After playing games and looking at the cards, here are my thoughts on the relative strengths of the various teams, and the thought process as to how I got to these conclusions.
First Caveat: The calculations I used to get to this point are very much like the calculations for the Drake Equation. That is, a lot of the variables are very much down to subjective assessment, and it is these subjective assessments that have resulted in the rankings I’ve come up with. However, I hope that like the aforementioned equation, this approach provides a useful framework for looking at the balance between teams even if different people using the same methodology might reach wildly different results.
Second Caveat: While we’ve played this game a fair amount, our gaming group has remained with the same small gang of people. This is invariably going to provide some bias with regards to our gaming styles as to which teams we find best. Also, we’ve played almost all our games as 3 player, with some 2 player games and only a small number of 4 player games. This might skew things a little. About half our games were pre Sudden Death, and half with the expansion in.
Third Caveat: Its worth emphasisng that I don’t think there’s much gap between the best and worst teams in the game here. The designers have done an excellent job of creating a sense of balance between asymmetric teams, and I think that’s worth congratulating. If nothing else, the random element as to who gets victory is far greater than the disparity in power between the best and worst teams, and in my opinion the skill factor is bigger than both put together.
Caveats aside, here are the rankings from my analysis:
4. Dark Elves
Reaching these conclusions was as follows:
1) Team value was calculated.
2) Team upgrades were rated.
3) A cohesion/flow modifier was added. This was the very subjective bit.
Calculating Team Value
Each player was rated according to the following formula:
Each Standing Star Power = +1
Each Downed Star Power = +0.5
Pass Skill = +2 for first icon, +1 for second onwards.
Block Skill = +2 per icon, reduced to +1.5 if Star Power 2 or less, increased to +3 if Star Power of 4.
Sprint Skill = +1.5 for first icon, +1 for second onwards.
Cheat Skill = +1 first icon, +0.5 second onwards.
Downed Skill = half of above
Downed Regeneration Skill = +1/4 of standing Star Power value
Card Text = +0.5 to +1.5 depending on utility.
Inherent Synergy of Skills = +0.5
Inherent Conflict of Skills = -0.5
Choice of skills = Score of better skill set and add +0.5.
These were then totalled to give a team value.
Pass skill is worth 2 Star Power, as it takes the ball off the opposition or moves it onto you. Variable balls aren’t factored into this, as even though that addition reduces the average star power of balls significantly, there are enough other benefits to variable balls to make them worth 2 Star Power on average. Plus, of course, you’ll tend to see teams picking the matchups with balls that favour them. Its arguable that a ball move isn’t actually worth 2 Star Power as it doesn’t make you any better at blocking, but the fact that the ball is a tiebreaker makes enough of a difference.
So why only 1 Star Power for the Second Pass? Anyone who has played against Gutter Runners is aware of just how good they are at tipping matches. I’d stand by this assessment though, as often the second pass icon can be wasted through lack of opportunity, and anyone with 2 passes almost demands to be played as your last card. Play them early, and they are wasted.
Block skill is worth 2 Star Power, as on a strong block you down your opponent 75% of the time, and generally that’s 2 Star Power off them. But surely, you say, that makes it worth a lot less than 2 Star Power, as you’re relying on chance and on being able to make a strong block? To that, I’d note that Blocks can also free the ball up for a further 2 Star Power, and that downing opponents also deactivates their card text. Also, of course, you can opportunistically injure downed players, though against most teams you get a bigger Star Power advantage from downing another player. Sometimes also you’ll be able to take off more than 2 Star Power from downing or injuring an opponent, though sometimes it’ll be less. Thus, 2 Star Power.
Some players might note that Blocking is a lot easier to counter than Passing (what with regeneration, dwarf toughness, guarding, sure hands, dump off). To that, I’d observe that Blocking is a lot easier to play early in a hand, as its less reversible in its effects.
I’d also note that I rate 2 block icons as being worth as much as twice 1 block icon. Unlike double passes, its almost always the case that you’ll have an opportunity to block twice, and even if you’re often looking at a smaller Star Power drop from one of the block, the sheer power of being able to blast down a guard first, or turn a matchup with one standing opponent into one where they have noone present is awesome. Perhaps double block should be worth even more than 4 points, but as I said, it’s the diminishing returns that balance out the impact effect.
