player B has 8 level 3 cards but no level 2 cards, the sum of the levels is the same but the number of leveled cards is different. Player A has a higher chance of seeing leveled cards but while Player B has a lower chance of seeing leveled card, there is the possibility of making more powerful plays.

Ending Comments

Card Level Advantage is a way to measure the relative advantage gained by a player being able to play higher level cards over the course of the game. CLA varies as the game plays out and the probability of getting a positive or negative CLA will usually be dependent on the number cards and the number of levels that each player has managed to gain for their decks. If all other things are equal, the player with who has the highest accumulated CLA will have an advantage in terms of random card draw over the other player.

However, in Solforge all other things are usually not equal. While its important to understand how the random elements of CLA work on Solforge in a quantitative sense, the qualitative effects vary greatly depending on the selection of cards and the way they are played in the game. In the following article I will take a look at how the effects of CLA on a given game can be very different depending on the situation.