Monday, March 27, 2017

Metagame Mischief: Camping the Square

Greetings, cannon fodders.

Times change, and we must change with them. After years of mocking the dull, mindless grind of tournaments, I have finally decided to try one. A great many comrades are converging on [HORDE]. I am looking forward to some classic muggle PvP fighting alongside some old friends. Yet as with all public endeavors, people are already starting to make predictions and offer complaints. I decided to investigate the most controversial strategy: camping the square.

Metagame Mischief

Camping the square is a time-honored strategy in all MMOs. The term was first truly popularized by FPS games like Doom and Quake. Players would secure a good vantage point on the respawn areas. As players were killed on the map, they would return to the spawn point, and immediately get dispatched again in a highly unsportsmanlike fashion. Games like Descent made this process even more hilarious by adding weapons like proximity mines, allowing people to mine the spawn points.

In Illyriad, camping the tournament squares is a metagame strategy. Essentially players are weaponizing cities to dominate particular tournament squares. This strategy can be very powerful on any square where a particular attack type is highly amplified, and there is no correspondingly effective defense. Examples include cavalry on plains squares, and infantry on forest squares. Because occupation forces are likely to get crushed, the attack-friendly square strategy quickly devolves to clearing with the proper attacker, and leaving a tiny occupation force behind. One soldier will claim points as effectively as 100000.

Placing a weaponized city adjacent to such a square allows that alliance to immediately pick off the tiny occupying forces from competitors. Everyone else faces the choice of either sending large occupation forces (which are likely to be obliterated at terrible kill ratios) or concede the square and seek glory elsewhere.

Egads, Villainy!

Camping the square probably wouldn't generate such an outcry, except that it very obviously swayed the top spots in the last tournament. Nobody camps the squares quite like vCrow, and of all the vCrows, nobody camps the squares quite like Darkone.  That passerine prankster has boogered up the best-laid plans of many ambitious alliances.

To illustrate the prevalence of this strategy, one need only examine the current batch of tournament squares. Of the 68 regional squares, 9 had readily identifiable square campers.

Well, 9/68 regions is only 13%, is that really so bad? Absolutely. Consider that the top two spots were decided by 48 hours of occupation time. In fact, camping those squares could have accounted for so many hours that it was the difference between the #1 spot and missing the top 10 entirely.

Skint's Seal of Approval

I salute Valiant Crow for their cunning. Military alliances have weaponized cities for years, so why not apply that tactic to tournaments? There are no formal rules surrounding tournament gameplay. There is no official requirement that everyone has to simply occupy squares and stand there like a fencepost while their troops are cut to ribbons. If the metagame decides the outcome of tournaments, then I humbly suggest that people get better at the metagame.

I would divide the complainers into two broad categories.

First we have the people who truly find the tactic objectionable. Are these players considered purists? Maybe. Complaining will produce zero results. There is an obvious solution to a weaponized city: remove the weapon. I have often stated that cities are containers for troops, which are themselves weapons. If a player advances a city like an army, then that city could be treated like an army. There is no reason to give that weaponized town the same consideration as a permanent settlement. Of course, the vast majority of Illyriad players are higly unlikely to touch a weaponized city being used to win a tournament. Therefore, these players will complain because they are afraid to risk the obvious solution.

The second category of complainers are the people who would like to use this tactic themselves, but are afraid to try it. Alliances might be terrified of declaring war on vCrow, but they might not have the same reaction to a small alliance attempting the maneuver. Illyriad is funny like that. People will take zero action against the powerful, but they are very eager to jump on an easy target. From a game mechanics standpoint, there is nothing stopping players from sending a settlement right up to tournament squares. Some quick research on Heroism and t1 infantry would be enough to pick off little occupation armies. The tactic could even be attempted on squares already being camped by other alliances. Yes, that would place the settlement within their 10 square radius, but can you really treat their 10 squares as sacred when the town was moved into place over the tournament square? Once in place, players could squabble easily over the square, even if the larger alliances constantly cleared their baby city. It only takes 2 troops to kill a 1 troop occupation.

Put Up or Shut Up

Metagame situations are never resolved by complaining. They are resolved by action. This tournament, when you start hearing complaints from the fearful purists and the envious benchwarmers, keep in mind that they could easily take actions to challenge metagaming. As with all PvP situations, victory belongs to those with the organization and daring to implement bold plans, and the strength to see them completed. It has never been any other way.

