There has been some conventional wisdom developing for Gloomhaven perks – removing negative cards is better than adding equivalent positive cards. Let’s find out!
Thanks to user Robyrt on the BGG forums for pointing this out to me!
Let’s simply take a standard starting deck, and compare their distributions when cards are added/removed.
To add a +2, or remove a -2 ?
Adding a “+2” card to the standard deck yields the above distribution.
Key facts: Average damage = ~3.091, Miss chance = ~6.818%
Above we see the distribution of removing a “-2” from the deck.
Key facts: Average damage = 3.1, Miss chance = ~7.89%
Verdict: Removing a “-2” yields (slightly) more damage, on average. About… 0.009 more average damage. Well, that’s not a lot, so if you have
an excuse a good reason to choose adding a “+2”. go right ahead.
A good reason for adding +2:
Shields. Monsters can have shields – sometimes large ones. If you anticipate often fighting foes with shields that are large compared to the typical damage on your ability cards, you want help from those big “+2” cards.
For example, when fighting a foe with “Shield 3” using the standard deck, using a basic “Attack 3” card, your distribution looks like this:
The average damage here is ~0.548, and the odds of doing any amount of damage are ~35.7%.
Removing a “-2” will indirectly help you, simply because it increases the odds you draw a positive card. Here is the distribution for that shield situation, but with a “-2” removed from your deck:
Looks pretty similar. Here, the average damage is 0.575, which is an improvement of about 0.027 damage. The odds of doing any damage at all increase to 37.5%.
Adding a “+2” should be slightly better than this. Let’s see:
The average damage when adding a “+2” is ~0.614, which is more than double the improvement of removing a “-2”. In addition, the chance of doing some damage is increased to ~38.6%.
A good reason to remove a -2:
Enemies don’t have an infinite number of hit points. When we calculate things outside the game, like average damage, we usually assume that those hits for 6 damage actually remove 6 hit points from the enemy. Often, they don’t!
When enemies have few hit points, either by their nature or because your allies have bloodied them up already, you don’t care about max-overkill. (Well, it’s satisfying… sure.) What you really need is reliability.
Anyone who has played tabletop RPGs has seen that hyyuuuge barbarian use Power Attack to swing his hefty axe at a weak foe, only to miss completely. Don’t be that person.
So, removing a “-2” from your deck makes sense to reduce the odds of embarrassing failure. Let’s look at an example when an enemy has 2 hit points (and no shield).
The standard deck, using an “Attack 3” against an enemy with 2 hit points.
The average damage here is ~1.81, and the odds of killing this enemy are ~88.1%.
How does this change if we remove a “-2”?
Average damage here increases to 1.85, and the odds of the enemy biting the dust increase to 92.5%. Nice!
And for adding a “+2”?
Average damage is barely higher than the standard deck, at ~1.82. The odds that the enemy dies are ~88.6%. In this situation, adding a “+2” to your deck has not helped much at all.
Expect to face off with lots of heavily shielded monsters? Add big positive modifier cards!
Often find yourself late in initiative order, finishing off weakened foes? Remove big negative modifier cards!
In my opinion there are strong arguments either way on this one, and it depends on your character class, the player’s style, the group composition, and the enemies encountered (which depends on your role-playing decisions). It’s easy to say “this is the right answer”, but in a well-designed game like Gloomhaven, many choices can be “best” for different situations.