Giving Up: Challenger Balance Patch

The Community Balance/Bugfix Patch has failed every evaluation category.

Also this starts off quite salty, because I think that there’s no honest explanation of why I’ve done this that doesn’t involve some level of disdain and disappointment.

  • Despite CBP having as many subscribers as RoN:EE has average players on Steam, the suffocating majority of multiplayer games are still played on the unpatched version of EE where every unit in the game deals or receives the wrong amount of damage. Even CBP-sympathetic users primarily play the bugged version of the game.
  • Despite spending a great deal of time and effort documenting exactly what’s been changed in CBP and why, a great many players still refuse to try understanding what the changes are, but these same players don’t mind at all when Skybox changes the game’s entire game balance via bugs while documenting none of it. I find this double standard especially infuriating: a player cannot claim that CBP’s changes are too significant after largely failing to notice by far the most significant balance change in RoN’s history.
  • Despite requesting help with balancing from a great number of individuals, and engaging publicly in balance discussions on various platforms including Steam, Discord, and reddit, there has been almost no balance discussion over the past year except when I have personally prompted and fostered it. Here and there you find brief comments which can be the start of balance discussion, but in and of themselves are not that.
  • Despite CBP Launcher being an open source project that’s been around for over a year, and despite the RoN community having a number of people with many times more experience in software development than myself, not a single person has assisted with coding CBP Launcher.1
  • Despite repeated and numerous public and private requests to do so over an extended period of time, very little patch testing (e.g. for checking for bugs on pre-release versions) happens unless I do it myself. I estimate that over 95% of ALL technical testing has been done by me personally. Of course, people will still take the time to complain about bugs and stuff if it gets through the one-man-QA process though.

I had expected that the above would be required temporarily until the community was on board, and was happy to put forward a great deal of effort setting the community up for success going forward.2 Instead I have discovered that the community broadly does not want a balanced game, and is either aggressively apathetic or outright hostile to any documented attempts at doing so. Even restoring the game’s intended balance — the balance it had for 10 years as per the original developer’s intentions — is somehow deeply controversial. They will evidently only accept subversive, undocumented changes that have received no community discussion or input, did not receive professional balance testing, completely contradict the original developer’s balance intentions, and in fact are almost certainly unintentional by the EE developers given that the object masks problem is pretty clearly a bug. Meanwhile these bizarrely self-assured people make the outrageous, unfounded, and completely false claim that RoN:EE’s balance is “perfect” as-is.

Unlike Skybox, I refuse to make undocumented balance changes — even if they are ultimately supported by balance data and game theory, and even if I’m confident the community would not notice them (because we have VERY CLEAR evidence that the RoN playerbase doesn’t notice the extreme majority of balance changes).

Further, a few highly vocal individuals in the community have demonstrated that they are willing to spend time and energy privately criticizing changes made, even if they admit to not reading or understanding what the changes are. If you make such an outrageous request as to ask for their assistance with balancing (as a discussion does benefit from dissenting voices), they will nonetheless refuse to provide it, citing such reasons as not having the time or energy (despite clearly having both).

Even in seeking out this help I — and others who have worked on the patch’s balance — have been called arrogant, smug, and myopic. Our efforts have been labelled as pointless, asinine, and evil. For fixing bugs, admitting we don’t know it all, and asking for help with balance. It is so far removed from a reasonable response that a year on from some of these comments I am still at a loss for words for how to respond.3

In any case, I refuse to be a dictator on balance for a community patch. If the community is unable or unwilling to work productively on consensus-based balance changes, then there will be none. I see no viable alternative for CBP unless the community steps the fuck up for its own patch, and given that it’s been over a year I have no expectation that they will. At current rates, RoN and CBP will bother wither away until they one day die.4 We can try to enjoy them for a while in the meantime, but the way the game has been let down by both the developers and the community is rather tragic. The game deserves more than what it was given.

With my documented salt and lamentations out of the way, allow me to introduce the:

Challenger Balance Patch

Naming choice

The abbreviation is confusing but intentionally chosen.

First, it alludes to being an extension built on top of the Community Balance/Bugfix Patch.

Second and more importantly, it’s easier to implement a new patch using the same initials due to the existing file naming conventions and name-checking all using “CBP”.

To avoid confusion, the Challenger Balance Patch will not be referred to as “CBP” except in e.g. game files where it needs to be. When I use the term “CBP” here, I’m referring exclusively to the original Community Balance/Bugfix Patch.

“Challenger” is a callback to my League of Legends experience, where I was previously a top 50 (Challenger) player. In other words, I was once among the best League of Legends players not only regionally, but in the world (top ~0.01%, give or take). While I was never at Faker’s level, I was still pretty fucking good, and learnt and understood concepts such as wave management on my own before these were widely understood even among some professional players (of which I was not) who had analysts and coaching staff helping them.

I was never a micro-based player, relying instead on basically outsmarting opponents (especially when I was playing in Diamond 1 on 200 ping). This makes my skillset and experience much more relevant than if I just 1-tricked Riven or something.

Hey, if you’re going to call me arrogant either way, then I might as well flaunt it.

(Plus like, bonus points for the Challenger disaster, I guess?)

Balance philosophy

My balance philosophy in the Challenger Patch is almost exactly the same as it is in CBP, except that I now have the license to throw a core part of CBP’s balancing — consensus — out the window.

