Izublog #9: Dominic 3

This is part of a series of posts that covers Imbroglio’s Izu mode. It will go up on either the 2nd or 3rd day of the Izu. For a write-up of what each weapon does, go here.

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I found this Izu fairly straightforward. Mystic Whisks are our best blue center weapon, and Brutal Axes are our best red. Dwindling Torches are the best corner weapon in the game, and sadly eclipse Brainspoons in power. Ancient Shields are an excellent tech weapon, and fill in the remaining two red squares we need. For the remaining blue squares, I used Forged Sigils. Dominic’s ability is powerful enough that the extra Runes end up being pretty decent; the fact that it costs two makes it not as impressive as Ixxthl, but it still seems good enough to round out the board. I pretty quickly made this board, which currently holds the top score:

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An open question is whether it was correct to leave the Jagged Saws out this time, given that they were good enough to feature in the last two Dominic Izus. I decided that the Mystic Whisks and Dwindling Braziers would be good enough to keep the Serpents at bay until I leveled up a Brutal Axe to 2. This ended up working fairly well, but it’s still possible that the extra early game efficiency could make the Saws worth a slot or two.

Since this is the first time I’ve featured Whisks in the center, it’s worth going over a fairly common situation:

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Here, I have the option of hitting the Serpent, relocating it to a random spot. Unfortunately, I am one hit away from death, so there’s a chance the Snake will be moved to a spot next to me, and kill me. What should I do? Should I roll the dice? Or should I play it safe and stun the Serpent before I hit it?

Calculating things out, there are 14 spots the Serpent could be relocated. 7 spots will teleport it to a spot where I have “parity advantage” on it, letting me finish it off before it can hit me. And 4 spots are “neutral”. I won’t die, but the Serpent will spawn off parity, and I might have to end up stunning it anyway. 3 of those spots kill me. In other words, my odds of living are pretty good, and my odds of “getting paid” are high.

However, the payoffs are also lopsided. Death is much worse than potentially saving 2 coins and an action. As such, I think choosing whether to “hit” or “stay” depends on your current score. It’s ok to take this risk a lot in the early rounds, but the higher your star count, the more time you risk losing. 80 stars is right around the time when I start caring about the run, making this instance a fairly tricky decision.

In my run, I ultimately decided to freeze the Serpent here and in a few spots later on (where it was more clear that I wanted to play it safe). The run ended up scoring 215, but I can’t help but wonder if I could have gotten a few stars higher if I had pushed my luck.

Perhaps, before the end of tomorrow, I’ll be overtaken by someone willing to live a little. In the long, long run, the high score will be the person who took every possible risk, and had it pay off. But this isn’t the long run. You only have until the end of tomorrow. Better get cracking!

Izublog #8: Masina

This is part of a series of posts that covers Imbroglio’s Izu mode. It will go up on either the 2nd or 3rd day of the Izu. For a write-up of what each weapon does, go here.

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After feeling largely lost last Izu, it was good to settle into some nice, familiar Echo Harp/Whetstone abuse.

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There’s not much to say regarding board construction; this is a design pretty much as old as the game itself. The only somewhat unusual thing is the two Amulet of Immortals. I poopooed the weapon last time it showed up for Dominic, since Dominic tends not to die until he’s out of Runes and the board is flooded. On the other hand, Masina’s lack of an active ability to pass the turn, combined with a maddening weakness of a dead room every round, makes her vulnerable to unlucky spawns. More than other characters, she’ll get trapped with a bad weapon, or simply take one too many damage before she can grab a star. Or, more eloquently, shit happens.

As such, Amulet of Immortals works much better here, simply as a way to negate the swings of bad luck that Masina tends to encounter. After they rez you, they also help a bit more by giving you 1 or 2 more coins to work with (this ended up being a deciding factor in my clear!). Furthermore, boosted echoharps are ridiculously strong in the lategame, so you don’t have to generally worry about respawning on a full board that kills you anyway. I started with 1 amulet and got to 246, and decided I wanted two since the first one contributed so many points.

Looking back, it’s possible I should have boosted all 4 Echo Harps, rather than splitting them 50/50 among Echo Harps and Reaper’s Scythes. It would have been worth at least trying out. However, the Reaper Scythes are quite strong in their own right, and boosting them helps in the midgame against Chimeras, so maybe it was fine.

