CO Conversion Part 1: Introduction, Orange Star

This is a mental exercise that I once imagined I might do something more concrete with. It involves 'translating' the COs of Advance Wars: Dual Strike to the CO system used in Advance Wars: Days of Ruin. (I'm aware that only America uses the Days of Ruin name. I'm still using the American translation as my reference point, since that's the version I actually played)

The idea was prompted by running across Custom Wars (Since renamed Custom Wars Tactics), a project taking the basics of Advance Wars-style play and expanding and modifying the gameplay significantly. More specifically, the game has (Or had, anyway) a large number of non-canon COs, among which were included the Days of Ruin COs. However, Custom Wars uses Dual Strike's approach to COs, not Days of Ruin, and several of the Days of Ruin COs are essentially impossible to even approximate and so Custom Wars doesn't even try. Tabitha is the example I recall most vividly: in Custom Wars, she was made into a tank specialist, where in Days of Ruin her entire dynamic is rooted in the fact that when she hits the field she has a single exceptionally powerful unit, providing initially no leadership to her other forces.

This got me thinking about how, though several Days of Ruin COs are not really possible to translate into Dual Strike's system, the reverse is not nearly so true. There are details that cannot be replicated -Days of Ruin's system does not support a CO having some units actively disadvantaged- but it's much more possible to retain the 'gist' of the CO.

That ultimately lead to me spending a particularly bad sick day on doing exactly that.

Here begins a technical explanation of Advance Wars gameplay mechanics. This explanation is not necessary to enjoy this post, but some of my decisions are unequivocally rooted in a deeper understanding and will be confusing to those who do not read and understand the explanation.

If you don't care anyway, skip to Orange Star.

First and foremost: HP.

The 10 HP you are presented with by the game does actually represent important breakpoints of various sorts, but in terms of actual mechanics every unit has 100 HP. The "percent" reported by the game when you are considering targets is 1-to-1 accurate to the HP that will be removed by the attack: a listed damage of 55% means you will remove 55 out of their 100 true HP. This means that, for instance, two attacks of 35% will remove 3 hit points and then 4 hit points from a target, and similarly an Infantry firing on a Tank for 1% will, after ten such shots, remove 1 listed hit point.

However, the listed HP is what's used to scale damage output, control how much you pay for repairs (A unit at 91 HP gets repaired to full for free, where one at 89 HP gets repaired to full for 10% of their base price, and so on), etc, so in most respects the distinction is unimportant. It's mostly relevant because...

Attack modifiers are percentile, and are relative to the base number. That is, 1 star of Attack is an increase of 10% attack, and that specifically mean that 50% damage becomes 55%, not 60%. 

Defense (In Days of Ruin) is based on proportions, starting from 10/10, and is applied after Attack modifiers. (That is: Attack modifies the base damage, and then Defense modifies that result) This means 10 stars of Defense halves incoming damage, and then you need another twenty stars of Defense to halve it a second time, and so on. This means Defense has serious diminishing returns in Days of Ruin. (By contrast, Defense has increasing returns in the previous Advance Wars games!)

Luck damage is an additional factor that means my description of damage over in HP is strictly incorrect. Specifically, after all prior steps are done, the game 'rolls a die' to add an additional amount of damage without regard to the prior factors. By default, this range goes from 0-10, with each possibility being equally likely, and the 'rolled' possibility removes 'true' HP equal to the number. (ie a roll of 5 is 5 points of 'real HP' damage done) As such, any attack can remove up to an entire additional displayed hit point at random -even if it's an Infantry plinking ineffectually at a Wartank!

Luck is actually a lot more complicated to talk about in previous games -it has negative Luck on some COs, for one, which I've never been able to parse the actual mechanics of- but thankfully for the purposes of this design exercise I'm ignoring pretty much all of that. By far the most relevant aspect of Luck to this exercise is that Luck damage does not scale to Attack or Defense nor does it derive from the base damage value. (ie both Infantry and Antitanks can get up to an extra point of displayed damage against a Wartank, even though their base damage is so different)

CO Powers

In Dual Strike, CO (And Super CO) Powers all provide a 10% boost to attack and defense to all units, even units the CO doesn't normally affect, a fact the game itself does not explicate. All stated boosts (Such as in a strategy guide or FAQ) are generally ignoring these unlisted boosts. (This often leads to breaking number patterns; Kindle is +40% Attack while on cities day-to-day, and then 40% more for CO and a further 40% for Super, except that both the CO and Super Powers provide the unlisted 10% generally, meaning she actually goes +40%/+90%/+130%)

In Days of Ruin, the CO Zone provides +1 star to Attack and Defense to all unit types within the CO Zone, not just the units the CO is listed as affecting, which is again not actually told to the player by the game. A consequence of this is that Days of Ruin effectively retains the unmentioned +10/+10 of a CO Power activation from Dual Strike, since the CO Zone expands to cover the entire map. (Of course, Defense works differently in Days of Ruin so not exactly...)