For players that have 2 Star Power, I’ve decreased the value of Block to 1.5, as they’ll have less opportunities to make two dice blocks that take off 2 Star Power. Note though that largely these players make up for it again on card text. Hence an Assassin gets +1.5 for Block, and +0.5 for Dauntless.
The Sprint Skill I value at 1.5 Star Power. This might seem a little mean, as often you’ll gain a bigger Star Power advantage from this (say replacing a Lineman with a Blitzer) and this advantage only grows as you gain Star Players. However, I’d also note that sometimes Sprinting draws you good cards to a good hand or bad cards to a bad hand, and that sprint is inherently self-limiting: you can only sprint so much before you have the hand you want. Also, Sprinting loses its usefulness in the late hand, as while you might be slightly improving your next hand by sprinting with 2 or 3 cards left in hand, the benefit doesn’t always materialise (say because of Freebooters) and is deferred.
The Cheat Skill I value at 1 Star Power. A 20% chance of being sent off is obviously the big downside, while a 1-3 Star Power boost can be decisive, and extra fans is always nice. Multiple cheat skills can actually cause more trouble than they’re worth, as you’re far more likely to get sent off, and the whistle “trumps” Star Power increases. This is why Lord Borak isn’t that great!
Downed skills I value half as much as standing skills. Sure, they work just as well, but you’re generally not in control of when they activate. You could through “2 dice against” blocks to trigger your downed skills, but its rarely worth it. Regeneration skill is a 11/36 chance of standing up again. I considered making it worth 11/36 of the difference between Standing and Downed, but actually I think that undervalues it, as there’s a bigger swing effect than might be expected from a successful regeneration, because of the added buffer against injury and the reactivation of card text. Thus I’ve called it ¼ of standing star power. It has a strong psychological value too, but I’ve discounted this as I think experienced players can see past that, and just work the odds.
Card text is hard to judge. Between 0.5 and 1 per item is what I say generally. For example, the human blitzer’s conditional pass skill is not as good as a pass icon, but it will turn up 75% of the time, so 1.5. The Treeman’s Fend might give back 2 Star Power, but it will rarely activate and isn’t a huge deterrent, so 0.25. A card text that is a limitation I rated at -0.5 to 1. There aren’t really any cards with glaringly disabling card text, and some drawbacks are barely drawbacks at all.
For the common texts I’ve gone with:
· Guard +0.5. When it activates it’ll generally save you 1 Star Power and maybe protect the ball too. But it has to activate. Non-lineman guards might not save you as much Star Power, but are stronger from the play, so I haven’t diminished the value.
· Fend +0.25. Potentially +2 Star Power, but too conditional and too outside of your control to be worth that. Fend with a Pass skill would be more worthwhile, as at least you can draw blocking attempts that way.
· Sure Hands +0.5. Shuts down half of ball-removing strategies, but it’s a passive skill rather than a proactive one, which limits its use.
· Stand Firm +1. Like Sure Hands, but you can't get downed either.
· Dump Off +0.5. Slightly weaker than Sure Hands for ball-protecting because you need that second player. But that second player can be a standing one with a better Star Power that can hold the ball better.
· Dodge +0.5. A small amount of defensive security, but we’re only talking changing from 75% down to 56% on 2 dice blocks. Against 1 dice blocks its 50% down to 25%, with an increase of attacker down from 17% to 30%. Much better, but still only a half point skill text.
· Frenzy +0.5. Is Frenzy really as good as having one more Star Power? Of course not, but its still decent because it’s a skill that’s in your hands.
· Strip Ball +0.5. A versatility option really, swapping a block for a pass thats only useful in one circumstance. So only +0.5.
· Juggernaught +0.5. I rate the counter the Guard as being worth as much as Guard, because of its disruption value to the opposing game plan.
· “+2 fans if…” +1.0. Any indirect source of fans is strong. How easy it is to access this is covered in inherent conflict of / synergy of skills.
Inherent synergy of skills means that within the card itself, the components work better than the sum of their parts. The human blitzer is a good example of this, as the pass follows the block, so it can down an opponent and move the ball right across the field. Consider how much weaker pass then block is than block then pass.
