Thursday, August 25, 2022
Difficulty in turn-based games
In the Biggest Chess Games Database Online there are 1.8 million games registered in which white opened with e2-e4. In the same database there are only 32 games in which white opened with a2-a3. Clearly a2-a3 is a much inferior opening, and nearly everybody knows that, so that move isn't generally used. However, the database also shows that in games in which white opened with a2-a3, white won 40.6% of the games, which is more than any other move. So what I think is that sometimes when a far superior chess player plays against a much weaker opponent in a friendly game, the superior player deliberately makes this bad a2-a3 move, in order to give his opponent a better chance. Or the better player makes that bad move just for fun.
Earlier this month on Steam the game Hard West 2 was released. So I was reading Steam reviews to decide whether this would be a game for me, and the top shown review is negative and says: "Did not feel at any point that I was making any tactical choices, more like I was trying to puzzle out the solution intended by the devs, which made me feel a bit cheated on the whole "tactics" bit.". And I completely understood what the reviewer was saying, based on my experience with other turn-based tactical games: You might think that you have a lot of options, like you might think that in chess you have 20 different options for your opening move. But in reality some of these options are just way better than others. If you play at low difficulty, you can do sub-optimal moves and still succeed. But the higher the difficulty gets, the fewer and fewer options remain viable. Until at some point only one sequence of moves actually wins you the scenario.
I finished Symphony of War after 40 hours at normal difficulty, and still wanted another go. So I started a new game, with a bit of apprehension because of the problem described above. But it turns out that you can play Symphony of War at higher difficulty and still opt to keep permadeath turned off. Which means that while the game is harder at higher difficulty, there are still enough different options left. I am now some chapters into the second campaign, and I was able to make different choices and explore different tactics without the game telling me: "No, you need to make this exact set of moves".
That is especially important when there is some luck involved. In my first game I never got a drakeling offered for recruitment, so at the end of the game I only had the two dragons you get from the main story. In this second go I found a drakeling in the bazaar of chapter 3, before I even got the first story dragon. That will change things in me experiencing the second campaign compared to the first. In the tactical game I played before that, Battle Brothers, there was a lot of luck involved, and at high difficulty you could actually have such a bad start just by bad luck that the game became unplayable.
For me the fun of tactical games is to try out different things and see what works and what doesn't. But I prefer to fail forward, and not have to save scum until I find the one set of moves that the devs set up to work in that scenario. So I think I will give Hard West 2 a miss. As it turns out, at some point I bought Hard West 1 in a Steam sale and never played it, so I can do that one if I want a cowboy tactical game. I played Weird West for free on the Game Pass, but that game would have more accurately be called Weird Controls and wasn't turn-based, so I got tired of it quicker than I thought.