Design Debates – Resource Costs (Allies)

Since my posts about threat costs worked out pretty well, I wondered about applying the same kind of analysis to resource costs. Of course, it’s a lot harder to pick out any hard-and-fast rule with resource costs as opposed to threat costs. But still, there’s stuff we can look at. With allies in particular, a lot of them seem to roughly conform to a rule that their cost in resources is about half the sum of their stats, which gives us a starting point. No idea how I’ll do this when I move on to attachments and events, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

So allies. The principle of paying one resource per two stat points seems simple enough and corresponds reasonably with the rule on hero threat costs – though this could raise interesting questions as to the value of resources versus threat if you then compare it to Doomed cards. That’s a matter for another blog post though. Back to the subject at hand, there are a lot more allies than heroes, with a wider variation in how useful or not their abilities are, and thus there are a lot more departures from this apparent guideline even without delving into the question of rounding for odd-number-statted allies. Many allies are played purely for their abilities and so their stats become completely irrelevant except for their hit points, and those only if damage is going to get spread around. On the other hand, if their stats are irrelevant, surely it wouldn’t do that much harm for them to have some? An interesting balance question. Do you want an ally intended to be used entirely for their ability to actually have a use outside of that ability or be totally pigeonholed into that one thing? Would it be unbalancing for them to have another use on particular rounds when you don’t want or can’t use the ability for some reason? These I suppose are the dilemmas the designers have to face when making the cards. In a fair number of cases of course they simply resort to what seems to be the standard ‘non-statline’, 0/0/1/1. Yeah, technically those are stats, but practically in the vast majority of cases they don’t allow that ally to do anything other than die to an attack, since 1 attack enemies are few and far between. I suppose this could be seen as comparable to how I made the point on threat costs that some heroes possibly have wasted stat points deliberately to push up their threat costs so they wouldn’t be too powerful for their cost. On the other hand perhaps it’s also a case of the designers nudging us in the right direction – making the stats unappealing so we have to look at the ability instead. Who knows?
Additional wrinkles in the ally-costing question are the consideration of key stats as opposed to total stats – e.g. if you can pay 3 resources for 3 willpower you don’t necessarily care if you’re not getting the full allotment of 6 stat points because the willpower is all you want. Similar principles can apply to attack and defence. Even getting a key stat less than its cost may be considered worthwhile in some cases where you’re out of the sphere that’s really good for that particular stat (willpower outside of Spirit, attack outside of Tactics). Another wrinkle may be the presence of global stat-boosts – we don’t know for sure if the designers take them into account when designing allies, but certainly if we’re assessing the value of a certain ally we can note that it’s better in a certain type of deck because of that boost. Then there’s the existence of temporary allies, of course, obviously you expect to pay less for those stats if they’re not going to stick around. And also uniqueness – unique allies may often be lower costed for their stats than non-unique ones, but that’s obviously somewhat counteracted by the fact you can’t put down all three copies of them at once.

Before I start delving into examples, I just want to mention that some analysis along these lines can be found in this old post on Tales from the Cards. Obviously some of the conclusions there have changed in the two and a half years which have passed since then – I immediately spotted some points which I know are different now based on the assorted stats brought up on the latest episode of Cardboard of the Rings – but some of the same principles still apply, and in particular he does look at what he calls the ‘value rating’ of allies, that is, their stats-to-cost ratio.

And now to examples. Like I said, there are far more deviations from the rule/guideline in this case so I couldn’t cover all of them but instead just picked out a bunch which I thought would be interesting, both matching the rule and not.

Brok Ironfist

Now of course this is a case where the rule was ignored very deliberately. The reason Brok costs 6 resources for only 9 stat points is to encourage you to use his ability to bring him into play. Unfortunately since that ability requires a hero to die, it’s also not very appealing so the result is that he doesn’t get played at all. If he was more reasonably costed – say 4-cost, then more people might throw him into Dwarf decks since then he could operate as an emergency valve if a hero does die, or otherwise you could just pay 4 for him and have some decent stats. Also of course Dain boosts him up to 11 stat points, at which point you could maybe even consider him for his actual 6-cost. There are still much better options though.

Beorn

This guy, on the other hand, boasts 13 stat points for his 6-cost, and is thus absolutely worth it in my opinion assuming you can afford him. That can be a pretty big if though. I tend to throw 1 copy into mono-Tactics decks just on the off-chance.