Inherent conflict of skills means that different parts of the card clash against themselves. For example, cards that both sprint and pass. Generally its good to play pass skills late, to stop the ball being taken off you again. Generally its good to sprint early as you want maximum hand control. This clash makes a card like, for example, Jordell Freshbreeze not as good as his skills might suggest (even if he’s pretty great overall) as in playing him you’re never getting the most out of both halves of the equation.
For choice of skills, I generally took the better set than added 0.5 to account for versatility. For example, for the Witch Elf, Block and Cheat is 3 and the better option. But the versatility of choosing not to cheat is another 0.5.
Note that the above calculation actually seems to make Lineman seem as if they add to the value of a team, which may sound a bit odd. I’d note that this analysis is being done purely to assess whole team value and should be taken to allow relative comparison of players. In play, you’re actually more interested in the average value of the hand you play, which is why Freebooters improve a team more than their individual value suggests.
Calculating Upgrade Value
Each of the six upgrades were rated as:
+0.5: A bonus that makes the team slightly better at winning matches (for example, a random strong effect, or a consistent single-skill effect).
+1.0: A bonus that makes the team a LOT better at winning matches (for example, a consistent strong effect).
+1.0: A bonus that probably some fans, but is unlikely to provide double figures of fans.
+2: A bonus that likely provides some fans, and potentially provides double figures of fans.
While these adjustments are small compared to base team value, I was reluctant to over-emphasise team upgrades, as while they can be game changing you still need to get them into play, and doing that usually comes at opportunity cost of gaining fans, star players or even other upgrades.
Some people might argue that a very strong upgrade (say Warpstone Souvenirs) is worth more than I’m saying here. I’d agree: if you get to play it. The fact that you may need to spam team upgrades to reach it, and even then you might not reach it, is a limiting factor to team value.
I’d also note that players often over-value upgrades that let them do dramatic stuff in match compared to gaining a trickle of fans. Ultimately winning match-ups is a means to an end, which is fans, which is why I consider Warpstone Souvenirs to be worth twice as much as an upgrade as the wood elves’ double-pass upgrade.
Cohesion / Flow Modifier
This is the most subjective bit:
+4: The team players complement each other, there’s a broad range of skills to give you the tools for every job, and the upgrades work well with rather than against each other to support an overall strong game-plan strategy that generates fans aplenty.
+3: Everything clicks together with fan generation, match winning and the rest with all parts supporting each other, but there are minor deficits there.
+2: The team players and the upgrades complement each other, and there is versatility, but mostly the team is good at winning matches rather than indirectly generating fans
+1: Theres some nice combos, but not enough to make the team great at winning matches.
+0: There’s significant deficits in an area of play, limiting versatility. The upgrades might enhance the team’s core function, but they’re nice bonuses rather than power plays to centre a strategy around.
-2: The structure of the team means that upgrades or Star Players are needed to just get things working properly.
-4: The whole strucure has major flaws that render strategy extremely difficuly, and you need upgrades AND extra players to make it work.
This last step is a real fudge, but I tried to avoid bias by assigning this fudge factor before looking at the totals, to avoid the temptation of shifting scores until teams ended up in the order I believed they should be in.
Still, this fudge factor IS necessary. One of the reasons humans are so strong is because they can play for Star Players and Team Upgrades, and still bring in a slew of fans thanks to Publicity Stunts, and this lets them play a strategy of team improvement simultaneous with scoring, which has a real snowballing effect. One of the reasons vampires aren’t as awesome as having four vampires would imply is because of their difficulty sprinting into their vampires, the difficulty of knocking people down without the vampires being played and the clash between that factor and being able to get blood tokens by asking the vamps to block downed guys. Likewise Dwarves need a weaker fudge factor, as they’ve got excess Guards compared to ball-handlers.
I then totalled all the scores to give their Overall Strength score, and used these to determine rankings.
Now the team by team analyses!
