Last week, I posted my first article on an adventure pack in my Path Less Traveled series, which has up until recently primarily focused on deluxe expansions. In the process of figuring out how I wanted to handle the differences between the two types of expansions, I found myself (quite unexpectedly) ruminating on the series as a whole and what I intend to accomplish with it. How have my goals changed from when I first started the series? Am I still achieving what I intend to?
Sometimes it’s easier for me to work through my thoughts in writing; this post is an artifact of that process. If this article seems to straddle the line between an essay and a letter to myself—now you know why.
The path I have walked
When I first started the series, I wrote a kickoff post explaining my reasoning. Where my Thematic Nightmare series is targeted primarily at long-time players of the game, Path Less Traveled is meant to be easily digestible by players who are just starting out with the game. But my purpose for starting the series wasn’t actually to expand my readership—after all, writing for my blog is something I do with my free time because it’s fun, not because I need the metrics. Rather, I recall wanting to test a common adage that I saw repeated in various online communities: “New expansions would probably be too hard if you played out of order.”
That sounded like an interesting hypothesis to analyze—and so the series was born. My motivation was partly scientific, partly out of a desire to assist new players, and—if I’m honest—partly contrarian (because I secretly love to disprove common wisdom).
A shift of focus
After I was several deluxe expansions in, I felt I had proved to myself that, yes, it is indeed possible to play out of order and have a good time of it. So far, only one expansion—The Lost Realm—has proven to be more hard than fun.
I needed a way to organize my findings in an easily digestible format, and from that need the top-level page was born. My goal was for that page to be something I could easily link to on forums and the like to help answer a couple of common questions that come up all the time. “Is it okay to play out of order?”, “Is X expansion beatable with just a Core Set?”, “After the Core, should I buy X expansion or Y?”, and I even threw in my answer to the evergreen “Should I buy a second Core Set?”
This page gave me a place to boil down all of the articles on a single expansion down to a short, quippy sentence or two which new players can use to hone in on whether or not a particular expansion plays well without a larger card pool. As I played through expansions, I found myself always holding the verdict in mind—and seeking out a verdict for each box became the series’ new raison d’être.
The shift is subtle, I think, but important. The series started out mostly trying to prove that a thing could be done at all; now I am more concerned with how it should be done.
The path ahead
If the purpose of the series has changed slightly, then it’s probably worth looking at the series’ form as well, to see if there are any changes that I can make to allow it to better serve that purpose.
Recently, someone online brought up a point in passing that I hadn’t thought much about before. They made an argument that went something like this: Just because a skilled veteran can beat a quest with a limited card pool doesn’t mean that a new player is going to be able to do the same.
I have on more than one occasion received the feedback that a quest that I thought was relatively easy was one that others found to be quite difficult. Sometimes, that could be chalked up to deck choice, good luck, or personal preferences, but I have begun to suspect it may also related to the 4+ years I have spent playing the same card game over and over.
So my perspective may be slanted
The last thing I would want is to mislead new players into purchasing an expansion out of the belief that they’d be able to pick it up and beat each quest on the first try or two, only to become frustrated when they find themselves running up against a wall. This game is hard, and like any skill it’s going to take practice to master. That goes double for folks new to constructed-deck card games. I don’t think most of my Path Less Traveled articles do a great job of reflecting that.
Unfortunately, I think I’m going to have to accept some level of dissonance between the way new players and I experience the game. After all, I can’t un-learn what I know, and different things are going to trip up different people. But there are a two things I’m going to do to try to add some clarity to the series:
1. I’m going to stop reporting the number of tries it took me to beat a quest.
This metric was originally intended as a general indicator of difficulty. Being the engineer that I am, I love data, and “number of attempts required” was a measurable approximation of that. I always knew it was an imperfect metric, but on reflection if my target audience is new players, reporting my number of tries could actually work against giving a clear indication of what to expect. After all, what makes a lot of quests hard isn’t the raw stats that they demand, but rather figuring out the trick. And in most cases, I’m going into these quests already knowing what I need to achieve.
Instead, I’m going to abstract the difficulty of each quest into one of three buckets:
- Reasonable – It’s definitely possible to beat this quest, but it may take several tries to work out how to meet the quest’s demands.
- Tough – It’s possible to beat this quest, but expect to spend some time optimizing your deck. Be proud of yourself when you finally beat it!
- Punishing – It may be possible to beat this quest with highly optimized deckbuilding and/or good luck, but it might be more hard than fun.
This rating will be informed by the number of attempts that I take to beat a quest, but ultimately I’m going to have to use my gut. I think in the long haul, though, it will provide a more accurate barometer of what to expect than the raw data would. Since the series is effectively one big living document, I may even go back and modify previous articles to utilize the new system.
2. I’m going call out specifically what makes each quest hard (in spoilers sections).
I do some of this already both when I talk about the quest’s mechanics and when I report on my personal play experiences with it, but I think I could stand to highlight it more clearly. When I play a quest, I’m going to take a step back and try to figure out what the key problems are that the quest is posing, the ways I solved them, and other potential solutions that I could have pursued instead.
I may even go so far as to write little micro-posts on individual problems that come up often across quests (for example, enemies that attack for 6+, or too much direct damage) complete with possible solutions to those problems. We’ll have to see where the inspiration strikes me.
That’s a long way of saying I’m going to be experimenting a bit with the structure and content of my Path Less Traveled posts. I’ll start iterating with my next post on Roam Across Rhovanion, but I expect it will take a few tries for me to settle on something I’m really happy with.
Let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts on ways I could make the series more useful!
“Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread.”
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