I’ve put a lot of time optimizing these types of boards, so I have a fair number of tips ready:

  • Early on, leveling Whetstones is a big priority. I’m willing to waste up to two moves to give them XP. I also sometimes kill Serpents with them, even if I can kill them with a Harp.
  • Don’t try to save coins in the early and midgame – you’re usually forced to blow them later anyway. The biggest example is if a Serpent is blocking your path, it’s better to 2-hit it with your red tile than to retreat a space and Harp it. Just be happy the coin saved you 2 moves.
  • Similarly, if it saves you two moves, go ahead and use your Dwindling Torch. It’s not worth wasting time to preserve Torch charges.
  • I think the usual temptation is to level the Whetstones evenly, but this is a mistake. If you have a choice between them and its the same number of moves either way, put XP on the one with more XP. The first boosted Harp is more important than the second.
  • Prioritize Amulet of Immortals over Scythes, if it’s the same number of moves and the Scythe can’t get you value. Scythes come mostly online at level 2, while Amulets need to get all of the way.
  • Don’t level your Whetstone to full while one of the rooms it’s next to is greyed out by Masina’s weakness. It won’t get boosted.
  • Once you have Harps fully leveled and boosted, try to leave Serpents and Cubes alive until you can kill two of them at once.
  • Masina’s boss is (IIRC) always a Unicorn, which is great because you want to boost one of your middle harps to 3.

    2017-06-18 19.33.09
    😦
  • If you die while Amulet is greyed out, you won’t get rezzed. If this happens, the proper response is to take a screenshot and tweet it to Michael Brough. He’ll enjoy your tears.

For the rest, it’s mostly luck and perseverance. This isn’t the easiest board to clear, but with Echo Harps and Whetstones, it’s not the worst either. Happy hunting!

Izublog #7: Johnny

This is part of a series of posts that covers Imbroglio’s Izu mode. It will go up on either the 2nd or 3rd day of the Izu. For a write-up of what each weapon does, go here.

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Ugh. Johnny. I feel like I’ve spent more time on this character than any other. And yet, ultimately, it feels like I consistently underperform with him. Something about waddling through the endless mazes lulls me into a false sense of security, and then I die shortly after.

It doesn’t help that this is an extremely weak Izu offer. Notably missing are a way to clear multiple enemies, or a way to overcome Johnny’s extremely long mazes. The best weapon is Blightsword, but its missing the best curse enablers. It’s a slog.

So far, my best score is with this, but I’m  still experimenting (translation: I have no clue what I’m doing):

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Besides being largely flummoxed by the character, I have a few scattered ideas:

  • You only have enough time to level up 2 Blightswords.
  • Ranged weapons are great in the corners here. Normally, a ranged weapon is a liability, but Johnny can prevent being trapped with his ability.
  • Corners are kind of like the center, and the center is kind of like a corner. Johnny’s board generation means that you pass through the corners an awful lot, while sometimes the center gets skipped. Also, the corners are the safest place for Johnny (since he has two options of where to leap to), while the center is the most dangerous (his ability is useless).

Good luck! You’ll need it.

Izublog #6: Ixxthl 2

This is part of a series of posts that covers Imbroglio’s Izu mode. It will go up on either the 2nd or 3rd day of the Izu. For a write-up of what each weapon does, go here.

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My eyes lit up when I saw this Izu’s offer. Necromancer’s Mask, Geomantic Orb,  AND Morphic Mirror are some of Ixxthl’s favorite tools, so it felt like a clear was not only possible, but inevitable if I found the proper board.

Unfortunately, things don’t always work out that way. While I drooled over the incredible lategame tools, I failed to notice that there wasn’t much in the way of an early game. It quickly became apparent that unless I wanted to spend a lot of time grinding out early game seeds, I needed to have Brainspoons in the corners to shore up my early game. I also decided that Dragon Skulls were important, since they can become sort of effective (albeit maddeningly unreliable) at killing Wasps after just one level.

There was a second problem – while Necromancer’s Mask, Geomantic Orb and Morphic Mirror are all powerful, the first has questionable synergy with the other two. Morphic Mirror kills your allied ghost, and Geomantic Orbs get far fewer kills when ghosts become your friends and move randomly away from you. So, to start, I decided that I should try builds that didn’t run all three, but tried to go as far as possible with two out of three.

