Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Rant About Vanguard's Mechanics

What is wrong with his hair?
And for my first entry back into writing for this game, a rant. These are a list of grievances of the mechanics built right into the rules of Vanguard that, in my eyes, will hold Vanguard back from ever being a competitively or mechanically balanced game.

Imbalanced Card Advantage

One of the biggest balancing acts any turn based game has to work around is balancing around turn based advantage. From the ability to make the proactive move in chess to the ability to set facedown traps ahead of your opponent in Yugioh, going first tends to come with a straight up advantage over the opponent in some form. As a card game, one of the biggest factors that dominate the game is the amount of cards each player has at a given time. What's actually pretty interesting is that if you ignore Twin Drive, Vanguard's card advantage is already balanced.

Ignoring ability effects, player 1 will start the turn with the same amount of cards as player 2, and end his first turn with one card over player 2 thanks to drawing. Player 2 then draws and drive checks, and at the end of player 2's turn, she'll end with one card over player 1. This cycle will continue repeating at this rate, which each player ending the turn with one card over the opponent. In other words, in terms of raw card advantage, no player is ever at a strict advantage over the opponent over the course of the game. Yes, player 2 gets the advantage of attacking first, but player 1 checks this advantage by having higher grades, and thus more power over his opponent. Ultimately, if you don't screw with the formula created by Vanguard's single drive check mechanic too much, we have a theoretically balanced game.

And then you throw triggers and Twin Drive into the mix.

Imbalanced Triggers

Let's get this out of the way first; if there's still a debate over which trigger is better than another, I don't particularly care right now. The point is that the triggers are straight up not balanced to each other. Can we all agree with this?

See, the problem here is that's it's near impossible to balance around. To give an example, Draw Triggers are near definitionally a +1 when you trigger them, no questions asked, whereas Crits and Heals apply on damage, which in turn can easily snowball into many more cards worth of advantage than just a +1, or they may fail to apply at all or generate any proper card advantage. My point here is that when you have an element in the game that's so imbalanced, it's virtually impossible to standardize around them. In other words, remember how I mentioned earlier that we can balance around first turn advantage and easily achieve balance in terms of card advantage? This balance I mentioned earlier does not account for triggers well. To go back an explain, the previous example said that player 1 and player 2 will always end with one card over the opponent, right? With triggers included in this system, player 1 will always end with one draw over player 2, and player 2 will always end with one drive check over the opponent. Because of how game changing triggers have the capability of being, especially relative to a standard draw, I really hope I don't have to explain the titanic balancing problem here.

The biggest problem I see is that, because each trigger isn't balanced to each other and it's impossible to standardize them, the problem I just mentioned is almost literally impossible to fix. See, simple probability juggling could have easily messed with the numbers of the game so that, if a drive check was on average worth 1.5 draws, you can balance between draws and drive checks, ultimately recreating the card advantage balance originally created. Instead however, these triggers just throw a titanic monkey wrench into trying to make sure that each player doesn't have a strict advantage over the other.

Twin Drive and Card Advantage

Alright, let's just ignore Triggers for a second. What does Twin Drive do to the card advantage of the game?

Turn 1: Player 1 ends with 6 cards, player 2 ends with 7
Turn 2: Player 1 ends with 8 cards, player 2 ends with 9
Turn 3: Player 1 ends with 11 cards, player 2 ends with 12
Turn 4: Player 1 ends with 14 cards, player 2 ends with 15

Now can anyone notice the difference between turns 1 and 2 compared to turns 3 and 4?

Turns 1 and 2, when there is no Twin Drive, each player will end their turn with one card more than their opponent.

Turn 3 and 4, when there is Twin Drive, player 1 will end the turn with two more cards than player 2, whereas player 2 will only end the turn with one more card than the opponent.

Any point after turn 3, thanks to the card advantage Twin Drive generates, Player 1 has card advantage over player 2. Imbalance.

What bothers me the most about Twin Drive though, as it is currently implemented and tied to Grade 3s, is that it gives you absolutely no reason not to ride into Grade 3. Imagine for a moment that Grade 3s didn't have Twin Drive. There'd still be plenty of reason you'd want to ride to Grade 3. They have higher base powers than the other grades and thus unlock much better fields and scaling for offensive purposes, and maintain higher magic numbers to better defend with for defensive purposes. At the same time though, you are using up card advantage to actually ride up to that point. To rephrase, you're trading short term advantage for long term benefits. This is common in good game design for an assortment of reasons, and I don't particularly feel like listing out why, but the point to take away is that, for example, if you are stuck at Grade 2, you are not immediately doomed. The opponent still has to burn a card to achieve Grade 3. That means you are given (at least for a short amount of) extra time to draw into a Grade 3 later and catch up anyway, thanks to the short term card advantage buffer created by riding. Twin Drive destroys this concept however, because in two turns, Twin Drive will already have paid for itself in terms of raw card advantage. That's, now you absolutely can not afford to misride ever, because the moment the opponent hits Grade 3, their card advantage rockets off far faster than you can possibly catch up. To those of you who have ever suffered from misriding ever, I guarantee you it is because of the Twin Drive mechanic.

And so concludes a lengthy rant about Vanguard's mechanics. With Thunkofcardgames turning into a site to analyze mechanics and more general ideas, this article is a sort of precursor to any future work I may do. Would you guys enjoy me doing more mechanic based or general articles like this in the future?



  1. Welcome back, Nacho. This was an interesting article, but I did want to ask if you could expound upon Stride and Triple Drive and their impact on card advantage? Thanks and happy holidays!

  2. Welcome back TehNACHO, glad to have you around again.

    Unfortunately i have a question about "if a drive check was on average worth 1.5 draws". Where is the .5 come from ? From trigger ?.