So, I’m done with Lords of Verminion, after less than a week. It’s an interesting game with some crippling pitfalls. I’ll probably still play around with the AI and replay some of the more interesting puzzle challenge battles, but it suffers from a severe problem when playing against other players.
The rarest minions are, by far, the best, with very few exceptions. If it’s a rare drop from a dungeon or from treasure maps, it’s an absolute killer. Essentially, if it sold for several million gil prior to the patch, it’s now a top-tier minion (again, with very few exceptions). Possibly you’re reading this and saying “well, yeah, of course the rarest ones are the best, that’s how it works in other games, like Magic”.
Unfortunately, one of the things that Lords of Verminion does that’s interesting is also the problem with this. There’s nothing stopping you from running an entire field full of a single, rare minion. I’ll use Nutkin as an example, because it’s basically caused the end of every match I’ve lost. It’s a Critter-type minion, with outrageous stats, for 30 points (the highest possible point cost, out of 240). In theory, it’s balanced by the fact that you have relatively few of them. However, a single Nutkin can win against 4-6 other minions, regardless of type. I’ve watched two Nutkin (60 points) rip apart 6 Bombs (also 60 points) despite the Bombs having a type advantage and using Bomb abilities, without the Nutkin using anything. One Nutkin was low, the other was full.
Seeing this in a couple of games, I figured perhaps throwing other big minions against the Nutkin would work. Clockwork Twintania is another monster-type, which is presumably strong against Nutkin, and is 25 points. Three Nutkin beat four Twintania, handily, despite Twintania’s defense boost. Nutkin are also fast, either 3 or 4 stars, so they can move all over the map relatively easily.
In a game ostensibly about exploiting type weaknesses, this is a problem. It means that the rare minions determine the match, and because there’s no limiter on how many of these powerful rare minions are on the field, if they can win out even against type there’s no real way to fight them. In theory, swarms should be able to win out against smaller groups of powerful minions, but a powerful enough minion with just enough in a group will kill swarms faster than they can do damage.
The idea, I suppose, is to drive players to seek out the rare minions in order to compete, but mostly it seems to have a cooling effect on the playing field. Three times this weekend I showed up to play and saw a group of about 10-15 people all at the consoles. Within a handful of matches, it had boiled down to myself and one other person, throwing out rare minions and generally using the same strategy every time. Varying my own strategy accomplished basically nothing. Watching groups of players evaporate against what appears to be an unbeatable strategy (or one that’s being enabled just through access to already rare and hotly desired minions) is disheartening– it’s telling to me that on our entire server, fewer than twenty people are signed up for the tournament, and at least four of them are using Nutkin spam.
Other games have pursued a similar tack– several prepainted miniatures games put random figures in the box, and many card games have explicitly “rare” cards, which are often (albiet not always) straight up better than the more common ones. The “right” answer, in all of these cases, is to not bother with the usual delivery system and simply buy the models/cards you want straight up, then use those to win against people who didn’t do that.
I don’t much care for relying on random luck to acquire something crucial that you need to keep playing the game. It makes me feel very strongly that the game doesn’t respect either my time or my money, whichever is being used to generate more rolls on the random table. I understand that a lot of people keep rolling because that rare thing is an exciting surprise– for me it’s simply the thing I already knew I needed, so every roll that doesn’t come up with the thing I need was a waste of time/money.
I’ve noticed that the design of important things in games has shifted to agree with me, as well. Token and currency systems are the norm, removing the random bad luck of drop rates from the equation. Sometimes there are still random luck rolls, but they’re often for secondary sources, and much easier. FFXIV has currency for its “main” upgrades, but also supplies random secondary loot drops. It’s a good system, because you’re not relying on a lucky drop.
A lot of this is that my appreciation for random loot was burned away from me in my time helping run LNR. Random loot meant everyone was always unhappy– people who didn’t complete their set from the previous dungeon were annoyed when we moved on, people who badly needed a particular upgrade were frustrated when it never dropped, entire class teams would grumble when yet another week went by without any loot for them, and everyone sighed when the same item dropped yet again, when no one needed it.
What bothers me especially about Lords of Verminion is that it could have been a good excuse to break out those common minions that no one really used. It’s a simple game, but in theory a deceptively deep one, it just falls apart when it can be easily reduced to “spam this one powerful minion”. Players will always try to find the easiest possible way to win, and LoV does very little to force the issue.
As a result, pubstomping with a single, out-of-band minion is the norm, and it’s easy to watch it drive players away from the game. It’s a pity, because it’s a really neat game with a lot of cool ideas, it just falls apart when it comes to rare minions. The matches I play that aren’t ruined by rare drop minions are FANTASTIC, and almost fun enough for me to deal with the matches where I lose simply because I didn’t feel like shelling out 7mil for a minipet. However, those players leave after losing repeatedly to rare minions, and there’s no incentive for the rare-minion player to give up their advantage.
Instead, the winning move is not to play, and the forlorn tournament board registers 17 players on the entire server who have opted in. We stand around, hoping that this next match won’t be dictated by rares. It’s sapped the fun out of the game more or less instantly.