Misbehave. Kill lots of stuff.

<^^^^^^^^||==O    Skint Jagblade

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fact or Myth: Traders and Crafters

Greetings, cannon fodders.

I cringe whenever a random Illyrian claims to be a trader or crafter.  I find that almost as laughable as the jack-of-all trades alliances. Why? Because I believe that for the vast majority of self-professed traders and crafters, their description is really just muggle-speak for "I don't actually know how to play this game."

Trading vs. Manufacturing

Let's start with a distinction. Trading is not manufacturing. When you manufacture stuff, that's just making standard items like beer, bows, and saddles. Even if you sell those items from your city or trade hubs, that doesn't make you a trader. It just makes you a manufacturer. Producing and selling resources is a necessary part of the game economy, but there's nothing especially challenging about it.

So what I do define as real trading? Trading is the time-honored skill of buying low and selling high. Often there is a shipping aspect to trading. There can also be a time element for trading, by purchasing items at a hub and then holding them, expecting the price to go up (in real life this process is called speculation). Do I deny that there are some players who do this? No. But I am willing to state confidently that in a game of over 6000 accounts, I believe that less than 25 players actually perform this role frequently and competently. Not only does this mean generating transactions, it means generating those transactions profitably. That gets us to the crux of why I think most traders are faking it.

Fast Caravans, Low Volumes, Negative Profits

Let's start by acknowledging that there are very few active hubs in the game. Centrum is the main clearing house for advanced resources. Hedgor's Haven in the Broken Lands is also a very active hub, although it is probably only 20% the size of Centrum, perhaps less. I assume there are a handful of others across the very large map.

Unfortunately for traders, you can make the map much smaller for only 3-6 prestige. That will double or quadruple the speed of your caravans moving goods from a hub, and that shrinks the map considerably. If a buyer is willing to accept the Centrum market price for an item, it is generally far less expensive to ship advanced resources directly from [0|0] with their own caravans, rather than pay even a small premium to purchase items locally. Since most hub acquisitions are limited to advanced resources, individual players can easily handle their purchases with their own personal caravans. For example, it's very rare that I need to ship myself more than 100000 beer and spears in a single load.

Indeed, most players who consume large amounts of advanced resources will also have stable stockpiles of their own. It's inefficient to prestige-burst caravans across the map, but it's very easy to pull from your local hub and then backfill the arsenal from Centrum purchases. No prestige acceleration required. That's assuming item consumers make regular purchases at all. Most will have at least one farm account to produce both gold and advanced resources for their main.

So, if most "traders" aren't making money posting buy and sell orders in Centrum, what exactly are they doing? There are certainly many orders. Most likely they are intentionally or accidentally score gaming. Many people will focus on their Trade ranking, trying to generate rapid inventory turnover to drive up total points sold. Some players take this a step further by just playing hub ping-pong with their alt, accepting that taxes will slowly erode their gold. However, it is much more common to subsidize one's trade score by generating gold at cities, and then just tracking market prices wherever they lead. Since all transactions generate points, regardless of profitability, most faux "traders" just doggy paddle in Centrum without ever making billions.

Crafting vs. Dabbling at Crafting

For those who prefer to avoid the minor effort of posting Buy +0.25% and Sell -0.25% market orders, I present faux-trading for couch potatoes: faux-crafting. Crafting is one of those hilariously misunderstood activities in Illyriad. As I have described in Jagblade's Guide to Equipment, only about 10% of the crafted items have any practical use. Further, the market for crafted items is incredibly specialized. It's a pure PvP expense that requires a minor grasp of game mechanics to use properly. In other words, the potential market is quite limited, and the demand is extremely narrow.

So how do you spot the faux-crafters from the real crafters? Easy. Ask them to quote you a price and delivery date for 10000 Forest Spears. If they quote you a crazy Centrum fantasy price, or give you a timeframe of months, then you've just found a faux-crafter. Most item prices should be governed by the cost of the input materials plus a reasonable markup. The input material prices are quoted from actual Buy orders, not from crazypants Sell orders. A solid crafter should be able to produce 500-1000 per day (minimum!) of any item requested, assuming there is a sufficient market supply of materials. Anything that you'd want to buy in bulk will have a sufficient market supply of materials, because that's one of the required criteria in Jagblade's Guide to Equipment. Neat how that works, right?