All changes which I’m confident pass the subjective test of “makes the game better” are implemented. Note that raw balance is not the metric used; in some cases I reject trivial balance improvements on the basis of cognitive load and maintenance time expended when tracking, testing, and implementing many such changes.

In the Challenger Balance Patch I still:

  • Avoid touching stuff I don’t understand, while still trying to factor in known-unknowns into the broader balance landscape.
  • Evaluate community positions, such as accepted nation tier lists used in tournaments or provided by the best players.5
  • Thoroughly check through technical details that others often ignore, such as attack animations etc. when evaluating unit/building etc. power levels.
  • Run targeted testing in order to evaluate changes, such as was done for e.g. Elite Javelineers, Fire Lances, Inti Clubmen, Copper, and many others.
  • Fact-check by extracting the game’s internal balance table. Experience can lie if not verified against external data.
  • Test with Thrones & Patriots as appropriate to isolate for any possible EE-only bugs/changes.
  • Evaluate external subjective balance criticism against more objective information. For example, I used the Elite Javelineers testing above to ensure criticism about (removing) the power jump from III -> IV was extremely overblown (because it was not being removed – Javelineers and Elite Javelineers still basically suck despite buffs). I used testing and number-checking of elephants to know that feedback regarding the Arquebusiers <-> Gun Mahout matchup being too different in CBP was actually completely misguided, as the matchup is the same in T&P, EE, and CBP. The community is sometimes confident yet completely incorrect. In some cases they know a half-truth which is important to investigate.
  • In difficult or technically-constricted balance situations, explore many avenues to address a problem. For example, in order to elegantly buff The President, I grafted a passive power onto him, a technical workaround that becomes available when you examine all possible avenues. When evaluating how to better balance Light Tanks, I looked at many different unit matchups and the scaling and matchups of those units before and after Age VI.

Updates / Maintenance

I currently have no plans to continue updating this patch. This is basically an MHLoppy-only version of CBP pre-release. Rather than previewing CBP consensus changes, it previews exclusively my own balance contributions.

The game does not reach peak possible balance with this patch, but it reaches the limitations of my knowledge on what’s weak / strong / otherwise in need of change (or in the case of hardcoded elements e.g. Dutch, the limit of what I’m willing to do to implement further balance changes).

Micro-FAQ:

Why not just put these changes in CBP itself?

These changes don’t have community consensus, and so are not suitable for something called a community patch. Putting them in anyway would be highly disingenuous at best. CBP is not a dictator patch.

Okay, why not put these changes in the CBP pre-release then?

See above – it still applies. CBP pre-release is still part of CBP.

 


 

Aaaand now the balance changes themselves:

Base Patch

  • CBP Alpha 9

The Challenger Balance Patch is built on top of CBP Alpha 9. It inherits all of its existing bugfixes and balance changes.

Defensive stance

  • Land units: response range while on Defensive stance: 4 -> 5.

For point of reference, Aggressive is 12 and Guard is 8.

I believe the default value of 4 is too close to Hold Ground in terms of how units react to incoming enemies, and there are too-often cases where a player will want a unit to respond defensively to an enemy, but it doesn’t due to the too-limited response range.

Now the base response range spectrum goes 0/1 (Hold Ground) -> 5 (Defensive) -> 12 (Aggressive). I think this improves the strategic use of Defensive while maintaining similar-to-existing behavior and keeping a clear difference from Aggressive.

Age I HI UU damage modifiers

In all public releases and patches for the game, Hoplites have -12% damage to buildings to reduce the power of rushes while still keeping the option open (it’s not like they do something crazy like half damage).

However, none of the other Age I UUs inherit this modifier. In my expert opinion, there is insufficient evidence to claim that this is — or isn’t — a bug. Because it wasn’t a bug, it required consensus to apply that -12% modifier to the UUs. Consensus was not reached, so all Age I HI (including Hoplites) instead received -4% damage to cities to reduce coordinated rushing power (e.g. in 3v3 games).

Even a couple of seconds matters in rush contexts. The original developers knew this, which is why they slapped the -12% vs buildings on there in the first place. They didn’t kill the strategy, they just slowed it down slightly, allowing opponents a longer window to react/counter.

I believe that coordinated rushing does need to be addressed (hence the -4% vs cities) because the counterplay to it (and therefore the risk of using the strategy) is too limited. However, the edge case of this strategy involves using the nations with Age I UUs that are not subject to that official balance change.

By putting aside whether or not the missing modifier is a bug or not and treating it purely as a balance consideration, the clunky global -4% damage for Age I HI can be removed, and replaced instead by implementing the same -12% modifier across all Age I HI. I’m slightly unsure about the rush timing of Hoplites themselves with/without the change, and so am cautiously treating both 100% and 96% damage vs cities as “acceptably balanced”.

This affects these units:

  • Hoplites: -4% damage vs cities removed.
  • German Solduri: -4% damage vs cities removed. -12% damage vs buildings added.
  • Iroquois Spearmen: -4% damage vs cities removed. -12% damage vs buildings added.
  • Japanese Ashigaru Spearmen: -4% damage vs cities removed. -12% damage vs buildings added.
  • Persian Immortals: -4% damage vs cities removed. -12% damage vs buildings added.

Secondarily, the Japanese Ashigaru Spearmen are enormously more powerful than ordinary Hoplites, being as far as I know the only unit that gains damage, attack speed, HP, and armor (plus other bonuses!) compared to its default unit. Even very strong UUs such as the Tiger Tank don’t gain quite the same level of advantage over their respective counterpart(s).

