Recently, Wargroove came out and it impresses me that it would have had a year and a half worth of input availability from certain Advance Wars communities, and it thinks to instead aggravate balance issues. I could of course complain about the forced suboptimal movement involved in the Pikemen crit tutorial, but this is supposed to be about Advance Wars. There is, however, something I can tear at with Wargroove that would be involving direct comparisons to Advance Wars: Pikemen being overpowered beyond belief.
To elaborate, Pikemen are an Expy of Mechs, and Mechs were already over-the-top even before Days of Ruin, although pre-DoR had Infantry spam that defeated Mechs anyway. Mechs were made stronger in Days of Ruin, of course, thanks to a price decrease as well as Infantry costing more, and Wargroove ended up adding to the buff train. For those who don't believe me, I'll provide a damage table right away:
(EDIT: Wargroove damage values changed to actual minimums, which the AWs already use; also as a note, luck damage is actually affected by the Crit multipliers.)
(EDIT: fixed the math again.)
|Infantry||65||45||65||45||75/113||35/52||5 HPs||4.1 HPs|
|Mech||55||55||55||55||55/83||55/83||4.1 HPs||4.1 HPs|
(GBW3: Buggy, Convoy)
|APC||75||N/A||75||N/A||45/67||N/A||7.2 HPs||5.7 HPs|
|Light Tank||55||70||55||70||70/105||45/67||4.5 HPs||5.7 HPs|
|MD Tank||15||95||15||95||10/15||100(/250)||3.5 HPs||5.7 HPs|
|Artillery||70||85||70||85||70/105||60/81||8.8 HPs||5.7 HPs|
|Rocket Launcher*||85||90||85||90||50/75||80/120||9.4 HPs||8.5 HPs|
|Anti-Air Tank||65||105||55||105||65/98||75/113||8 HPs||12.1 HPs|
|Anti-Air Missile Launcher||85||N/A||85||N/A||55/83||30/45||9.4 HPs||N/A|
|Fighter||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||0.2 HPs||6.2 HPs|
(GBW3: using Attacker)
|N/A||110||N/A||110||N/A||120/240||0.2 HPs||8.7 HPs|
|Battle Helicopter||9||75||12||65||N/A||65/81||0.3 HPs||10.3 HPs|
|Transport Helicopter||35||N/A||35||N/A||N/A||N/A||0.5 HPs||5 HPs|
|Lander||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||0.1 HPs||11.7 HPs|
(EDIT, 3/28/2019: added equivalent GBW3 matchups. Note that GBW3's Rocket Launcher is not a teched up indirect but rather a Lite Land buster at the cost of anti-armor ability; against the Artillery+ (promoted Artillery), the Bazooka deals 7.6 HPs of damage, and takes 8.5 HPs, and against the Rocket Launcher+, Bazooka deals 8 HPs of damage, and takes 10. Meanwhile, GBW3 sadly doesn't have an equivalent to the Battleship or Cruiser.)
Let's go over each of the matchups (EDIT: corrected some math and a few things, also added a link):
- Infantry - in WG, a first strike Infantry with Critical Hit, which already demands the freaking Commander, already has their best case scenario be a 7-5, and with bad luck can even suffer with a result of 5-6, and this is even without considering the Pikeman's own Critical Hit--yes, Critical Hits are active on enemy phase, and this most certainly applies to the Pikemen. Contrast to in the AWs where the worst scenario was a 6-6, although the best was still 7-5. Doesn't seem like much, except, ya know, Mechs didn't cost only 1.5 times as much as Infantry, nor did they have Crits that even work on enemy phase.
- Recon - OH MY GOD, WHAT IS THIS?!?!? No, seriously, Mechs could already stave Recons in the AWs even before DoR. Here we have the Recon Expy dealing less with a Crit, with a 1.5x multiplier at that, than the Recon did at base. Whose idea was it to have those mutts deal less damage? And oh look, Pikemen barely deal less base damage, except they too have a 1.5x multiplier for their easier Crits anyway, so the mutts just get mauled. I just....what? Just.....WHAT?!?!?
- Wagon - at least this thing is more durable? Not that the APC was impressive.
- Light Tank - another MU where there's idiocy in its own right in Wargroove. The AWs actually had some respect for interaction and realism with the MU damage. This isn't the case with Pikemen VS Cavalry. As much as I dislike the concept of the Cavalry's Critical Hit method for fostering kiting, it's still sad that the total damage they'd deal is still less, slightly or not, than the Light Tank against the Mech, while costing 4 times as much as the Pikeman. Oh, and would you look at that, Cavalry cost 4 times as much as Pikemen instead of still less than 3 even in Days of Ruin, and Pikemen STILL deal even more base damage than Mechs did even before the Crit business that makes things worse and even introduces a 1HKO. Excuse me, I need to find a wall to practice my Manfred Von Karma imitation on. Oh, and for those who need some useful math about this MU in the pre-DOR AWs, here you go: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1fiCEhnhxbWo8w7tIXQotbdM5wZhn8QWUzi6PyosARCk/edit#gid=0
- MD Tank - think things are better here? Ahaha, nope. Pikemen are *BARELY* 1HKOed by Giants, and not to mention that the Crit lets them deal the same damage with luck damage aggravated. Additionally, the relative cost multiplier for Giants compared to Pikemen is a whopping EIGHT, which is still higher than Days of Ruin's War Tank compared to Mechs, which clocked in at 6.4 instead. Also, the Giant's massive Crit multiplier (2.5x) only activates for below 5 HPs, so it's not even very useful anyway.