Lineman x 4: 1.5 x 4
Gutter Runner x 3: 6.5 x 3 (note inherent conflict of sprint on double-passer)
Blitzer x 2: 8 x 2
Thrower x 2: 5 x 2
Rat Ogre: 10
Skavenblight Supp.: +0.5
Warpstone Souvenirs: +2
Sewer Go Map: +1
Swarm tactics: +0.5
Eshin Assassination: +0.5 (would be +1 for a team with more block skills!)
Professional Cheater: +0.5
Cohesion Modifer +3
Great sprinting as a team combined with a mix of all four skills and a big guy is very useful, and team has tools to deal with all defence types. A "concentration of force" strategy is well supported by Souvenirs, Sewer Go and Swarm Tactics. Throwers seem slightly redundant sometimes, as does Eshin Assassination, but generally great synergy.
Longbeard x 4: 1.5 x 4
Troll Slayer x 2: 7.5 x 2
Runner x 2: 5.5 x 2
Blitzer x 2: 6.5 x 2
Blocker x 2: 6.5 x 2
Steely Resolve: +0.5
Bear the Grudge: +0.5
Rigorous Training: +0.5
Rising Ire: +0.5
Legendary Toughness: +0.5
Lessons in Violence: +1
Cohesion Modifier: -2
A letdown here, in that lacking sprinting means longbeards must often be played. There's too much defensiveness in the upgrades, too many Guards for the number of people that need guarding. The runner doesn't need guarding, and noone else can pass. There's aggression, but not enough to justify a focus on pure combat. Extra toughness when downed isn't enough to compensate.
Lineman x 4: 1.5 x 4
Assassin x 2: 7 x 2 (note inherent synergy of downed skill with dauntless)
Blitzer x 2: 7.5 x 2
Witch elf x 2: 7.5 x 2
Runner x 2: 6.75 x2 (note inherent synergy of pass with dump off)
Seething Hatred +1
Hag's Hex: +0.5
Dark Sorceress: +0.5
Sneering Assistant: +1
Body Count: +1
Cohesion Modifier +0
Almost too many choices, and a preponderance of value placed in downed skills means you rely on being tackled, which is out of your control. While the team is superbly versatile, there's not much feeling of synergy. The Runners have no good candidates to dump off to. There's too many cards that play well late or mid hand, and to play early hand stuff you often have to take weaker choices. A good spread of skills, however, rises this from -2 to +0, as the Dark Elves have the tools for most jobs.
Total = 68.5
Lineman x 4: 1.5 x 4
Blitzer x 3: 6.5 x 3
Thrower x 2: 5 x 2
Blocker x 2 6 x 2
Illegal Substitution +0.5
Orcidas Sponsorship: +0.5
Smash Em Bash Em: +1
Illegal Choppa Block: +1
Beat da Points: +1
Cohesion Modifier +3
As a fighty team, the orcs hang together very nicely as their upgrades reward their preponderance of block skills, and the Blockers and the Troll give the firepower to make sure you've got two dice blocks on three-star players. They're held off +4 by a lack of sprinting and passing, which means you will have to play Linemen a fair amount.
Total = 60
Lineman x 4: 1.5 x 4
Blocker x 2: 4 x 2
Thrower x 2: 5 x 2
Vampire x 4: 9.5 x 4 (note inherent synergies of block then pass, and of regen +
Dark Kiss +0.5
Subliminal Adv. +0.5
Feeding Frenzy +0.5
Force of Will +1
Taste of Blood +0.5
Ravenous Hunger +0.5
Cohesion Modifier -4
There's too much concentration of skill on the Vampires, as you need to play them early to get targets knocked down, and again to get them to use Bloodlust. You can set up your own thralls for a fall, but opponents will soon cotton on to that. Only Throwers can reliably draw a block, and that means playng a lineman then a thrower to set up your fall guy. And all this just for 1 Star Power?
You'll win a round where you draw 3+ vampires, but then due to lack of sprinting, you'll lose the next round.
Total = 61.5
Lineman x 4: 1.5 x 4
Thrower x 2: 5 x 2
Warrior x 2: 7.5 x 2
Beastman x 3: 7 x 2
Winds of Change +0.5
Derisive Laughter +1
Withering Workout +0.5
Changer of Plays +1
Writhing Tentacles +1
Handy Mutation +0.5
Cohesion Modifier: +1
There's a nice cheat-token manipulation theme going on, but this isn't as strong a synergy as the orcs fighting synergy. A lot of good upgrades there, but they tend to be good in their own right rather than synergising.