By having the larger -12% modifier instead of the -4% modifier affecting this unit, they can be permitted to maintain their otherwise-too-strong stats unless further analysis says that they remain too strong. If only the -4% is applied, the unit would’ve needed to lose at least one of its stat improvements to reduce uncounterable rushing power.

On the note of Immortals, this penalty will have an outsized effect on them due to the interaction between attack strength and armor (Immortals have -1 attack strength). While I consider this notable, I don’t consider it to be problematic. Having range on an otherwise-melee unit is still a great advantage to have. Although it may now be slightly weaker than a Hoplite in a raw test of DPS vs cities, this does not make it a weaker overall unit.

Age-up knowledge discount when behind

  • Knowledge discount 20% -> 15% (non-knowledge discount unchanged).

This reduces an edge-case abuse where a player not immediately needing the age up (e.g. a pocket player in a team game) abuses their position to gain a non-trivial Knowledge lead over opponents (this is mostly a nomad thing).

There is a small tradeoff here in that the intended use as a comeback (anti-snowball) mechanic is reduced. I think the difference here is smaller than the abuse-case difference, but do want to keep this largely intact for now (hence -5%, not a complete removal or anything).

Elite Pikemen and UUs (IV)

  • Elite Pikemen and melee UUs base cost 50/40 -> 50/30.
  • Ranged UUs base cost 50/50 -> 50/40 (Portugese Bandeirantes go 60/30 -> 50/30 I guess).
  • Persian UUs in Ages I-III adjusted to 50/30 (unchanged), 50/30 (-0/-10), 50/30 (-0/-10) to maintain cost bump in IV.

There’s no specific balance reason why Elite Pikemen are 50/40 in CBP and not 50/30 like all the previous HI. As I’ve previously featured quite prominently, their stat scaling is linear as you upgrade them:

This is the change in the Community Patch – I’m taking it a step further than this here by keeping those lines linear in the transition from III->IV.

This bump from 50/30 to 50/40 on the path to Fusiliers was mostly to smooth the difference between CBP and not-CBP slightly. Now that the my-opinion vs community-opinion weighting ratio is like 90-10 instead of 25-75, I can just throw that consideration out the window and focus on the balance consideration.

It’s possible that there is some kind of unexpected flow-on effect from doing this, but I certainly don’t see it (unless you count that it makes Fusiliers really expensive, but Elite Pikemen in not-CBP is already exactly that cost so I don’t give that argument much weight).

Bombardment / Heavy Bombardment Ships (IV – VIII)

  • Bomb Ketch: range 19 -> 18
  • Bomb Vessel: range 20 -> 19
  • Dreadnought: range 22 -> 20
  • Battleship: range 24 -> 22
  • Advanced Battleship: range 26 -> 24
  • (Rocket Artillery: range 25 -> 23 – see relevant section)

I believe quite strongly that these units force opponents to give up a bit too much of their coastline. Even a single one of these (in waters that are controlled by the same team as the bombardment ship) is enough to completely deny structures in a huge area adjacent to the coast.

I haven’t extensively tested for optimal values so am being pretty conservative until I have. I’m also mindful that some scenarios will play off the range of these units, so that’s another consideration for not changing their range too heavily.

Riflemen (and Infantry), Anti-Tank Rifle (and upgrades), Light Tank, Biplane (VI, VII, VI-VIII)

  • Riflemen: attack recharge 32 -> 36
  • Infantry: attack recharge 32 -> 35
  • (Assault Infantry unchanged at 32)
  • Anti-Tank Rifle: damage vs all types of Tanks (but not other vehicles) +5%
  • Bazooka: range 9 -> 10
  • Anti-Tank Missile: range 10 -> 12
  • Light Tank: research cost premium: 2 -> 5/2 (2.5)
  • Light Tank: attack recharge 40 -> 42
  • Biplane base cost: 90/90 -> 80/80
  • Biplane: turn speed 5 -> 6
  • Biplane damage vs all types of Tanks (but not other vehicles) +10%

Let’s start out with what the goal here is.

Light Tank + Riflemen comps are unmatched in Age VI, and will even beat out balanced Light Tank + Riflemen + Anti-Tank Rifle comps of equal quantity – with or without micro of individual units. The comp is especially overbearing in VI-vs-V combat. The difference is subjectively higher than IV-vs-III combat.

There are a variety of contributing factors, and I’m trying to address all of the ones I’ve identified to various degrees. By taking a fairly light touch on each individual change, each aspect will remain familiar to experienced players — but because of the stacking effect of having many of them, there’s enough cumulative difference to meaningfully address the situation.

  1. Light Tanks are an extremely strong upgrade in their own right, just like Fusiliers in V. They might be the strongest default-unit upgrade in the game.
  2. Players who have amassed Heavy Cavalry in V can immediately field a large tank company by upgrading those HC. The situation is worsened if they’re also the first player to reach VI, as they can abuse their exclusive access to Oil on the market to purchase it at an average price to immediately bypass the resource-gating of the Light Tank upgrade, while simultaneously inflating the global oil price (due to their purchasing) to make it difficult/impossible for subsequently aging players to do the same.
  3. Riflemen are also an extremely strong upgrade — something which I believe is typically overlooked. Musketeers -> Riflemen is more than twice the DPS increase as any other Gunpowder/Modern Infantry upgrade. More on this in a moment.
  4. Anti-Tank Rifles fail to effectively counter Light Tanks due to having too-low range vs all other combat units (including Light Tanks), whilst having an extremely poor matchup against the easiest-to-spam and commonly-spammed Riflemen. The issue persists through subsequent ages.
  5. Air power in VI is anemic (even defensively), and the absence of Helicopters makes air power particularly impotent against tanks in VI.

