Return from Wesnoth

I finally lost my patience with Battle for Wesnoth, which I’ve been playing lately. While I’ve usually been able to endure playing a scenario per day, the latest scenario in the campaign, the Trial of the Horse Clan (or some such; playing the Finnish translation here) almost made me break my mouse in frustration. I doubt that I’m going to return to the game again.

The concept of the scenario is long distances and units with plenty of movement. Due to how the game doesn’t support real skirmish units (which you’d expect of plains nomads), the horse lords of the plains wield large numbers of heavy-hitting lancer units instead. This means that the whole scenario is a total bloodbath with units exchanged 1-to-1 with the enemy. Consider, the four methods of protecting your own troops in Wesnoth:

  • Positioning the units into defensive lines that protect their flanks is not useful against an enemy that does not care about their own casualties and is capable of killing my units with one or at most two attacks. The best protective line the hex geometry allows still leaves each unit with two open hex sides; more than enough for the lancers to focus their attacks on the most valuable unit in the defensive line.
  • Positioning the units in protective terrain is difficult, as such terrain is scarce on the plains. Furthermore, terrain only reduces opponent striking probability in this game, which isn’t that useful when most units the opponent wields are kamikaze stuff capable of taking all but the most robust units out in one hit. Even the best terrain only protects an unit at a 35% probability against a lancer who strikes 3 times for massive damage.
  • Putting sacrificial units in front of your valuable ones still works on the plains, but you need humongous numbers of those units here: each lancer kills one low-level unit per round, so even if you always manage to kill the lancer after its initial charge, you’re going to lose something like 20 units before the scenario is through. I don’t know if I have the patience for this style of play after shepherding my army through a dozen scenarios with something like half a dozen fatalities in total. Actually, I don’t even know if I’d have the budget for that sort of thing in this scenario.
  • The most efficient tool of defense in Wesnoth is to position your troops so far away from the enemy that the enemy can’t reach them. Unfortunately the concept in this scenario is mobile enemy, so this is not an option; fast light cavalry doesn’t hit hard enough to actually eliminate those lancers, while heavier-hitting units are all so fragile and slow that I end up trading one expensive elite unit for one of those lancers every time the enemy gets a turn with a lancer in hitting distance of my lines.

In some other game I’d enjoy this sort of challenge, but here the user interface of the game makes that pretty impossible; reloading the position takes so long that it’s practically impossible to try out a sufficient number of plans to figure out how to approach the scenario before I lose my patience. As cumulative bad luck can force a reload as well, I’m looking at spending almost an estimated hour simply waiting for the game to load in between attempts at solving the scenario. Not my understanding of a good time by any means, as I’d somehow have to know how to solve the scenario before I actually play it to avoid having to reload.

I could reduce the amount of load breaks by playing much more conservatively with the hero characters (the ones you aren’t allowed to lose) and by intentionally sacrificing low-level units to the grind, but I’m a bit doubtful as to why I’d want to. Surely I have better things to do at this point.

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10 Responses to “Return from Wesnoth”

  1. Jasper Flick Says:

    It’s interesting you actually kept playing so far, considering your disposition! You really do give it a fair chance. The next scenario is the last of that campaign, at least then you needn’t worry about preserving troops.

    I’m curious whether you made active use of damage types/resistances and especially time of day. You haven’t written about that, while it’s a key part of the game’s tactics.

    Another key part to games like this is abusing the gimpy AI. Wesnoth’s AI is easy to herd and is indeed suicidal (which becomes a curse when you have to save an AI ally).

  2. Eero Tuovinen Says:

    Yeah, the campaign should be running down at this point – I’ve explored most of the unit tree. Almost makes me want to give it another day just to see it through, now that I know that I’m almost at the end. Crazy, considering how I’ve increasingly ended my sessions angry and annoyed as the scenarios have become more difficult.

    I’m aware of the resistance and alignment rules, but haven’t utilized them tactically for the most part. The thing about damage bonuses and penalties is that they are only significant tactically in this sort of game when they change the division outcome of [total hitpoints] / [damage per attack]. Small fluctuation in the amount of damage only affects the remainder of hitpoints, but as long as it doesn’t actually change how many strikes it takes to put down a given unit, it’s not something I’d concern myself with. There has been a couple of spots in the campaign where this has mattered as more than a random curiousity; for instance, the effectiveness of ghosts is influenced much more by the day cycle than that of most critters due to how they leech life from their victims by causing damage. I distinctly remember that I actually timed some major battles in undead encounter scenarios earlier to occur during the day; easy, as the AI doesn’t seem to care when and where we fight.

    Now that I think of it, I probably should hand-pick the units I use against the lancers to be especially resistant against piercing attacks. I doubt that there are any available that’d actually get humongous enough resistances for it to matter (that is, for the unit to survive more attacks than an unit that just has high hitpoints), but who knows – I’ve yet to micromanage the resistance-pairing of my troops vs. enemies to any significant degree. Most units seem to have only 10% swings in their resistance values in comparison with each other, and the few exceptions are high-level and situational (like merman and dwarven defender units).