Total = 61.5
Lineman x 4: 1.5 x 4
Catcher x 2: 6 x 2 (Sure Hands without Pass is inherent conflict)
Thrower x 2: 5.5 x 2 (Pass plus Dump off is inherent synergy)
Blitzer x 3: 7.5 x 3 (Block then Pass is inherent synergy)
Fan Favourites: +0.5
Product Endorsements: +1
Publicity Stunts: +2
Jack of All Trades: +1
Recruiting Agent: +0.5
Cohesion Modifier: +4
Everything slots together really well with this team. On the team level, Catchers are superb openers, Blitzers are great early or mid hand, Ogres and Throwers work well mid or late is there for the big hits or the clever dump-off. At the upgrade level there's an excellent level of synergy that allows humans much more leeway to gain Star Players and Upgrades and still remain points-competitive, which in turn makes them much more developed as a team by the time you hit the final couple of turns.
Total = 69.5
Lineman x 4: 1.5 x 4
Catcher x 2: 7 x 2
Wardancer x 3: 6.625 x 3
Thrower x 2: 5.5 x 2
Unnatural Agility: +0.5
Conditioning Coach: +0.5
End Zone Choreo.: +1
Interception Assist.: +1
Orion's Cleats: +0.5
Dodge Type Thing: +0.5
Cohesion Modifier: +2
Superb skill coverage of pass, block and sprint. No cheating, but thats not a big problem in terms of cohesion/versatility. However, the presence of four two-star players makes being blocked a big problem, and there's a feel of the upgrades making you better at areas you'll already be dominating.
Total = 65.125
Skeleton x 4: 1.75 x 4
Ghoul x 3: 7 x 3 (Pass and Sprint is inherent conflict)
Wight x 2: 7.25 x 2
Zombie x 2: 4.5 x 2
Mummy: 13 (downed block then down regenerate is potential double liability)
Unholy Altar +1
Pulled Under +0.5
No Rest for… +1
Cohesion Modifier +2
Regeneration all round works excellently with the upgrades, which also have some neat combos built into them, like Unholy Altar / Pulled Under / Relentless. Particularly nice is the way that Zombies work so well with Pulled Under, as suddenly a block against a Star Player gives you good odds of pulling them under and standing yourself up again.
Add into this the great mix of skills, and Undead are probably the best team at winning matches in the game.
BUT, and this is a big but, they aren't superb at indirect fan gain, and that limits the cohesion modifier to +2.
Total = 70.5
Conclusions / Reflections…
Splitting the list as follows…
4. Dark Elves
I'd say this has somewhat shaken up my view of the teams.
In our games, I think we've seen Vampires perform a lot better than they ought to have done from this analysis, but I think some of this has come from them being such a different team-style to the base set that we've often not played to counter their strengths and exploit their weaknesses. With a good think about things though, via this comparative analysis, I think my playgroup (and I) have over-rated vampires. We've also under-rated Dark Elves, I think, as I suspect they require a certain mindset and complex approach that we might not have yet achieved yet. There's also a certain appetite for risk with Dark Elves that my gang of players may lack. I was also surprised to find my analysis rated undead above humans and skaven. To my mind, regeneration seemed to be a bit like the dwarves' extra downed star power, but the more I look at the team, the more I realise that they have that extra toughness AND they have a superb well-rounded team. Sure, they're not uber-sprinters, but 3 players with sprint skill is a start, and they have a hell of a lot of hitting power, better linemen than anyone else, and IMHO, the best Big Guy in the game.
As to the original six teams, I think they listed in exactly the order we expected them to, save with Orcs behind Chaos. I think part of this is because our naturally cautious natures shy away from Cheat tokens. Many of my co-players started playing with the mindset that "one of the elves' strengths is that they don't have cheat tokens". This is a fallacy in so many ways!
For reference, my own listing prior to doing this analysis would have been:
8. Dark Elves
Anyway, I thank you for following this analysis to the end. Comments welcome!