So we address 1) by nerfing Light Tanks just a little by making them reload 5% slower. The goal is not to eliminate the game’s signature unit power spikes, it’s to make them more balanced. Light Tanks could probably sustain a moderate or even heavy nerf just fine, but I think it would change the feel/flow of the Age VI pop too much.

We address 2) by making the upgrade cost slightly more expensive. This barely affects players that are already struggling (and thus have few HC) since the upgrade premium is based on the number of affected units which you currently field and have queued for production.

More on 3):

10 armor is roughly the average total armor of non-Tank units in army-vs-army combat during Age VI. Notice how huge a of a DPS jump Riflemen are over Musketeers!

By tapping down the recharge rate of Riflemen, they maintain a substantial DPS boost of ~47%, which is still higher than the ~20% which other units have — but it’s not quite as absurd as having a ~65% DPS increase.

Secondarily, we smooth out the Riflemen -> Infantry -> Assault Infantry power curve a little by also tapping down the attack recharge of Infantry but less than that of Riflemen. Not that anyone cares, but this also kind of works thematic/flavor-wise, as assault rifles are easier to handle than battle rifles, and in-game this can be translated into attack speed / attack recharge. V -> VIII attack recharge now goes 44 -> 36 -> 35 -> 32.6

Other than of course the general DPS reduction in all circumstances, this also importantly affects the matchup against Light Tanks (making dedicated Anti-Tank weaponry marginally more useful in comparison) and Anti-Tank Rifles (making said units marginally more viable in their own right due to dying slower).

It’s difficult to directly address 4) because Anti-Tank Rifles are already exceptionally good in a VI-vs-V matchup, and simply buffing the unit in a general sense would help VI-vs-VI balance at the cost of further messing up VI-vs-V. Therefore I chose to increase their power extremely narrowly — and not by much either. This maintains existing matchup dynamics for the Anti-Tank Rifle against other units in both Age V and VI, while still contributing to the amalgam of combined changes to improve this balance area.

I think a higher bonus here would still be balanced, but putting it too high (maybe more than about +10% extra) starts to feel bad, as they become increasingly feast-or-famine.

Basically instead of directly addressing their range problem, they just get to do a little extra damage when they are in range, marginally increasing the reward for being in-range and marginally counter-balancing their lower range in doing so.

Additionally, we add +1-per-age extra range to its upgrades. This maintains it having lower than other units, but helps slightly with unit viability while still avoiding messing up the V-vs-VI matchup.

Note this also graph includes the Rocket Artillery change, which is not part of this “set” of changes.

In line with using my fairly-comprehensive understanding of how RoN works on a technical level to find novel ways to accomplish technically-limited things, I toyed with the idea of creating a new stat of armor penetration (which isn’t just a theoretical – it is actually a hacky-but-functional stat that I can create in RoN). It’s more fun and flavorful than just slapping a small targeted damage modifier on, and it also feels really great for me personally as the person doing it because it’s a unique and novel contribution to RoN modding.7 Unfortunately everything has heaps of armor this late into the game (as the vs-10-armor chart notes), so it would be extremely impractical to apply it in an intuitive, balanced, and maintainable manner. Anything short of a highly complex set of interaction tweaks would cause it to be very similar to just adding +damage to the unit in most situations. Oh well, another cool modding idea to privately revel in I guess.

As for 5), this is partially an aircraft-in-general problem, in addition to being an aircraft-weak-vs-tanks problem, and I try to slightly address both with the changes.

Reducing the Biplane’s cost (instead of increasing DPS or fuel/range) makes them more accessible while keeping them from feeling overbearing (too high DPS) and keeping them in a primarily defensive role (low fuel/range). I considered increasing speed from 55 -> 60 (similar uptime effect to about +20 fuel), but I’m not sure if speed impacts damage when strafing and don’t want to take the time to test it right now.8

I’m a little worried that a cost ramp from 70/70 to 80/80 and then 90/90 in VI, VII, and VIII respectively would make Fighters (VII) a bit too strong, so opted for the asymetrical 80/80 Biplanes instead with no changes to Fighters or Jet Fighters.

Specifically increasing their damage vs all tanks compensates slightly for the lack of helo without bleeding over into general DPS vs all units (which again can help stop them from feeling overbearing).

Fuel, movement speed, and turn speed all play into how many strafes a plane can do per sortie, and number of strafes then combines with DPS (in this case it should probably mean damage-per-strafe) to make an overall damage-per-sortie figure. Because each fighter upgrade actually improves all of the stats I just mentioned, the power slope of the unit line is quite steep – much more so than almost all other units.

I benchmarked the number of strafes that each of the three fighters can do to a target roughly 15 squares (Tower / Lookout = 1 square) south of the Airbase where it’s stationed. Note that I mean a distance of 15 sequentially adjacent squares edge-to-edge, not corner-to-corner (which would be a much longer distance).

This is limited testing under specific parameters, but we can use it to extrapolate broad information. Note that this is data WITHOUT the Biplane changes.

Because the amount of fuel spent reaching a target is 1) a higher proportion of total fuel the less fuel that you have and 2) reduced by increased movement speed, the Biplane loses nearly half of its 300 fuel before firing its first shot. It then takes nearly a quarter of its fuel just to turn around for each new strafe. Even in better circumstances (e.g. a closer target to the Airbase), a Biplane would still only cram in probably one extra strafe.