My first idea was to combine the lategame unreliableness of Dragon Skulls with the reliableness of Bog Hands. I figured if monsters were getting stunned 100%, I wouldn’t have to worry about Dragon Skulls giving me bad rolls and failing to proc 3 or 4 times in a row. As a result, my first real attempt at clearing was this build:

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Carrying forward my lessons learned from Izublog #1, my Bog Hands “point towards” the Hawks this time. It’s not a bad build, but I decided I wouldn’t be able to clear with it (barring some extraordinary luck). It’s just not quite efficient enough in the lategame – you eventually run out of runes, and then you die. Also, while the Dragon Skulls are great for fighting early, they are a real liability later even with Bog Hands. Once multiple monsters start attacking you, you really need to be able to count on taking things down quickly, and can’t really risk flipping coins for the three damage.

My next attempt tried to cut the Necromancer’s Mask and included Geomantic Orbs and Panoptic Mirrors, but that was even worse and I quickly scrapped that as well.

Finally, I saw true love when I noticed Michael Brough himself had beaten my 224 score with a simple and, in retrospect, “obvious” build. I shamelessly copied it and was able to clear a few tries later:

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Michael Brough’s build here is good because it cuts Geomantic Orb and Panoptic Mirror down to 2 each, both in the center. Before, I had tried running some on the sides, where they’re less effective. Instead, he runs purely “tech” tiles in the side slots – a good choice, since our tech tiles are so strong in this Izu. He also runs two Dragon Skulls that “point” towards the Hawk corner, which ease the early game a bit. It’s definitely the best Izu board, and I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t think of it myself.

There is also a hidden synergy here that I had never noticed before. Brainspoons are normally a liability, especially lategame, because they leave your original body prone and vulnerable while your mind controlled monster is gallivanting about. Here, however, you can keep Ixxthl safe with two Necromancer’s Masks and Ixxthl’s hero ability. Whenever a monster gets too close, spending a rune will most likely convert the nearby threat to a friend. Using this newly discovered synergy, I was able to take control of the dragon and grab around 20 stars with it – a key factor in my eventual clear.

Overall, it was one of the more enjoyable playthroughs – I’ve always wanted to make Brainspoons “work”, and this is the first time I’ve been able to actually do that.

 

Izublog #5: Jeska

This is part of a series of posts that covers Imbroglio’s Izu mode. It will go up on either the 2nd or 3rd day of the Izu.

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This Izu got to showcase one of my favorite weapons – the mighty Switchblade. Switchblade is interesting both for its deceptively powerful tempo and for the strong incentive to break the standard red and blue “checkerboard” pattern of most boards.

I started off with this build:

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Placing all of the Switchblades in the center looks silly at first, but there’s strong reasons to do so. First, they’re by far strongest in the center. You want to use them to zip across the board, so putting them on the edges limits the amount of mobility you can get out of them. Second, putting them together lets you “chain” them by bouncing back and forth, permastunning your hapless victim if they’re level 2. This has obvious implications for when the Dragon inevitably comes out, but there’s a more subtle benefit as well. Their biggest weakness is that they are extremely annoying to level up. Not only do they sometimes move you in the opposite direction you want to go, but if you attack a 2 heart monster with it, it will move you off of the tile. With the Switchblades together, you can negate both weaknesses. You can counteract your backwards movement, and be able to finish it off with another Switchblade (nabbing your valuable xp).

The rest of the board, I have to admit, isn’t quite optimal. I added a Forged Sigil as an experiment to see if I could use runes super-liberally. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out (you don’t have quite enough opportunities to get value), and the extra runes sat uselessly in my inventory. I made the necessary tweak and put a Cursed Die in its place, and was able to clear with this board:

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Unfortunately, even though I cleared, I’m still not sure this board is quite ideal. I ran two Ancient Shields and two Vampiric Spears, but there is an issue here where if you have 5/6 Hearts and 4/4 Diamonds, picking up stars won’t heal you due to Jeska’s weakness. You can still get to 6/6 by leeching with Vampiric Spear, but it’s a bit clunky. It might have been better to have three spears and one shield instead.