Gandalf

An old classic. 16 stat points for 5 resources is a great deal on the face of it, but then you have to remember that you only get him for one round. On the other hand, his enters play effects are very good. Still, I think a case could be made that in the modern card pool Gandalf is possibly a little overcosted and this is why I don’t use him so much without Sneak Attack. The reason he can still be good even without Sneak Attack however is that his enters play effects can provide things which would be otherwise mostly inaccessible to certain spheres so there are times that I’ll look at a deck and realise the thing it really needs to make it sing is Core Gandalf, but a lot of the time I don’t bother with him, where I might more if he maybe cost 4 instead of 5.
Hobbit Gandalf is a different matter. There you can keep him in play, and he has built in action advantage to make use of all those stats. On the other hand he drives your threat up, but that’s manageable (which I guess provides further support for my view that threat is not worth as much as resources). Hobbit Gandalf is way worth it in the right deck.

Radagast

Radagast I’ve always felt is under-rated. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not especially good, but he’s better than he’s generally given credit for. Stats to cost, 7 points to 5 resources, yeah that’s pretty bad. He also generates resources to pay for or heal Eagles, which you really have to take account of. Then people will argue that “Well he takes 5 rounds to pay for himself,” but then you’re ignoring his stats. Even disregarding the attack and defence that you’re never going to use, 2 willpower and 3 hit points is worth 2 or 3 resources, in which case his ability makes up the difference in 2 or 3 rounds. That said, once again if he cost 4 he’d be a lot easier to justify. In fact I wonder if the main reason he costs 5 is because Gandalf cost 5 and the designers figured early on they wanted the Istari to have the same cost. It wouldn’t surprise me.

Bombur

I guess the case could be made that ally Bombur is just the standard non-statline which I mentioned further up the post but with 2 more hit points, because he’s intended to be used for his ability. Which would be fair if his ability was actually any good, which outside of Underground locations it is not.

Fili/Kili

Fili and Kili are a pretty great deal in terms of stats, because at 5 stat points they’re close to being worth 3 resources individually but in fact you get both of them for those 3 resources. On the other hand, they don’t have any other ability, which is always a consideration.

Bill the Pony/Guard of the Citadel/Pelargir Ship Captain/Rivendell Scout/Naith Guide/Weather Hills Watchman

1/1/0/2 is the classic, standard 2-cost Leadership ally statline it seems (the Naith Guide only has one hit point but otherwise matches up). It exactly matches the 2:1 stats to cost ratio and is generally a useful statline. It becomes interesting therefore to compare all of these allies. The Guard of the Citadel obviously loses out since he has no ability. The Pelargir Ship Captain doesn’t do much better since his ability can be repeatedly replicated by a 1-cost ally in the same sphere – they can both fit into Gondor decks though. Bill and the Rivendell Scout both have the potential to be free in the right context but have no other ability. Finally, the two good abilities are the Weather Hills Watchman and the Naith Guide, of which I would absolutely pick the Naith Guide any day. Which goes to make the point that a lot of the time abilities are much more important than stats, because while that one less hit point can be problematic, most of the time you still just accept it for the incredible ability – of course this discrepancy is also why ally costs are so much more varied than hero threat costs.

Son of Arnor

This is an interesting one. The ratio is poor, 4 stats to 3 resources, and the ability is of limited use (though there are cases where it can be great). On the other hand, the reason why the ratio is poor is because there aren’t any wasted stat points, the statline is focused, and while I’m a proponent of balanced statlines on heroes, allies work a lot better for being more focused. And looking at it in terms of a focused statline, you get 2 attack for 3 resources, which outside of Tactics is a pretty reasonable deal (certainly right back in the Core Set days it was), and Leadership has the resource generation making the cost less of a big deal.

Horseback Archer/Silverlode Archer

Classic Core Set over-costing. If they had given these guys abilities maybe they’d be OK, but it seems that they over-rated the value of the Ranged keyword.

Erebor Hammersmith

I am continually impressed by how great the Erebor Hammersmith’s stats are, on top of which he has one of the most useful abilities on any Core Set ally. The usual stats-to-cost ratio is around 2:1, the Hammersmith is 3:1. Bless those dwarven hit points. Not to say that this guy would still see play if he cost 3 instead of 2, but he certainly would still see play if he had less stats, and given the general tendency of things to be a bit overcosted in the Core Set, the fact the Hammersmith got through is pretty astounding.

Vassal of the Windlord/Winged Guardian

Eagles operate on a similar principal to Core Gandalf, because while they can last for more than one round, they don’t typically last for more than one action. 1 resource for 3 attack, or 2 for 4 defence is a great deal, but it balances out because you only get those good stats once (or you have to keep paying extra for the Winged Guardian). And then the designers created Battle and Siege questing and suddenly Eagles were broken because they could use their stats over and over again without being discarded.
Of course the Winged Guardian also lost some value with the release of:

Defender of Rammas

Same cost as the Winged Guardian, same 4 defence, doesn’t get discarded afterwards. The only advantages the Winged Guardian retains are Eagle synergy and Sentinel. The Defender also gets a point of attack. Sure he has no ability, but with those stats, he really doesn’t need one.