Compare this to a Jet Fighter, which can burn closer to ~100 of its 500 fuel getting to its target and still have more fuel leftover to strafe with than the Biplane started with. It then takes comparatively little fuel to turn around after each strafe, allowing it to take multiple passes on the same amount of fuel that a Biplane uses on a single pass. So yeah, more fuel + more speed + more turn speed = cumulative effect on strafes = lots more total damage dealt.

Even with +10% extra damage on Biplanes but not its upgrades, the extra attack strength of Fighters ensures that despite missing the modifier its overall damage to Tanks per strafe is still higher than that of Biplanes. Since helos are available by then, the broader balance landscape doesn’t really require Fighters to have the extra +10% imo.

As a final note, these aren’t the be-all-end-all of Age VI balance changes, and I make no claim that these changes lead to some balance utopia. But I do think they’re more balanced than T&P, EE, or CBP.

Rocket Artillery (VIII)

  • Maximum range 25 -> 23

Partially this is to marginally reduce their oppressiveness in VII-vs-VIII combat, partially this is to ensure that Advanced Battleships continue to outrange them.9

Players in VII have virtually no way of effectively dealing with a 25 range unit that does decent vs-unit damage (and has decent movement speed with fast pack/unpack times!). 23 will still be difficult to deal with, but as in most things, it’s all a matter of degrees. 23 is not as bad as 25.

Note how the unit ordinarily gains an outsized +4 range on its upgrade (see range previous range comparison chart), far higher than artillery/siege weapons usually gain — the average for the other upgrades is <1.5 extra range.

Submarine (VI) / Attack Submarine (VIII)

  • Ramping cost 2o/1g -> 2o/2g

CBP’s submarine changes are borderline anemic, but without extensive familiarity in late-game naval combat, I don’t want to go too ham.

The key goal of the ramping cost change isn’t to reduce the effectiveness of individual subs,10 it’s to make it more expensive to build/maintain large submarine fleets – and particularly mostly-submarine naval compositions.

V2 Rocket (VII) / Cruise Missile (VIII)

  • V2 Rocket splash radius 25% -> 33%.
  • Cruise Missile base cost 100/100 -> 120/120.

For reference: V2 has splash radius 1 with 25% strength. Cruise Missile has splash radius 2 with 50% strength.

V2 Rockets kinda suck. I don’t know how much help they need to be worth building but imo they’re not really worth it as-is. They rarely level a single building, and there’s no way it’s usually worth losing 100 Knowledge and some as much Oil to drop anything but the most valuable buildings (e.g. a Library mid-research). So we tap them up a little for now until we test further to find exact values.

Cruise Missiles on the other hand I think are actually slightly underrated. They’re quick to build/research compared to nukes, and far more effective at leveling specifically-targeted structures. They also have no pre-emptive announcement, so you can “easily” hold a volley of them for the right moment and your opponent won’t know about it until it’s too late to do anything about it.

Additionally, I think it’s slightly too inexpensive to use Missile Silo + Cruise Missile combinations “disposably”, used just a single time to eliminate a single target from afar.

For what it’s worth, dave disagreed with nerfing Cruise Missiles when we discussed balance in CBP’s Pre-Alpha. I’ve continued to ponder his opinion over the past >1 year, but I still think they deserve a small nerf.

Bantu

  • Can exceed population limit by 25% -> 10%.
  • (still have double pop limit per mil)

This just cuts down on Bantu’s overwhelming late-game power. Instead of having a 250 pop cap in late game, they now have a 220 pop cap (to everyone else’s 200). Still a large advantage, but not quite as insane, much like CBP’s Colossus nerfs.

I’m worried that adjusting the double pop could affect them too much (I’m highly unsure of its effects on Bantu balance) and so haven’t touched that – even though intuitively it does seem unnecessarily high.

As an aside, in testing for this change I discovered two interesting things:

  1. I have misunderstood the Bantu nation power for my entire life. They don’t get to exceed the pop cap number you see in the top right corner, they get to exceed the 200 base-limit imposed on everyone else by 25% up to 250. The phrasing on the tooltip seems pretty bad given what the nation power actually does.
  2. I now don’t understand what the MAX_POP_LIMIT value in rules.xml does. I had thought it was the maximum which could be reached even with Bantu + Colossus + Peacocks, i.e. it would hardcap that combination at 300 (the default MAX_POP_LIMIT value). It doesn’t – on CBP, Bantu gets to 310 with that combo even when the max is unchanged at 300. I could probably keep testing and/or look at the pop functions with some reverse engineering but I’m not curious enough given that there’s no current application for the knowledge. I did want to note it down as a point of interest though.

Egyptians

  • Wonder discount 25% -> 20%.

This is a tiny change, but I feel a necessary one, and I think there’s grounds to go down even further, perhaps even up to something like 10%.

Their wonder-based booming ability is imo a bit too strong, and if they’re e.g. in pocket (i.e. safe) then it’s very difficult to punish them or counterplay it because they get wonders before everyone else, get them cheaper and can put them in safer locations since they can double-up in their cities.

I think the early wonders and two-per-city are both quite iconic, and so removing either should be avoided if possible.

The extra Farms also feel iconic, and if you reduce the Wealth income from +2 the only way to keep it is +1 (which probably feels too weak to the player regardless of strength), so I don’t want to touch that either.