Am I saying that nobody crafts in Illyriad? No, of course not. Many people take random herbs, minerals, and animal parts and then craft them into useless weaponry. As an added bonus, they typically do this very slowly. The vast majority of them never sell their wares for a profit. But if you suddenly need exactly 17 anti-spear swords, they're your hero.

But even faux-crafters are not at the pinnacle of faux-gameplay. As with all food chains, there is one faux-role that reigns supreme in the annals of pretend Illyriad gameplay.

The Ultimate Faux Player

I'm sure the astute reader of this blog has already guessed the greatest con of all: faux-military players.

This is perhaps the most entertaining of all the faux roles, because it is the one most likely to get faux accounts killed by their very real counterparts. If you're paying attention, faux-military players are easy to spot. The first giveaway is that they self-describe as military players in GC. Generally speaking, the player base is already familiar with the alliances and wargamers who inflict the bulk of Illyriad destruction.

Another dead giveaway is city configuration. While people might still be building up an account, anyone who isn't running a 20x2 minimum on most cities is probably a faux-military player. It is far less frequent to see a 8x5 ring of farm sovereignty on a military city. You can also look at where the city has been placed. Is it a clean placement with plains all around, with the occasional small hill or lake? Is the city tile a terraformed non-plains hardpoint? Has the player gone out of their way to claim extra sovereignty on troop production bonus tiles? The city resource distribution might even be a 5 food configuration like 5/5/5/5/5 or 5/6/5/4/5 (although take care not to interpret a starter city configuration as a true military city).

Also consider the player's alliance membership and their past history. While many social players can visit friendly alliances, a long history in a heavy PvP alliance is a clue that someone might be a military player.

As much as I hate to say it, scores can also be a clue. Among those who don't fake their scores, only tournament and true military players will generate lots of Attack, Defense, or Diplomacy scores. If a player is gaming their points, then their other scores like Trade will also show an artificial bump. 

Keep It Real, Cannon Fodders

In summary, I think it's safe to say that these are accurate descriptions of the real roles:

Trader. A player who profitably acquires and sells items that are not of their personal manufacture, often by shipping the goods directly to customers or between distant hubs. Buy low, cut deals, move goods, sell high.

Crafter. A player who quickly manufactures and profitably sells large quantities of useful PvP equipment.

Military. A player who places their cities for maximum defense, and builds their cities for maximum troop output. Usually a member of a recognized military alliance with experience in actual PvP battle. Maintains serious standing armies and replaces troop losses quickly. Probably has higher Attack, Defense, and/or Diplomacy scores for a player their size. Thoroughly trained in city-to-city combat, not just tournament play.

Always remember, cannon fodders, that it is possible to play Illyriad for years without ever mastering any of its aspects. Don't be a faux gamer. Always keep it real in this fantasy world.

Misbehave. Kill lots of stuff!

<^^^^^^^^||==O    Skint Jagblade

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Yellow is the New Red

Greetings, cannon fodders.

I usually don't write about Illyriad politics, but I wanted to address a growing trend in Illyriad warfare: the clash of neutrals. This is a departure from the historical lines of inter-alliance warfare, and one I believe is here to stay.


The Old School

The traditional Illyriad war model has been predictable: assemble your allies, declare war, siege your opponents, one side surrenders (or both sides agree to a cease fire), conclude peace. This method of warfare dominated all the major server wars. In many ways, it's similar to the European method of musket warfare. Two clearly delineated sides line up in neat formations and start blasting away at each other. This is not to say that traditional Illyriad wars don't involve clever maneuvers, a shifting political landscape, or deception and even betrayal. It's just that the lines are typically drawn at the alliance level and formalized by a system-supported war declaration.

One major feature of old school Illyriad warfare was that known alts in neutral alliances seem to have been left in peace.

The New School

The present geopolitical situation in Illyriad has challenged the traditional warfare model.

The last server war revealed that several powerful alliances depended on rampant multi-accounting. People have fully grasped the danger of attacking only the battle accounts, while leaving the farms untouched. Is this dangerous? Unquestionably. With an alliance supplying basic resources and one good city, an experienced player can build a 7 city, fully weaponized military account (300-350% sov, all cities, 50% cost reduction) for the $75 prestige package in under three weeks. The only thing missing is the gold supply and the advanced resources for troop construction.  Trying to fight the battle account without eliminating the farms is like fighting the Hydra. It will never run out of heads.