If you want to try out the board, prioritize leveling the switchblades. That said, it’s not worth losing turns to level them. For instance, if you Switchblade forward, it’s better to walk to a spear to finish off the monster rather than Switchblading backwards and losing two turns. That said, if you can go backwards with a Switchblade, THEN forwards, then you should go for it (since you won’t be losing turns on net).

In addition, you should be extremely aggressive with Jeska’s runes. As mentioned above, even when I used them in every single spot where I thought it benefited me, I still never ran out even when I cleared the board! There are two major spots to look for when it comes to using runes:

Position 1:

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Here, I’m about to pick up a star, and have an option to curse a Snake before I do so (turning it into a ghost). This is great to do in the early game, since they normally take two hits to kill. This also guarantees that you’ll be able to kill the monster easily after the maze reconfigures. If you don’t use a coin here, you risk needing to backtrack to an efficient spot to finish off the monster. Finally, notice the monster’s position here. If you kill it normally. it will deal me two damage. By coining, I stall for a turn and gain parity, letting me kill it with zero damage!

The other spot where you’ll commonly use coins is here:

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Here, I can walk forward and take a hit, walk backwards, and kill the cube with the Whisk (three turns), or I can use a rune and kill it (two turns). Not only do I save a damage, but I save a turn. This might not seem like it’s worth it, but these saved turns really add up over the course of a run, and the saved damage might prevent you from dying later.

My final tip here is that in the late game, you should make sure you kill nearby monsters before you pick up stars in the corners. Chances are you won’t have time to level your whisks to 4, and you risk stalling out doing 1 damage a turn and having the board flood with monsters.

Overall, this is one of the easier Izu boards to clear with, and if you haven’t cleared an Izu yet, now is the time to try!

Izublog #4: Ixxthl

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Welcome to Ixxthl – the most generous, and also the most unforgiving of all of the heroes. Ixxthl’s rune power is ridiculously strong. With proper use, she pretty much can’t die. And yet, “proper” use in this case requires planning multiple moves ahead for the entire duration of her run. One slip-up and you die, pulling out your hair at the “obvious” mistake. In the early game, where lots of Ixxthl’s runs are cut short by luck, but in the end-game, unless you have 0 runes left, your death is solely on you. This is both maddening and liberating at the same time.

Ixxthl represents an interesting tradeoff. Her early game is so punishingly difficult that you want to shore up her early game. But, if you get lucky enough, you can get through with even the greediest board, and set yourself up for a strong lategame. As a result it’s an open question – do you want a lot of “viable” seeds, or do you want the viable seeds you have to be as strong as possible? There’s no easy answer.

I personally prefer to have lots of “viable” seeds. This results in weaker late games, but more chances of getting to play in the first place. In this case, that means running the max number of Rimeclaws, and cutting some of the late-game tech.

This Izu is also notable for being the first showcase of the buffed Poisoned Chalice. In this case, it’s Diamond cost remains a liability, but it’s still the most efficient option available to us for killing Wasps.

I am unsure of what the correct number of Dice/Dragon Skulls is, but my hunch is to run the max number of dice and only a small number of Dragon Skulls. The problem with Dragon Skulls is that your Diamonds are so consistently under pressure that it’s hard to take advantage of the improved maximum. If you are constantly floating around 1-2 diamonds anyway, then having 8 max does nothing. On the other hand, cursing is key to the board, so I run the max number of dice. When a Cursed Dice curses an enemy, it’s like gaining a “virtual” diamond, since I don’t have to use Poisoned Chalice to curse it instead.

Right now I’m standing at second place with this build:

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Again, it’s a hair behind JackMule’s score, for now. I’m hoping to catch up tomorrow – I failed last Izu, but Jack’s score of 211 feels more vulnerable this time. Somehow, I’d like to figure out how to fit in the 4th Cursed Die – I feel it might be the key here.

Giving tips on playing the board is difficult, because I feel like I’ve hardly mastered it myself. I am currently focusing first on the lower right Wicked Thorns – even wasting moves to level it. The other Thorns aren’t as important, but getting a Wasp cursed from the outset can save a tremendous number of moves. In the endgame, each star is a battle to figure out how many runes you need to spend to survive. If you overestimate, you’ll gradually run out and won’t be able to get a decent score. But if you underestimate, you’ll die immediately. It’s not easy!

Above all, don’t beat yourself up too much when you inevitably fall to a mistake. This is not an easy board to max out on.