- Artillery - Archers effectively cost more, need their Crit to not even deal even almost as much as Artillery did before, and are taking the same BASE damage from the Pikemen, so a Pikeman Crit gimps them and pulls the 1HKO on Roads.
- Rocket Launcher - Wargroove has the Trebuchet favored more against an individual Pikeman, but oh wait, it's still just one unit, what's going to stop a Pikeman spammer from just bringing out a Cavalry to snipe it off with a 1HKO Crit? And yeah, see what I mean about kiting being anti-fun?
- Anti-Air Tank - now this is what I want to go off against, though I'm LONG over the initial shock of how stupidly Wargroove handled this, and the Recon and Light Tank Expies are both worse off anyway. Still, the AW Anti-Air Tank already had problems against Mechs in its own right, though I'll get to that when I finish roasting Wargroove's handling of the Pikemen MUs over the coals. Speaking of, the Pikemen deals as much to the Mage, at base--again, of course, Crits make things way worse. More importantly, however, is that the Mage CANNOT ONE HIT KO PIKEMEN WITHOUT DEALING WITH THEIR OVERLY STRICT CRIT CONDITION. What is that Crit condition, you may ask? Why, needing to stop on a Forest or Mountain tile. Nobody is going to thoughtlessly stop next to a Forest or Mountain tile, so this is literally worse than hoping there are valid targets on Road tiles.
- Anti-Air Missile Launcher - oh hey, the Ballista can actually attack ground uni- oh wait a minute, it's effectively more expensive and still unimpressive about its job.
- Air units - like a Mech flooder wouldn't have built the necessary countering units? Oh, and by the way, can we take a moment to appreciate how the Days of Ruin Battle Helicopter deals less damage to Mechs than the pre-DoR one does? Oh, and the air units are basically a little more expensive too.
- Sea units - I do suppose the Wargroove Warship can at least 1HKO Pikemen naturally while costing significantly less. An okay gesture, but nothing I'm going to be impressed by at this point. Also, Wargroove does have amphibian units, but they're even worse than the Infantry Expy in terms of the Pikeman MU.
Oh, and by the way, this isn't even mentioning how Pikemen have 3 Movement Power instead of 2. Suffice to say that Pikemen are stronger in both stats AND environment.
But surely, something could be done to thin the herd, right? Well, what I pointed out is how a key intended counter already wasn't even working well enough in the Advance Wars games. But why care about something like the Anti-Air Tank to begin with? Well, the simple answer is provided in the entire Nintendo Wars series' evolution. In the original Famicom Wars as well as in Game Boy Wars 1/2/Turbo, Anti-Air Tanks couldn't attack land units at all, which made them completely map dependent and gimmicky. Super Famicom Wars changed this, also giving them high damage against infantry, but the base damage was in the 90s, so the Anti-Air Tank wasn't 1HKOing, which of course is significant when a shot member of a picket line was going to still be clogging the space without a second chance to get rid of them and stop them from blocking units like Artillery. So Advance Wars of course changed the base damage to 105%...which still missed the issue that terrain defense was going to put a quick end to reliable 1HKOing.
But there is another game in the Nintendo Wars series that did understand about terrain defense. One that got missed because of how the other games obscured it. Its name is Game Boy Wars 3.
Now I will say as a disclaimer, that Game Boy Wars 3 does have its share of misfires (the price gaps, the bad execution of the Focus system, and Bazooka units still being overtuned in their own right due to overinflated DEF stats), but it is with its definite share of good ideas. What are those good ideas? Well, here's a list:
- Matchup damage values are based on unit families instead of a per matchup basis. This is more of a necessity than anything because there's 51 unit types in GBW3 and I'm not sure how Hudson Soft's employess would have felt about manually coming up with damage values for 2601 matchups. Although nevertheless, simplification does allow for more sensible mnemonics that the player can make use of to useful effect. It's definitely clear that the rockets of a Rocket Launcher unit would have a better time against Lite Land units (which are going to involve their own point, by the way) than the singular shells of Artillery would, at the cost of worse performance against Armor units, because they care more about ensuring hits here and there against the small and the fast. Examples like that are sufficiently plentiful in GBW3, and it allows for learning about matchups at leisure.
- Anti-Air Tank has base damage values against Lite Land family units that easily clear the 1HKO threshold on Roads. To elaborate, the highest Armor DEF a Lite Land family unit (other than the promoted ones, which are Campaign-exclusive) has is 14, clocked by the Humvee and Work Car (as well as the Bazooka--told you he's overtuned)--Grunts have 10. Compare this to the Anti-Air Tank's 34 Lite Land ATK. The base HP damage in GBW3 is calculated as 5 times the used ATK value divided by the used DEF value. This means that the Anti-Air Tank at full health deals 12 HP damage to a Humvee or Work Car outside any further factors, and inflicts as much as 17 to Grunts. Sounds redundant when all that's needed for a 1HKO is 10 HPs of damage? Since terrain boosts and HP loss can reduce damage enough, it's not. Of course, that brings me to the next big thing.