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Moving on to the COs, starting with...


Orange Star

Andy

Andy is basically Brenner... or more accurately, Brenner is basically Andy. This mental exercise is premised on the idea of the Dual Strike COs being available alongside the Days of Ruin COs, however, so it's critical that Andy be distinct from Brenner, with neither invalidating the other.

0/0 stars. All units.
2 CO Zone.
Hyper Repair: Restore 5 health to all allied units, add +1 move to all units.

This is intended to reflect how in Dual Strike Andy's strength is centered on his exceptional Super CO Power, with his daily performance being underwhelming. Compared to Brenner, Andy does little for his troops on a day-to-day basis, and thanks to having a smaller CO Zone he tends to charge his power slower, but his CO Power can be used to pressure enemies (With the threat you could activate your power and so get first strike with the movement bonus) or support an overwhelming strike with previously-damaged units. The fact that he provides no actual stat bonuses at base also means that it's a bit misleading to say that his CO Power is better than Brenner's, as Brenner is getting to spread around his 3 Defense stars in addition to healing everyone for 3 HP.

I suspect in actual play DoR-Andy would be a strong CO, possibly a little too strong. This is generally preferable to being too weak, however.

Max

Will is basically Max, but in Days of Ruin. Unfortunately, Will is bizarrely awful -he's almost directly invalidated by Isabella- so it's difficult to translate Max into the system without invalidating Will...

4/0 stars. All direct-fire units.
1 CO Zone.
Max Force: +2 move to all direct-fire units.

... so I'm compromising by just making Max do what Will does, but with a bigger daily bonus and a smaller CO Zone. On the plus side, Days of Ruin doesn't support stat reductions, conceptually, so Max is no longer hamstrung by having inferior indirects. Still, this Max design probably worsens the Will problem, as if you really think Will has an advantage over Isabella that's worth caring about, you'd be more likely to go to DoR-Max. Unfortunately, this isn't really fixable except by improving Will, directly, which is technically outside the scope of this exercise.

If I were to seriously pursue this idea as a project, I probably would rebalance Will, alongside a few other Days of Ruin COs, and in turn Max would be handled differently.

Sami

I'm treating Cycles as infantry units, since that's clearly how Days of Ruin treats them. Days of Ruin does not readily support a day-to-day Capture bonus, unfortunately, so I elected to compensate by having her grant a fairly large Defense bonus to infantry units. It doesn't have the desired result of allowing her to achieve 2-turn captures where others would be delayed to 3 or more turns, but it does make it easier for her to achieve captures under fire, and since it also makes them more effective in combat it's more of a trade-off than a downgrade.

3/3 stars. Infantry, Mechs, and Cycles.
1 CO Zone.
Victory March: +1 move to all Infantry, Mechs, and Cycles, and they capture instantly regardless of health.

Her CO Zone is so small primarily to retain having Victory March have a long, long charge period, as instant capture regardless of HP is an incredible ability, even before you consider that it allows Sami to instantly win by taking the enemy's HQ. Days of Ruin is balanced under the assumption of Fog of War, as well, so a surprise HQ capture is a lot harder to defend against in the 'core rules', by contrast with how Black Hole Rising and Dual Strike treat Fog of War as a neat game variant.

I consider the given profile a somewhat conservative way of handling Sami, driven by Days of Ruin adding Cycles, the addition of which is a dramatic improvement to an infantry-focused CO. Under Victory March, a Cycle is a 6 move unit that can instantly capture anything it can reach! This is why I went with +1 move, as per Double Time, rather than Dual Strike's +2 move in Victory March. A seven-move Cycle with instant capture seems a step too far, given that 6 movement is the general upper limit to how fast units can go if they aren't air units.

Jake

Jake is one CO that doesn't translate readily to Days of Ruin, but I consider it a small thing, as his Plains specialty is honestly very questionable in Dual Strike itself. He's valid more as a hybrid of Max and Grit, less strong in their strong areas but without their weaknesses. He can alternatively be viewed as a precursor to Isabella, which makes him tricky to translate from a different angle, as the easy thing to do while ignoring his Plains bonus thing would be to... make him into Isabella. So that's off the table.

