Tuesday, May 02, 2023
Plans for my Age of Wonders 4 start
I rarely get really hyped for a game. For example, I really do look forward to Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom; but I did order a physical copy of the game on Amazon, and they'll only mail it on release day, so I will have to wait at least a day or two before I can play it. With PC games, I frequently wait until they are on sale, which has the added advantage of the game having received some patches since release. But for Age of Wonders 4 I am extremely hyped. I pre-ordered it, and I can't wait to play. I actually know not only that it is going to be released today, but found out the exact hour, 6 pm CEST, in a bit over 8 hours as I am writing this.
I have also already watched several Twitch and Youtube streams and videos to learn a good deal about the game, as 4X games can be a bit daunting. And by understanding a bit more about the game, I came up with a plan on how I want to start playing. This is based on an understanding of how 4X games work, which is exponentially: The faster you expand at the start of the game, the more resources you have at your disposal in the earlier game, and that can snowball your way to victory.
The problem with that system is that the human brain has problems understanding exponential growth. In Age of Wonders 4 that mainly results in people having serious problems in getting the difficulty settings of the game right. If you launch yourself into a fully custom world and just crank up all the difficulty settings to high, these difficulties will in fact multiply to quickly become unpleasant, sometimes even unwinnable. For example, if you both make the neutral armies guarding the various treasures of the land harder, and your own starting army weaker, you can end up not being able to gather any stuff in the early game, and that will severely punish you later.
Having said that, Age of Wonders 4 has a story campaign, which acts a bit like a tutorial game to learn how to play. And while all other maps are randomly generated, the story campaign has fixed maps with fixed challenges. And obviously those challenges aren't too hard to start with. Which means that for the tutorial, which only has three basic difficulty settings (easy, normal, hard), I think I can start on hard without a problem, because for example the neutral monsters still aren't very powerful. Takeaway message here is that if you play the story, "hard" means slightly challenging; but if you create a custom game and set the difficulty to "hard" or even "brutal", that sets several different options to difficult, and those difficulties multiply with each other, with the final result being frustrating, rather than challenging.
What I noticed that many people do is first make a very difficult world, and then try to make the most overpowered faction possible to beat that. I decided to do it the other way around: By playing at the relatively easy story campaign world, I'll get a more interesting challenge if I make an underpowered faction and leader. So I was thinking of creating Jacko Alltrades, a leader that has 5 different affinities at the start. You can't make 6 different affinities, because the choice of tome always gives you 2 affinity points of that tome.
Currently I was thinking taking the barbarian culture, which gives 1 point each in chaos and nature. Then I will take two different traits, for example 1 each in order and astral. And top that of with a tome that gives 2 shadow affinity. Taking a lot of different affinities means that I get the slowest possible growth in the empire tree, where each point of affinity gives you one point of progress in that branch per turn. In terms of the old Magic the Gathering, I am building a 5-color deck, when I know that specializing in one or two colors would be far more efficient. I don't think it is possible to completely gimp yourself when creating a faction. All the options have some advantages. I am only avoiding early synergies, and making it harder to reach level IV and V tomes, and the game isn't likely to last that long.
It will take me some time to play through the story campaign. But I think that I want to play all of it before moving on to custom realms. And for custom realms I think that I will mostly play on custom difficulty, that is to say not set all the difficulties all at once with a basic "hard" option, but go into the advanced options and set things like monster strength, starting resources, and so on individually. 4X games have a sweet spot, where they are challenging, without being frustrating, and that needs some fine-tuning to reach.