That leaves the Wonder discount, which doesn’t seem nearly as “bound” to the Egyptians as the other stuff, so we reduce that. Since I don’t have a clear picture of their power curve, I’m just doing -5% instead of something more aggressive. I would need to get more external input or play a lot more Egyptians (in PvP, with CBP or Challenger Patch) to learn the curve, and that’s just not happening so -5% it is.

Koreans

  • Free Citizens 1/3/5 -> 2/3/4.

This is one thing I never understood with CBP (maybe if I kept prodding people about it, I would get an explanation, but I didn’t). Koreans always seem to be near the bottom of everyone’s nation tier lists (e.g. MoR) for both standard and nomad.. but people didn’t want to buff them either.

Absent of a good explanation for why people are so hesistant on the buff, I think they should get a small bump up. Remember also that Foot Archers (and by extension all the relevant Korean UUs) are slightly weaker in T&P/CBP than EE due to working/workarounded object masks, so everyone thinks slightly higher of them in EE than they truly deserve.

Technical limitations are quite restrictive here, so we stick with something pretty simple: buff their early a tad by giving them an extra Citizen when they need it most. They basically take a 1-Citizen loan that they repay when they build their 3rd City, and then pay 1-Citizen interest for every City built thereafter (but remember that PvP rarely has more than 3-4 eco cities, so the extra Citizens tend to be very low value by the time you exceed 3 cities).

Iroquois

  • Partially apply nation power bonus HP directly to their UUs

Iroquois released with +10% HP on all Barracks units, which was later reduced to 5% in an official patch, and lowered again to 0% (removed) in CBP.

An intermediate solution would be to give most of that same HP bonus directly to their UUs. If you map out the HP differences:

UnitT&P 0800CBPChallenger
Spearmen (I)126120125
Takohs (I)636060
Mohawk Spearmen (II)152145150
Heavy Mohawk Spearmen (III)178170175
Akweks (III)848080
Elite Mohawk Spearmen (IV)205195200
Okwari (V)105100100

By capping the bonus at +5 for the HI, you prevent Fusiliers from having less HP on the upgrade, and you also get the minor benefit of a nice number for each of the HP values.

Bearing in mind that all the Scout UUs already have a flat +10 HP bonus (which is already more than a 5% bonus would give), and also that Okwari (V) are very strong as-is, I don’t think their Scout UUs need extra HP.

Angkor Wat

  • Cost reduction 25% -> 20%

The base cost of troops scales up during the course of the game, while at the same time players will tend to max out the ramping costs of each unit. Taken together this means new units often cost 200+ total resources once Angkor Wat is around (unless/until your army gets wiped). So instead of saving 50+ resources per troop, I want to nudge that down to 40+. Still a good discount – still feels good and is still fairly powerful. I think it’s a bit more fair though, especially if you ever get into a meatgrinder-style extended conflict.

Forbidden City

  • Gives +50/+50 income -> +30/+30 income

Reminder: The Forbidden City has an undocumented-before-CBP bonus that amplifies the economic output of Farms, Scholars, etc at the city by 25%.

The Forbidden City is useful in 5ish ways (not listed in any particular order):

  1. Pretty good base eco boost
  2. Very nice scaling eco boost (build lots of eco production at the city to use the boost)
  3. Big boi border push
  4. Prevent defeat-by-capital-capture
  5. Another city without needing Civic (especially good in Nomad in some situations)

This change reduces 1) and keeps all the rest intact, so is overall not that big of a nerf. In particular I want to reduce its immediate eco impact and focus the player more towards actually using the previously-undocumented boost if they want to use it as an eco-city. That aspect requires a lot more investment, and on those grounds could be viewed as “more fair”.

Versailles

  • Non-knowledge discount 50% -> 40%

Very few wonders can increase the total power of your army, and Versailles is one of them. Something like Colossus also needs further resource investment to make use of the extra army power (you have to build more troops, often at-or-close-to max ramp cost), whereas Versailles is immediate. The healing effect is not always very strong depending on the type of fight you engage in, but its average case is “decent” at worst, and plausibly “good”.

Individually either of its two powers is fairly good, but when combined they push it over the acceptable power budget a little imo. So tap down the non-healing part to 40%.. and it still seems a bit too high when you run the numbers? Compare it to the same-age Angkor Wat in terms of savings and I think Versailles should be lower, not at par. So down to 33% – still feels pretty good, but probably a bit more reasonable.

A small problem is that the discount matters more in nomad than standard.. and I’m worried that 33% in standard is too little. We wanna balance for both soooo compromise back to 40% I guess. Probably too high for nomad, but perhaps necessary for standard. Not really sure about what specific value is the best compromise, but I am moderately confident that 40% is better than 50%.

Rare resources

  • Unchanged: Food, Timber, Metal, and Oil is provided in increments of +10 (1.5 increments makes 15, 2 increments makes 20).
  • Wealth increments in +10 -> +8.
  • Knowledge increments in +10 -> +8.

FINALLY we can tackle Knowledge rares breaking nomad with lucky / unlucky rng.

Knowledge is the resource that requires the most investment (of other resources) to acquire. Wealth is the second on that metric.

I would like rares to be game-deciders less often, while keeping both their resource income and unique effects feeling good to the player. This is part of why I’ve been hesitating to implement further reductions for the library rares in CBP (from 12/20% to 10/15% for Silver / others respectively). The other part is that e.g. the library rares are more impactful in nomad (very expensive and slow tech) than in standard, but we have to balance for both.