Imladris Stargazer/Master of the Forge

Classic non-statline, terrible ratio of 1:1, but here the abilities are actually incredibly good, and so the stats don’t matter. Either they help you sort out what you’re drawing or they chump block. Preferably the former because they’re incredibly good at it and throwing them under the bus would be a waste.

Galadhrim Minstrel

For a while this was my least favourite of the 2-cost Silvan allies from the Ring-maker cycle. I think I was blinded by the somewhat lacklustre stats and didn’t realise how great that ability can be. Look at it as like 2 effects, for 1 resource you get a 1 willpower 1 hit point, and for 1 resource you get to search the top 5 cards of your deck for an event to add to your hand. Sounds good to me.

Sarn Ford Sentry

This is another case where I think it’s good to consider it as being like two separate effects – 2 resources for 2 willpower, and 1 resource for a number of cards. So if you have no engaged enemies it’s maybe a bit costly (though 3 for 2 willpower isn’t bad, 2 for 2 is still pretty rare outside of Spirit), with 1 – 1 resource for 1 card is an OK deal, and beyond that it becomes definitely worth it. Once you really get the enemies stuck with you they draw a crazy number of cards.

Ents


Ents are pretty crazy good stats to cost because they come into play exhausted. But even with that, I mean the Wandering Ent has stats which would usually merit 4-cost. I’m not sure just entering play exhausted should merit cutting the cost in half, though admittedly there’s no other ability there. In general the Ents seem to mostly have around a 3:1 stats to cost ratio. So that’s like a ~50% stat increase or a ~33% cost reduction on a normal ally depending on which way you look at it. It’s a rather good deal, because if you think about it, you lose them for one round for them entering play exhausted, but that one round is probably less than 33% of the time they’ll be spending in the game, so the discount exceeds the disadvantage it’s intended to compensate for, in general.

Quickbeam

While the other Ents are good, Quickbeam is just a whole other level of excessively good. OK, again, no real ability, but the same 4.5:1 stats to cost ratio the Wandering Ent has, only reassigned for a greater focus on attack – which, again, focus is more significant on allies than it is on heroes in my opinion, and perhaps more significantly this is that incredibly rare thing, a primary stat (attack) higher than the amount of resources you pay for it. And not even in the sphere known for good attack. And while for the other Ents the discount probably exceeds the disadvantage of them entering play exhausted, Quickbeam basically just doesn’t enter play exhausted, he enters play with one damage on him. Even if you for some reason don’t have means to heal that damage, then you’re still getting 8 stat points for 2 resources, and not even in Secrecy or anything. Even for a unique ally, this is kind of insane.

Dunedain Hunter

Powerful ally for free? Ridiculously good! Well, except you have to pull an enemy out of the encounter deck. Now I’ll disregard that being engaged with an enemy can be a positive in the right deck – just because certain archetypes can turn costs/negatives (discarding a card, returning an ally to hand, engaging an enemy) into positives doesn’t change the fact they are costs/negatives in general. But even without considering that angle, I think a case could be made that the Hunter is either too cheap or too strong, because so often dealing with one more enemy is really not that big a deal compared to getting out a powerful ally and holding onto your resources. The one balancing factor there is that it’s inconsistent – you don’t generally know what enemies you’ll see in the top 5 cards so you could be forced to take a horrible one. And of course every now and then you’ll actually see no enemies and have to discard the Hunter (that actually happened to me for the first time yesterday).

So that’s my rather rough and ready look at resource costs on allies. In contrast to hero’s threat costs, there are a lot more cases where it could be argued the designers have deviated a little too far from the formula. Though on the other hand because it’s more common that means it just becomes a bit more standard to have that deviation (not to be confused with a standard deviation, this is too imprecise for exact statistical terminology). Of course there are a lot of factors in play concerning the appropriate costing of allies besides the stats, including the concentration/spread of those stats, putting that in the context of what sphere the ally appears in, trait synergy, and of course the ability – all of which vary much more for allies than they do for heroes so it’s pretty much inevitable there’d be some outliers. There are currently 160 allies in the game, and off the top of my head I’d estimate that around 80% of them are still very usable in the right context, which for such a variable game and 5 years down the line from its original release is pretty impressive. So what do you guys think? Am I broadly speaking right, or am I totally off-base here?

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One Response to Design Debates – Resource Costs (Allies)

  1. Qwaz says:

    Excellent run down. I think I haven’t appreciated Quickbeam enough as i’ve only put him in decks with other beefy Ents. Reading this it’s clear he merits my wider use!

    Like

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