Another major influencing factor is the intercontinental distance. Wars between Elgean and Broken Lands alliances are extremely slow. Spending five days moving troops against an enemy cluster with properly placed cities is a suicide mission. The distance puts time squarely on the side of the defenders, assuming they know how to prepare their defenses. Farm and social accounts might be much closer, isolated, and in siege-friendly placements.

Finally, there are political reasons to decline a war declaration. The moment you declare war, that turns an entire alliance of people red to your team, and vice versa. That is a much less controlled situation than a precision strike against a single neutral target. All your soft spots are officially declared as fair game to the enemy. A war declaration also brings allies into play. Some confederations will accept individual players sorting out a contained problem, even with siege camps. Once that war declaration goes up, the pressure rises for more alliances to join the war and escalate things even further. There have been many forum arguments about whether siege breaking is an act of war, or whether it is something that allies can do without formally declaring their support, or getting declared upon in retaliation. This is precisely because people perceive the value of making a focused strike against a yellow army on the map that is attacking a green friendly city. All of the benefit of mutual defense, none of the downside of getting dragged into the official war.

It's Officially... Unofficial?

I firmly believe that the traditional model of war has grown obselete for specific situations, and that focused yellow vs yellow battles will become accepted as a valid alternative among the community. The formal declaration of war will be reduced from a perceived requirement for sieges. It will become just another tool in the political and game mechanics toolbox, to be used specifically when it suits the clashing alliances. Going forward, I believe we might see more alts and farms dragged out of neutral alliances, upon threat of war, and the once-mighty community uproar will be far more subdued.

Yellow is the new red, my fellow cannon fodders.

Misbehave. Kill lots of stuff.

<^^^^^^^^||==O    Skint Jagblade

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Deathmatch I: Combat Begins

Greetings, cannon fodders.

Today is the vernal equinox, and that means it's time for a Thunderdome: Last Man Standing event!  Sit back, relax, and enjoy this gladiatorial combat to the death. Four bold warriors have taken the ring for the inaugural battle. You who are about to die, we salute you!

Wait, did I turn the stove off before I left home?

Let's take a look at our honored gladiators and their placements.

From the halls of mighty [HORDE] comes the orc, Cro-Magnon. He has positioned his city of Biblical Violence in the upper left corner of Thunderdome. Cro-Magnon is running 20x Sov III, for a 300% troop production bonus. His city tile is a small mountain, which offers a spectacular defensive advantage for bow and spear troops, including the famed orcish kobolds. The terrain around Biblical Violence is 3 plains, 1 small hill, 4 large hill. Although large hills tend to favor siege defenders, the advantage is relatively small. His main defense is likely to be orc fangs, but it's possible that we will see some clearing attacks using cavalry equipped with crafted War Wolves (+20% hill bonus).

Next we have Pie from [BLX] with Iron Rain. Pie has been very quiet in the Thunderdome classroom, but his growth chart is positive. He could be an easy target with zero sovereignty claimed, or he could be a deadly sleeper account ready to pounce on his next door neighbor, Treggar. Pie has chosen to surround himself with five large forests, one plains, one small hill, and one lake tile. Although his city tile of plains is vulnerable to cavalry attack, as a human Pie's defensive units would receive a +100% bonus when equipped with plainsman leather armor.

Treggar of [GATE] is the first of our two dwarven gladiators. Like Cro-Magnon, he is running 300% sovereignty. With Ruthven Castle on a small forest tile, surrounded almost completely by forests, it's clear that dwarven infantry will be his siege breaking weapon of choice. Stalwarts will be an especially deadly option in the close confines of the arena, since they are a devastating short range attacker that can accommodate all terrains. Treggar has positioned his city just southwest of the arena center, which should allow him to reach all his opponents within 3 hours using fast dwarven siege engines.

Grum the Unaligned is our second dwarven warrior. He has also embraced the "dwarves in a forest" method with his inventively-named battle city, Grum B. His city tile and all surrounding tiles are large forest, creating an optimal defensive environment for dwarven infantry to break sieges.  Like the other two big fighters, Grum is using a military standard 300% sovereignty. His placement is slightly north of the arena center, putting him in close proximity to Treggar and Pie.

You have met the gladiators. To the victor belongs the roar of the crowd, and a custom medal from GM Cerberus. To the losers, only destruction and glory.

Misbehave, gladiators. Kill lots of stuff.

<^^^^^^^^||==O    Skint Jagblade