Izublog #3: Dominic 2

This is part of a series of posts that covers Imbroglio’s Izu mode. It will go up on either the 2nd or 3rd day of the Izu.

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My eyes lit up when I saw the Plague Totems and Necromancer’s Mask this Izu. This is one of the strongest combos in the game, and also is one of my favorites to play (in fact, 8/10 of my current clears use Necromancer’s Mask!). We also have Forbidden Scroll (again!), helping Dominic to keep those dang snakes down.

As an interesting wrinkle, however, the rest of the pool is quite weak. We lack a clear “fighting” weapon to place in the center, especially for blues. As a result, we have to settle with putting Arcane Hourglasses and Jagged Saws in the center – hardly ideal! In the late game when many monsters start to spawn, it can be hard to keep up. Necromancer’s Mask and Plague Totems are great when only 1 or 2 monsters are on the field, but when the board is swarmed and monsters block your path to the star, there’s not much you can do.

Because of this weak late-game, I rejected Amulet of Immortals (as I usually do). You are most likely to die either from monsters swarming the board that you simply can’t clear, or to Rune exhaustion. Amulet has a place with characters that can get “unlucky” (e.g. trapped in a corner on a bad tile), but Dominic’s special power lets him power through most bad spots.

My initial build looked like this:

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Because of the weaknesses mentioned above, it felt clunky and awkward. I had a tough handle coming up with a “plan” for leveling up the board. So, as always, I looked to JackMule’s post for insight. After posting a truly incredible score of 235 with a similar board, he observed that your primary focus should be speed. I took this to heart. My usual instinct is to place my strongest combat tiles in the center, and my “tech” cards on the edges. This was the logic behind the above board. However, as an experiment, I’m currently trying something a bit different.

 

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The rationale here is that if this Izu is a “race”, I want the “fastest” possible board. Rather than waste moves funneling XP onto Necromancer’s Mask and Forbidden Scroll, I put them right in the middle, where they’ll collect XP quickly. I’ve also included a couple of Slingshots. They’re too risky to run in the corners (you get trapped too easily), but on the edges they will slowly level and might eventually be able to 1-hit a Minotaur. This isn’t the most impressive thing in the world, but given my alternatives, I went ahead and took it here.

Assuming that’s left, all that’s left is a lot of grit and a little bit of luck as I head down the final stretch to beat JackMule’s score. Wish me luck. I’ll plan on power leveling my Necromaster’s Mask and hope fortune favors me on my Blink Daggers. Wish me luck.

Izublog #2: Molly 

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This is part of a series of posts that covers Imbroglio’s Izu mode. It will go up on either the 2nd or 3rd day of the Izu.

This Izu is more straightforward than the last one; there are no RNG-type effects besides the unplayable Chalice, so Molly’s ability is irrelevant here. Furthermore, Dwindling Brazier, Vampiric Spear and Rimeclaws are obvious “always good” tiles to fill the board with.

My first board looked like this:

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I had some decent scores, but made a few adjustments later.

Fairly early on, I swapped out the Drums for Warclubs. Their level 4 is somewhat better than Warclub, but on the edges it just takes too long to fully level them. Furthermore, the blue cost is too prohibitive, given that I’m also running Hourglasses and Rimeclaws.

Later on, I swapped out an Hourglass for a Forbidden Scroll. I initially rejected Scroll due to Molly’s drawback (there’s a 3/8 chance for a corner to spawn a different monster), but changed my mind after playing with the board and seeing that JackMule had used it. By my calculation, a single level 1 scroll usually reduces the number of monsters you see in a corner from 25% to 20%, not counting Minotaurs. On Molly, it reduces the number from 25% to 22.5% (see bottom for calculations if you want to check my math). That’s much less effective (half, in fact!).

However, two factors make this worth a slot. First, the other blue options are extremely poor. We’re already running 4 Rimeclaws, Poisoned Chalice is mostly unplayable, and Arcane Hourglass is fairly weak (but still has some unreliable utility if you can set up a telefrag). Second, the Vampiric Spears are so strong against red damage that we effectively don’t have to worry about it. We are almost certain to die to blue damage, so it’s worth it to take even a small decrease in Serpents.

Last Izu, I learned that it could be acceptable to put Forbidden Scrolls in the corners. However, this time, I put it in my old spot, because of how strong Dwindling Braziers are in the corners. They’re a top tier weapon, but are only really amazing in the corners.

