Thus far I’ve been playing around with a ruby script that generates little armies for Pocket Battles. One of the barriers towards being friendly to newbies has been corrected in the current release of Pocket Battles: Orcs vs Elves, which is the introduction of small example armies, relatively balanced.
My generator is currently decent for 50-point battles vis a vis balance, but 60 points and above can result in fairly unbalanced configurations around half of the time. I’ll probably add more heuristics to redraft inadequate combat units, once I add routines to (a) calculate how likely a unit can hit (the variety of dice across its troop tiles), and (b) how hard they can hit on a single die roll (dice that occur in multiples will result in harder hits when not taking into account attributes like +X Engagement/Shooting, Impetus, and Blood Lust, but usually sacrificing the probability that the unit will hit something; usually (a) is more important than (b), but (b) can sometimes be more vital than (a) for shooting units, which will, apart from the odd Shooting enhancement unit, only be able to roll one die).
For the interested, the current heuristics go something like this:
Shuffle troop tiles and go through one by one. For each troop tile, determine if it’s “smart” in combination with an existing non-full unit; add it to the unit if so, otherwise create a new unit containing just it.
“Smartness” is determined by whether a unit is compatible with the troop tile under examination at all, e.g.:
Is it even legal to add it at all?
Given that a unit is either all-engagement, all-shooting, or a combination of both, will the new unit be compatible in terms of either qualities (like Long Range, +X Engagement and/or Shooting) or in terms of types of dice it can roll?
If the troop tile is compatible and it rolls dice, will it add to the variety of dice of the existing unit? (There are parameters such that if the variety of dice is currently “good enough”, this check is bypassed. The “good enough” requirement is by default 2 for enhancing engagement, and 3 for enhancing shooting.)
Elsewise, either recycle the unit (depending on if a function hook returns true or not) or discard the unit from consideration.
There are other hooks for army-specific generators (or drafters as they’re termed in code), such as whether to skip units before engaging in further checks (you don’t want the Roman army to have three catapults when under 70 points, or at least I think so), and whether to always seed the drafted army with a certain pool of units, either full or not (for instance, the Celts drafter by default always uses Gaesatae in separate open units, and the Orcs will always start out with Kobolds in a similar situation; there’s also a “FastGaesatae” version of the Celts that hard-codes the initial seed Gasatae units with the highest probability hit enhancing Horsemen troops). And of course, one can always override the “is this smart?” method (for instance, one almost always wants Kobolds to beef up the combat troop tiles with formation value 1 and a low wound count like 1-2).
Right now, I do want to add the following:
- After drafting, remove bad units and rerun the draft with the non-incorporated units until the total deployment points are met again.
- Better Romans- and Elves-specific smartness, recycling, and skipping hooks; I was always fonder of weenie rush back my Magic: the Gathering days, so the Celts and Orcs come more naturally to me. And they’re also easier to play with when you’re not as experienced.
The 50-point armies (which are non-optimal because the drafter is probably never going to be perfect, but may be helpful to newbies):
[Army 6 units, 50 points,
– #3 Chariot
– #4 Hero
– #5 Gaesatae, #15 Noble Cavalry
– #6 Gaesatae, #14 Horsemen
– #22 Slingers, #11 Champion, #8 Javelinmen
– #26 Warband, #17 Noble Cavalry
Notes: keep the Fast units in the back sectors, and if it’s a choice between you charging first or the opposition charging first in a particular sector, it will almost always be better that it’s you. It helps to weaken an opponent before bringing in the Gasatae on offense, as being able to charge and use Overwhelming is often life or death for the Celts.
[Army 6 units, 49 points,
– #1 Imaginifer
– #3 Onager
– #9 Praetorians, #13 Auxiliares, #26 Cataphracts
– #10 Imperator
– #21 Archers, #20 Archers, #23 Archers
– #25 Cataphracts, #27 Cataphracts, #15 Legionaries
Notes: the Romans have heavy damage-soaking units and can withstand charges. Well. Most charges. Make sure either that your shooty units are paired with the bruisers. It’s almost always a good idea, when facing Gasatae, to let them run into the heavies (by which I mean units that will take 5 to 6 wounds) and have the shooty units on standby in the first row to hit the Gasatae while they’re tied up. This is one of the few times you’ll want shooty units in the sector fronts rather than behind, because unlike other units, you have one less turn to deal with the Gasatae than other units, unless you somehow have a Fast shooting unit with a high probability of hitting its target, which is difficult, if not impossible.