Because the resource income is also comparatively more impactful in nomad than standard, we can target that to reduce their nomad power a little more than their standard power.

I don’t want to make Knowledge rares feel bad, so +7 Knowledge would be the boundary of reasonable (same as Scholar level). Being unsure of whether 7 or 8 would be more reasonable, I’m going with the one closer to status quo since I’m conservative like that. For nomad +7 is probably more balanced, but we balance for both nomad and standard and I’m not sure about +7 for standard (maybe too weak? maybe it’s still fine? idk).

Bonus: +8 allows us to do +12 for the awkward +15 rares. Yeah, lock in +8.

+9 on Wealth is the natural followup to +7 or +8 for Knowledge. It’s a hair clumsy but I do think it’s worth that for better balance… except then we hit Sulphur and have to decide what to do. Either we drop Wealth down to +8 or make a weird edge case where Sulphur is like +13 or something. But honestly, even +8 Wealth seems pretty good still? Let’s do a quick sanity check of whether Wealth rares would still be worthwhile at +8:

  • Amber: yes
  • Diamonds: yes
  • Dye: yes
  • Fish: yes
  • Gems: yes
  • Peacocks: yes
  • Silk: yes
  • Silver: yes
  • Sulphur: decent, probably yes (about same as before)
  • Tobacco: yes

Okay, let’s do +8 for both resources.

Affected rares:

  • Amber
  • Coal
  • Diamonds
  • Dye
  • Fish (!)
  • Gems
  • Obsidian
  • Peacocks
  • Relics
  • Silk
  • Silver
  • Spice
  • Sulphur
  • Tobacco
  • Uranium
  • Wine
  • Wool

Affected CtW rares (not that the CtW rares are particularly balanced lol:

  • Coffee
  • Gold
  • Incense
  • Rum

A really nice intentional secondary effect of these changes is slightly reducing Wealth stacking from Fish. This is particularly true for contested water e.g. African Watering Hole. It’s good to reward whoever invests time, effort, and resources into controlling contested bodies of water, but it shouldn’t be a “default win” just for doing it. Even at +8 it’s still a pretty big deal, and you have to factor in that true sea maps need a bit of extra Wealth income to make up for having (typically) less Wealth income from Caravans.

Ctw card: Warpath

  • Tribute value (buy/sell diplomacy): 50 -> 60

This card is gives +2 Mil (same as Military Eureka card) and extra military buildings (e.g. Barracks/Stable), so it should cost more than a Military Eureka card (which costs 50).

The main reason this isn’t implemented in CBP itself is because adding new CtW updates/fixes (in a way that they can be both loaded and unloaded alongside other CBP files) requires hardcoding file lists in the load/unload functions and I frankly just can’t be bothered anymore. If the below was implemented this would’ve been done at the same time because the overhead would be shared among many files (making it minimal extra work to adjust one more file).

Ctw card: Crash fixes in non-English languages

  • Add missing strings to non-English language files to fix/avoid a number of documented crashes (see Misc Fixes documentation).

Per above, I haven’t done this in CBP because it just takes too much time and effort to do so. This was scheduled to come in alongside other translated resources (e.g. CBP Launcher string translations, translated help.xml etc) in order to minimise the overhead associated with any one translated part. However, because those plans were shelved indefinitely due to there virtually no effort on the part of the community, so was implementing these crash fixes.

 


 

Changes that were considered but discarded / not greenlit:

Attrition while aged up (reduce the advantage for being +age) – the value doesn’t seem to do anything in rules.xml so I had to abandon this. I didn’t confirm the impotence via reverse engineering – I’m just assuming for now that it’s probably correct.

Aztecs – almost gave Atl-Atls (and upgrades?) +10% or so damage vs Citizens (or all civilians?). I don’t understand the Aztecs power curve enough to feel comfortable with messing with them though. On the other hand I do know that this change would have increased the frustration of playing against them. Due to in-territory healing of Citizens, a 10% damage boost is actually more like 15ish% of effective damage increase, which is not enormous but maybe enough to kill another Citizen or two in the early game. Given how snowbally early game can be, yeah, not comfortable doing that without a better understanding of the nation.

Chinese – in both CBP and this patch they were extensively pondered for a buff. However, Fire Lances (and especially Heavy Fire Lances) received buffs in CBP already, and additionally the restoration of intended archer balance in Age III is likely to be an indirect Chinese buff as well. Despite their reputation amongst many players as being among the weakest, I think those buffs might be enough that they don’t need anything else. The main buff being considered was just an extra +5% discount on Science anyway.

Indians (and elephants) were considered roughly balanced in T&P, so I don’t feel comfortable buffing them yet given that CBP has given elephants some light buffs already. I was contemplating giving Indians an extra +5% discount on elephants, and/or maybe a lessening of the vs-late-age-units penalty which all elephants have (perhaps reduce from 10/20/30/40% to 5/15/25/35%).

Spanish – I was heavily considering reducing the science bonus they get from ruins from 20 to 15 (i.e. no boost over default). I do still think their early eco in CBP is abusable in 1v1s, I just don’t have enough data on it to be confident enough to make the call to reduce it to 15. My feeling is that BHG was probably right though – they already basically went through with this change 18 years ago.

The President – CBP itself almost gave The President the detector flag, which would make him see Spies etc just like a Scout (but without the counter-intel to go with it). I then almost carried it over to the Challenger Patch, but I’m still just not quite sold on it. It would buff him, yes, and it does favor defensive rather than offensive play, but it feels sort of like that’s just one too many bonuses to give him, even if the collective effect of them is balanced. In other words, it felt inelegant.