3/1 stars. All (non-naval) units, but only when they are in terrain that can't hide units.
2 CO Zone.
Beat Down: Land directs gain +1 move, land indirects gain +1 range.

The idea is to build on Jake's Plains specialty, but make it less overly narrow, as its narrowness is really its main problem. This approach is particularly interesting in the context of Days of Ruin's design assumption of Fog of War being present, as Jake can either hide units or have them deriving full benefit from his CO Zone, giving him a more complicated relationship with the best terrains than other COs.

The 'non-naval' caveat is in deference to the fact that a Plains-based bonus can never apply to a naval unit, where terrain that hides units is much less of an assumption at sea than on land. Put another way, I'm avoiding converting a CO who provides no bonus to sea units into a CO who effectively dominates at sea.

Rachel

Rachel is weird and a bit all over the place in Dual Strike. This makes it harder to pin down what to translate... but it also gives me room to pick-and-choose to an extent.

0/0 stars. Units in CO Zone regain 2 HP at the beginning of the turn as though repaired, price included. All units.
2 CO Zone.
Covering Fire: Fires 3 missiles that each do 3 HP of non-lethal damage in a 3X3 radius. One missile targets the largest cash value with capturing Infantry, Mechs, and Cycles counting 10 times. One missile targets the enemy CO (If there's multiple enemy COs, pick whichever one has the highest cash value of units in the blast radius), unless they're not on the field in which case it targets the largest cash value generally. The last missile goes for raw HP value, cash value ignored. (Allied units are always treated as negative cash/HP for calculating the best strike zone)

Covering Fire is basically Dual Strike's version (Yes, really), with the exception of making the second Missile target the enemy CO if it can. I'm personally not a fan of how it doesn't scale to larger maps/maps with more money, but I'm not sure how I'd adjust it to avoid that without too fundamental a shift in the dynamic, and I'm not willing to try to translate Lucky Lass -I'd have to do four luck-damage-based COs at that point! 

Field repairs is a bit different from her Dual Strike daily of having faster repairs on cities, but the CO Zone mechanic being attached to that would be overly limiting. I considered having her do free heals, but Days of Ruin already makes repairing units more worthwhile through the experience mechanic, and the ability to pressure enemies with experienced, difficult-to-kill units is probably worth having to spend normal repair costs.

Also, Caulder is stupidly overpowered and not to be imitated as a design.

Nell

Nell is one of the COs in Dual Strike that is deliberately unfairly good. On the most basic level, she's directly superior to Flak and Jugger, but even discounting those two existing she's still got an extraordinary advantage that helps in any match-up and has no actual disadvantage.

I could translate that, but I prefer reasonably even balance -at least to the extent that no choice is blatantly inferior to another choice. Since I don't want duplicate COs, this in turn implies giving her a different setup from Flak and Jugger while translating what defines them in Dual Strike.

0/0 stars. No effect.
1 CO Zone.
Lady Luck: All units do 2 'luck' damage, except Nell's unit, which does 10 'luck' damage.

In this case, I've set up Nell as a CO Power-focused CO who overwhelms superior forces with superior numbers: her Infantry each remove a hit point from anything they attack, even a Wartank, when her CO Power is up, and she herself gets to straight-up kill whatever target is in her reach when she kicks off her power. This is not actually that dissimilar from activating Lady Luck in Dual Strike, just more predictable.

I'm aware that it's conceptually inconsistent to make a luck-themed CO fully predictable. However, while randomness has several valid places in game design, I don't feel Dual Strike's approach to the luck-based COs falls in any of those realms.


Hachi

Hachi is another CO that's deliberately unfair, though he at least doesn't clearly invalidate any other COs. Oddly enough, it's more natural to flip his daily and Super CO  effects in the context of Days of Ruin.

0/0 stars. Land units can be built from cities Hachi owns in the radius.
1 CO Zone.
Merchant Union: Unit prices are cut by 25%.

This lets Hachi get units to the front faster than his opponents, and also gives him an intermittent economic advantage -not to mention the potential to spring units from cities in some long-forgotten corner far from the fighting. If I did this as a real project, Hachi is a CO I'd probably end up tweaking the exact numbers on repeatedly to hit the right balance. I'm honestly not sure whether these numbers would work out as flagrantly overpowered, a bit underwhelming, or somewhere close to just right, and without playtesting I don't see a way to pin it down.

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Next time, I cover Blue Moon, Green Earth, and Yellow Comet's COs.

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