After some grinding, I was able to temporarily take the top score (we’ll see if it lasts!). Here’s the board I used:

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If you want to try out the board, I have the following tips:

  • With full health in the early game, it’s better to kill a 4 diamond Hawk with Rimeclaws (2 moves) than moving backward a space, killing it with a red weapon, and moving forward again (3 moves). As the game progresses, these speed for health tradeoffs become worse and worse. By the end of the game, you should be in pure survival mode, willing to waste many moves if it saves damage.
  • Because of the Vampiric Spears, you are much more concerned with blue damage than red damage. This will often require you to take counter-intuitive plays to minimize this. Here’s an example:

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  • The natural reaction here is to kill the Cube in one hit with a blue weapon. However, planning ahead, we can see leads to eventually taking a hit from the incoming Serpent. It also causes us to waste a move, since we’ll need to move backwards from the drum to the Rimeclaws in order to kill the Serpent. This kind of subtle turn control can avoid potential zugzwang situations, which is especially important for Molly, who has no other way to avoid them.

That’s it for this Izu. See you next time!

Calculations: There’s probably a more straightforward way to think about this, but this is how I calculated it:

Imagine you have 100 spawns with a non-Molly character. You can expect 25 Serpents. Let’s say you put a Forbidden Scroll on the Serpent corner. Now, every Serpent spawn is followed by a non-serpent spawn. In other words, the 25 Serpent spawns will cause 25 more “non-serpent Spawns” to appear, in addition to the 100 spawns we started with. This gives 25/125, or 20%.

Now let’s look at Molly. You still expect 25 Serpents, and 25 spawns in the non-serpent corner (the fact that these are different doesn’t actually matter). Of the 25 “non-serpent spawns”, you’ll actually get some amount of serpents due to Molly’s drawback. In fact, you can expect 12.5% of these “non-serpent spawns” to actually be serpents. 12.5% of 25 is 3.125, so now we take 28.125/125 to get 22.5%.

Izublog #1: Dominic 

This is part of a series of posts that covers Imbroglio’s Izu mode. It will go up on either the 2nd or 3rd day of the Izu.

This was a below average pool and building a board that could get into the 200s was difficult. The most obvious things to do are to place a Forbidden Scroll in the serpent corner and to use all 4 Bog Hands to make up for the low damage of the other tiles. An open question I had was whether to use a “conservative” build that had Jagged Saws in the center, or to be greedier and put Vampiric Spears there instead. My first good score was with a compromise build, since I couldn’t decide.


Unfortunately, I woke up the next morning to see JackMule had beaten my score by a fair bit with this board:


Jack makes a few notable innovations that I started skeptical about, but gradually saw the wisdom of after banging my head against his high score. 

First, he moves the Scroll to the far corner. This was counterintuitive to me since it’s weak if you get trapped in the corner with a 4 diamond Wasp. But it’s quite strong in the sense that you can power level it to level 1 and then ignore it for the rest of the game. If you place it 1 to the right, as I have done, it wastes space later in the game. Also, Dominic’s powerful stun ability makes him less concerned about getting trapped anyway. 

Second, he uses Repercussion Drums. I had written them off as weak due to the powered up serpents putting pressure on Dominic’s diamonds, especially before they get to max level. However, as the only way to do 4 damage, it seems like they were still worth it.

Third, he plays a very greedy build with no Jagged Saws at all. I wasn’t quite ready to throw away my early game that much, but I knew I had to weaken my early game (resulting in more failed starts) and strengthen my late game to compete. This meant moving the Saws to the edges and corners, replacing them with Spears.

I internalized these lessons and after a lot of gnashing of teeth, I barely beat JackMule’s score. For now, at least, this is the top board:


In addition to the improvements mentioned above, I also did the following:

– Got rid of the Bows. If these aren’t fully leveled by late game, they’re a huge liability and can get you indefinitely trapped, doing 1 heart damage to 4 health monsters.

– Rearranged the Bog Hands to “point at” the Serpent corner. When I parked on one of the lower Vampiric Spears in the late game, my old layout would have Serpents flanking me. Although it’s harder to level than before, it’s a much stronger formation against Serpents later.