    We can actually do some math on this – a lancer attacks three times with 15 damage per hit, doubled by their charge special ability. This means that at dawn against a 50% defence (optimistic; most units go with 40% on the plains) they cause an average of 15*3*2*.5 = 45 points of damage. At night this is reduced by 25% to 34 points, at day it’s 56. If we compare this to typical victims, the ones available to me seem to have something like 30 (expendable 1-level units) to 50 (elite) hit points. We can conclude that only units with 35+ hit points actually care about the time of day; the weaker ones will die with one attack on average anyway. On the other hand, any unit with 35-70 hit points will still die with two lancer attacks on average, no matter the time of day. Therefore the diurnal cycle will only matter when one lancer is attacking an elite unit.

    Unfortunately that realization is not much use for me if I don’t want to get my elite units killed; even if an unit has something like 35-68 hit points, they have a considerable chance of dying of the lancer attack anyway, day or night. If 50% of strikes miss, that means that all three of the lancer’s attacks will strike home 12.5% of the time anyway. As we remember, it’s not considerate of my blood pressure to take this sort of risks routinely in this game, as losing a favourite unit is bitter and often inspires me to reload the game, forcing me to wait for a minute, cursing the RNG. Even if I made defending with elite units my core policy, I’d have to expect something like a score of encounters with those lancers through the scenario… that’d be an average of 2-3 killed elite units from unlucky dicing.

    Hmm… I think I’ll give the scenario one more try, this time with radical sacrificial tactics. If this is the second to last scenario anyway, I might well burn through half of my elite core and still have plenty of units for the last encounter. It’s notable that I only consider this because of external information: the game itself gives me no clues as to when it is OK to start sacrificing core resources in expectation of victory.

    A poignant flavour to my struggles with this particular scenario comes from the fact that the battle in the scenario seems to be completely unnecessary and meaningless in the fantasy cheese plot presented by the game. The horse clan are actually slaughtering my army not because they desire to oppose my pretender to the crown, but because they apparently enjoy having people indiscriminately killed on both sides, as a sport. Certainly doesn’t increase my motivation for beating the scenario.

    • Jasper Flick Says:

      You’re right, modifiers matter most if the number of blows to kill changes. With damage/hp totals, defense odds, attack types, resistances/weaknesses, traits, alignment, healing, movement, and special abilities/attacks, there’s a surprising amount of wiggle room, there to be utilized if you’re willing to pay attention to it all. But going in blind is really frustrating! The game might benefit from some neon signs pointing to their online guide.

      I was frustrated too, until I learned how to generate more highly advanced units than I could ever recall. But yea, it’s mostly a game of sacrificing fodder to keep the good stuff alive. It’s something like lose 95% of lvl 1s (including never recalling them), lose 30% of lvl 2s, lose 15% of level 3s, and still end up with an elite army far too large to recall.

      This particular scenario seems to follow the idea of “I’m a knight, best me in combat and I’ll join your cause!” Which is idiotic, because in your case it’s a fight to the death, while for the knight leaders it isn’t (they’ll join you if you “kill” them). The storylines are indeed cheap fluff. I find that irritating in nearly all computer games.

    • Tommi Brander Says:

      I haven’t played that campaign that far so I don’t know which units are available, but if you have spearmen or the drakes with first-strike spears, use them: charge doubles their damage and they hit the lancers before the lancers hit them, making the charging tactics very painful for the enemy.

  3. V Says:

    I tough that the annoying horse-scenario was easiest of them all. But then – I am a former programmer and I play to beat the AI.

    To beat the scenario, observe how the AI acts when you make a diversion. Exploit that behaviour to move hits-to-kill hero next to a horse lord. Repeat until three (see fluff) of them are dead.

    Or use more fodder for diversion and 3 consecutive strikes against horse lords and get the reward.

    To be honest. The last level is not worth it.

  4. Eero Tuovinen Says:

    I actually finished the scenario today after Jasper egged me on. It was pretty easy when I just decided to not care of losses – I just threw out a random bunch of units and walked over the horse people with no strategy or tactics. Won the scenario easily, lost three or four significant units.

    And you’re right, V – the last scenario is not much to look at, at least at first glance. A slugfest that cannot be resolved without superior units or superior bankroll, seems like. Luckily I have more elite units than I know what to do with, so I might as well throw them out there and finish the campaign. Whenever I have the time, I guess.

    • Aleksi Says:

      Are there any boardgames like Wesnoth? The game seems like it would work as a boardgame.

      • Eero Tuovinen Says:

        Well, I’d say that if the hex-basing and exception-based unit design are the key elements, then Battlelore is very much it. I don’t much care for the game myself due to the ratio of set-up time to playtime, but there seems to be plenty of folks who adore it.

  5. Deliverator Says:

    Followed here from S-G. I’m a huge Wesnoth fan, and just recently discovered a great new tactic for Test of the Clans: spam Dwarven Guardsmen. You lose some, sure, but not many, and level one or two. They slaughter the lancers at a very favorable ratio.

    Also, I like putting some mermen in the lake and egging on the AI to charge into the water. The mermen will die if you get unlucky, but 80% chance-to-hit for you vs. 40% chance-to-hit for the AI ain’t bad, and the mermen do pierce.

    • Eero Tuovinen Says:

      That sounds sensible. I probably should take another look at the game, but this time orient less on husbanding and utilizing a series of elite units. As you say, there should be some legs in the idea that instead of always bringing in the same set of elite units hopefully balanced to take on any challenge, you’d pick and choose your army strictly on the basis of current needs of the scenario, even when that means relying on unexperienced troops that happen to have a favorable overall profile against the current threat.


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