- Terrain boosts use subtraction defense. This is a very big one. Rather than cut damage by an amount proportional to the total damage, terrain cover only regards the defending unit's own HP, and nothing else, for having its influence modified. Most notably, on a City, where damage is cut by 1.5 HPs, an attack that deals 3.5 HPs of damage (Artillery deals slightly less to the Main Battle Tank) will instead deal 2 HPs flat, equivalent to a 75% DEF boost in Days of Ruin or a 44% DEF boost in AW2 or AWDS; but an attack that deals 11.5 HPs of damage will still KO, which anything stronger than Plains in the AWs would be able to stop. Units like the Main Battle Tank can approach through terrain and benefit highly off of that, while the Anti-Air Tank wouldn't be as suffocated against Lite Land targets because the subtraction defense means that a full health Anti-Air Tank WILL generally 1HKO them if they're not on a Mountain or HQ tile. This is also player phase friendly because the active player can control the matchups more easily, achieving the clearly higher base damage values while being rewarded with maintained HP for accounting for counterattack.
- Actual balance around significant terrain. People want properties, so that they can acquire more funds and thus build more units. What Game Boy Wars 3 does is not only balance damage values around the expectation of battle lines happening around enough terrain with City-level Cover often enough, but also involve mixed number Movement Costs to clear rougher terrain more easily. Not only does this show more trust in the player's competence, but it also helps to curb spam when the potential spam units suddenly have to worry about being much easier to damage to useful effect if they're on more vulnerable tiles.
- Level up boosts. This has the obvious benefit of rewarding unit preservation. What's the reward? For each level up, +10% ATK and an equivalent damage taken cut to Plains (0.5 HP damage affected by defender's HP). For units with higher base damage values against relevant targets, such as the Anti-Air Tank, level ups absolutely favor the attacker because of how high the attack power already is that it's even harder for the defender to buffer it with their own level ups. Units with high DEF stats and no overwhelming defensive power weaknesses, such as the Main Battle Tank, also benefit from the defense boosts highly, particularly when they park on terrain where they become harder to scratch. Needless to say that level up boosts favor base damage quite nicely.
- THE WORK CAR. No, seriously, this unit is a big reason why Game Boy Wars 3's flow is still solid. What happens with the Work Car is that it's capable of, among other things, developing properties to increase their Strength ratings, which directly influences capture time, repair rate, and (of course) income. That last one is especially important because this means that once properties are generally established, Work Cars will be the main source of further income increase. Of course, it comes at the cost of any competent combat ability--the Humvee certainly has objectively better combat stats for a lower cost; this results in that map control is desirable to make the most of the Work Car, and overbuilding Work Cars is just asking for trouble. In summary, Work Cars act as THE supply lines. Equally brilliant game design is that they're typed as Lite Land, meaning that they're more vulnerable to Anti-Air Tanks and Rocket Launchers. This is what keeps game pace in general stable: in mid-game and even late-game, income increases are around to keep setbacks from being crippling, but once a winner is decided, the overwhelming funding will make it easy to dedicate surplus funds to Anti-Air Tanks that would 1HKO newly built Work Cars without armor units standing in their way nearly as easily, allowing for ending the matches more quickly.
- The car units are Lite Land. This is more intended for aesthetic, but giving the same defensive typing as the infantry to the Convoy, Buggy, and Humvee, under the premise that they eschew armor for speed, allows all 3 to not have to contend with the Bazookas' anti-armor shelling. (Although I do have my PALBal patch give the Bazookas the ability to hit Lite Land units with it, but for a low enough attack rating that terrain cover will absolutely get in the way.) They have a different weakness instead: low DEF stats and high susceptibility to MG fire and grenades. This is a case of Worth It to the Buggy and Convoy, since they only really target Lite Land units anyway, so they can actually point counter units like Bazookas. The Humvee, meanwhile, is kept interesting with more evened out matchups that justify it being strong on paper. Still, the most important factor? The Buggy, which counters the Bazooka for high enough damage, isn't 1HKOed or hard countered by a less expensive unit like air units are and yet can't be massed to overly strong effect because it's still so ineffective against the actual armor units and still has to worry about MG fire. Not only does this address infantry spam, it does so without creating its own spam.
- Flanking bonuses. I will say first and foremost that the way flanking bonuses are handled in GBW3 is that they actually involve giving the target penalties, which while still player phase friendly is biased against base damage and can result in silly stuff like a 1 HP Grunt being able to damage an Aegis Warship at all. That said, however, rewarding area control and good direct fire unit usage is beneficial to a game's balance, and flanking bonuses reward an action that works off of both.
All in all, Game Boy Wars 3 had some solid ideas, and it's just sad to see its existence ignored when people try to make Spiritual Successor attempts to Advance Wars.