– Added a Forbidden Scroll to the Cube corner. My logic here is that in the late game I often can’t afford to step off of a Vampiric Spear to do diamond damage, making Cubes take two hits and slow me down. Of course, you need Cubes to level up your Bog Hands, so I ignored the tile until these were close to fully leveled.

Some notes on playing the board, if you want to try it out:

– Rush xp onto the Serpent Scroll early. It’s OK to burn 2 moves but I wouldn’t waste more.

– If you you can, prioritize the lower Bog Hands (don’t waste many moves), since they’re harder to get to.

– If it’s safe, kill Serpents with Bog Hands early to help level them.

– Ignore the Cube scroll until you are highly leveled. It’s bad to level it early and will only somewhat help you later. 

Overall I’m happy about what I learned, and look forward to using these lessons in future Izus.

Avoid Making the Player Proofread in your Strategy Games

Meet Hector. He’s a powerful jerk in Fire Emblem Heroes and is mostly balanced out by his low movement speed. However, when given the Wings of Mercy ability, Hector can unexpectedly teleport across the screen and ruin your day. This is a serious game design article, but please also enjoy this low-quality meme (source):

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A careful player can notice that Hector has this (non-standard) ability and plan accordingly. Some might argue this is good for the game, since it increases its skill cap. I’d argue it’s a negative, because it’s replacing strategical thought with something less satisfying. For the purposes of this article, let’s call it “proofreading”.

Players begin to proofread when the game state isn’t clear. This forces the player to either spend mental energy nitpicking through the game state himself, or suffer an in-game penalty.

To clarify what I mean, here are a few examples:

Fire Emblem: Heroes

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Fire Emblem

Fire Emblem mostly has a good, clean interface, but scanning for abilities is an annoying exception. A given character can have different abilities, and these can only be noticed by proofreading the tiny ABC circles in the upper right corner. If you don’t immediately recognize an icon, you need to longpress it to see what it does.

A recent patch allowed players to customize their own characters, which will make the PVP arena much more annoying than it was. Those wanting to maximize their chances there will have to click on each enemy unit and doublecheck that their opponent hasn’t given them something nasty.

Hoplite

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This wizard can attack 5 squares in every direction. Yikes!!

Hoplite has a lot of neat things going for it, but proofreading is a major weakness. The entire board is filled with monsters that can attack from varying ranges. For instance, the wizard in the screenshot can attack 5 hexes in any direction! Tracking one or two of these guys is manageable, but as you progress further into the dungeons, the game becomes a proofreading nightmare. When I was playing, I would first find every spot that I could move to without getting hit. Only *then* would I start thinking about the tactical considerations of each safe square.

This “proofread safe squares” -> “find best move” -> “proofread safe squares” loop ended up pretty tedious, and was one reason why I could never get into the game as much as I would have liked.

Hearthstone – I have lethal!

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Can you spot lethal?

Hearthstone has an amazing interface, but there’s one issue that hasn’t been solved yet. A lot of losses in the game occur because the player forgets to count up the damage he has on the board, and misses a situation where he can kill his opponent that turn. This makes for some entertaining (and humiliating) moments in streamed tournaments, but is fairly annoying as a player. Remembering to do some basic arithmetic isn’t an exciting skill to test.

Avoiding proofreading

Once a “proofreading” situation has been recognized, implementing a solution is seldom straightforward. Often it requires a massive reworking of the basic game system to fix the issue, which is why these sorts of situations show up so much, even in games with AAA user interfaces like Hearthstone or Fire Emblem: Heroes.

That said, there are a few good guidelines that can help avoid a lot of potential proofreading situations:

  • Try to avoid having long-distance interaction unless it adds a lot to your game. Make pieces more like Go, where stones can only affect adjacent spaces, than Chess, where a Bishop can threaten a square from across the board. If you do want a Bishop-like character, try to have the squares it threatens show up as dangerous in the UI, rather than forcing the player to trace all of its paths himself.
  • Try to make sure all commonly relevant information about an object can be found by glancing at the object itself. If a player is frequently rooting through subpanels to find relevant info, your UI is probably not pulling its weight.
  • If the sum of a bunch of numbers is frequently important, add them up for the player and display it somewhere on the UI rather than making the player calculate it himself.

Above all, remember that games are supposed to be fun places to strategize. The less proofreading that gets in the way, the better.