And never underestimate Overwhelming, especially not Overwhelming versus a Slow bruiser unit in another sector. Have single-troop sacrificial units if necessary to buffer the second onslaught that Overwhelming can result in.
[Army 6 units, 49 points,
– #3 Chariot
– #7 Great Eagle
– #12 Mounted Archers
– #13 Mounted Guard, #15 Elven Does, #27 Spearmen
– #4 Captain, #18 Elite Archers, #19 Elite Archers, #20 Elite Archers
– #25 Archers
Notes: the Elves are even more shooty than the Romans, which makes them harder to play. With Elite Archers, they have a better chance of constructing a shooty unit that can not only have a high probability of hitting, but also have a better chance of hitting harder when it does. And with further evasion and blocking capabilities of the Pathfinders’ Scout and the Mounted Archers’ Skirmish and Fast, this means that shooty units have a better chance of surviving in front and thus striking faster and earlier—or managing to turn the tide after the first Battle Round.
Elves can also construct hard-hitting engagement units, but they tend to be more fragile.
The Great Eagle is a nice troop/unit but so far I’ve had difficulty in learning to use it correctly. It’s a nice assassin for pesky support, weak/weakened units hiding in the back sectors; never ever underestimate the Romans’ Imperator or any support unit with Excite. Thus placement at the beginning of the game seems a key factor in getting this unit to work correctly.
Also, the Great Eagle, by virtue of charging back units, can drag them out to the front, perhaps in time to get slaughtered by tougher front units or shooty units the next turn, or have the opponent waste a deployment or, better yet, tactical deployment getting the support unit back to safety.
[Army 7 units, 50 points,
– #2 Shaman
– #5 Fanatic
– #19 Orcs
– #21 Half Orcs, #1 Warlord, #12 Bugbears
– #28 Goblins, #15 Gnolls, #20 Orcs, #13 Hobgoblins
– #29 Kobolds, #6 Troll
– #30 Kobolds, #4 Chariot
Notes: the Orcs’ main strength is both numbers, higher formation values than typical for many types of units, in particular 2-wound units. Bugbears, with their Impetus and relatively high formation value of 3, means that it’s better to hit them before they hit you, but they’re also likely to have a unit that outlasts yours; better have a unit with a higher probability of hitting hard on engagement (charging or strike-back) or shooting interception. And of course, Blood Lust can be deadly—Fanatics can weaken opposing units enough for the Chariot’s Overwhelming quality to be used to deadly effect.
General notes: Pocket Battles consists of strategy that requires balancing both logistics (in placement and on the fly) and probability in tandem, and I tend to think it requires a more equal partitioning of both than for other war games (or, perhaps to be more correct, single-battle games). Otherwise one is more at mercy to the dice—but it is quite possible to create units with high hit probability while adjusting one’s logistical strategy to be more flexible, or to create units that hit harder with lower probability while adjusting one’s logistics in a different way.
It’s important to remember that Pocket Battles can rely strongly on being able to win more points faster and hold onto the lead; it’s how the Celts and Elves can be deadly, while the Romans and Orcs are better at endurance.
It’s also important to remember that, while there is some theme in terms of how different armies play best, Pocket Battles is more abstract than the average war game. Somehow the game reminds me of a drafting kind of chess with more types of units and with calculable probabilities per capture; maybe even something Knizia might design. And ultimately, as I like Knizia’s chance games, I rather like Pocket Battles.
I think the best way to reduce randomness in general with Pocket Battles is to:
Play three games in a match.
Allow reconstruction of units between games, using only troops fielded from the first game, since I like that sort of restriction as it means one must put more thought pre-match, and yet not too much thought since one can rearrange groupings of troops from game to game.
Loser of one game chooses whether to go first or second in the succeeding game.
Which is an MTG-style tournament structure without side-boarding. I’m not all that imaginative.
This kind of structure could also conceivably let people play from multiple copies of boxes and multiple factions without affecting balance as much.