Capitalism – was thinking of reducing the Oil “gift” from 500 to 400. I think with the Light Tank upgrade change this isn’t needed, as that’s the primary use / abuse case for early Oil.

CtW rares (especially Cattle and Huskies) – the rares are so far away from balanced so I don’t think it’s worth rebalancing them (some of them are supposed to be super powerful, and keeping that feeling would be challenging). If I do Cattle I feel obligated to do Huskies, and if I do both I feel compelled to do a full pass to find other edge cases that are weakest/strongest. So to stop the slope I’m making no changes (other than the all-rares Wealth/Knowledge changes, which also don’t make Cattle or Huskies any weaker).

Another option on this point would be to not touch the CtW rares at all, even their Wealth/Knowledge income. I’ve looked at a decent number of the CtW custom scenarios and don’t remember ever seeing any where a single rare was critically important for eco so I think it’s okay to adjust that part of the rares to keep things consistent.

Wonders require Science 1 – This has essentially no effect in standard (everyone building wonders will already have Sci1),  but increases the buy-in for early Wonders without directly making the Wonders themselves less cost effective. I find this quite flavorful as well.

The idea is that quickly rushing Wonders should be require more commitment, particularly as some of the early Wonders can be a game-changer if you get them. A player with Colossus will have the chance to dominate mid-game with their larger armies that can’t be countered due to prohibitive Military costs (very expensive and slow tech), and a player with Hanging Gardens can feasibly hit IV/V (and maybe even III) before anyone else has any hope to.

This is also a small nerf to Egyptians / Americans locking people out of Wonders with their respective nation powers. It doesn’t eliminate their ability to do it, but it does require extra commitment to pull off, which I personally think is theoretically good.

I’m opting not to include this change because I feel like I don’t have a firm grasp of what the actual effect would be in nomad. I’ve built — and been in games where others have built — early Wonders in nomad, but still don’t think I quite have the full eco pacing for it in my head. My bar for understanding things before changing them is quite high when the risk of disruption also is.

Dutch hardcoded starting bonuses – I can change these with exe patching (as I’ve demonstrated elsewhere), but I don’t think it’s worth breaking replay compatibility to do it except alongside other would-break-replays changes. As I suggested in the CBP Alpha 8 Patch Notes, all the replay-breaking stuff should be done at once.

A bunch of other things, in various capacities – there are many parts of the game which I understand quite well, perhaps better than any other player (e.g. unit balance at a global level), but there are also plenty where I have less understanding compared than highly skilled, experienced players. As such there are a number of things which I’ve consciously chosen to be hands-off on. I.e. almost all nation powers and UUs.

 


 

Where can I get the patch?

You can’t — unless you make it yourself.

To prevent any chance of CBP fragmentation, I’ve ultimately decided not to release the patch itself, only its details (you can reconstruct it as your own mod if you really want to). As much as people not using CBP is sad, people using a mix of CBP and the Challenger Patch (and refusing to swap between them) would be much worse.11

So consider this a convoluted “I think these things should be changed, and here are the often-very-well-documented-reasons why” post.

Here’s the crappy thumbnail I made when I was spitballing the idea of actually quietly releasing the mod:

If you do make the patch on your own, note that CBP Launcher’s CBP-versioning scheme does actually support the “Challenger” designation (as of the version release alongside Alpha 9) in the “Alpha/Beta/etc” slot as number 11 i.e. patch version 11.xx.yy.zz. However, the install/update functions don’t natively support it, so it would take a bit of extra effort to have it fully supported in-launcher.

 


 

  1. Although thankfully mjn33 did make the automated workaround utility, which saved me some time thinking of doing that,  then learning how to do that, as well as doing the same for a launcher.
  2. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1000 hours of lonely, unpaid work that was simultaneously complex and tedious. More if you factor in extra work like the 1000 RoN wiki edits I’ve made, and the many small contributions I’ve made on reddit / Discord etc.
  3. What the fuck goes on inside these people’s brains? Is this how they’re treating other people as well? I’m guessing these are the people telling me to kill myself when I make a mistake in League of Legends.
  4. We’re really basically there with CBP already. It was born on life support pending community uptake which obviously never happened.
  5. I do of course use more than just nation tier lists, those are just the easiest example.
  6. Just try not to think too hard about the fact that Infantry (VII) are actually using submachine guns, not battle or assault rifles.
  7. Brooks was here.
  8. It probably doesn’t though.
  9. (although I don’t know if this latter point is important or not)
  10. I don’t have enough experience/testing to comment much on the individual units in rock/paper/scissors other than what I’ve already said in CBP’s notes.
  11. This decision also saves me from dumping even more unpaid work into RoN for something that goes nowhere and benefits me basically not at all since I would have nobody to play with anyway.

One Reply to “Giving Up: Challenger Balance Patch”

  1. Hello mhloppy!
    I just wanted to say hi and to thank you.
    I randomly stumbled upon your blog which re-ignited my long lost love for RoN. Even tho I am not any good at the game, I still enjoyed your entire blog and read every single word of it.
    When one of my paychecks arrives, I will make sure to buy you a drink.
    I am sorry that you did not receive the support from the community that was for sure deserved but you should feel proud of what you archived during these few years. I hope you are doing well and good luck with whatever you are up to now.
    Cheers!

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