How to enjoy hard campaigns when they go wrong

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Argothair
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How to enjoy hard campaigns when they go wrong

Post by Argothair »

So I've beaten all of the mainline campaigns on the normal difficulty mode, and I'm playing through them again on hard mode. I'm up to Heir to the Throne, and I'm getting stuck, and I'm NOT looking for 'walkthrough' style advice. Instead I'm looking for philosophical advice on how to enjoy some of the tighter scenarios even when things go wrong. At normal difficulty, you generally have enough units that if you lose one of them due to bad luck, you can still salvage the front they're battling on. At hard difficulty, I usually have so few units that all of them have to perform "up to par" just to make it through the scenario. Right, like I might have some expendable Level 1 infantry that I put into harm's way on purpose because that's the best way to guard a higher-level mage or bait the enemy out of position, and they're likely to die, and that's fine. But maybe I only have 1 Elvish Marksman in my whole army, or 1 Knight that's levelled up, or 1 Merfolk to spare to go get the Trident of Lightning Blasts. They're not expendable, and if I lose them then I probably don't have the time or the cannon fodder available to train up a new one, and I also can't beat the scenario that's coming up in a few levels unless I have those irreplaceable units in my roster.

So what do I do when the Marksman whiffs and hits his target 0 out of 4 times, leaving everyone around him exposed to counter-attacks? Or what do I do when two orcish crossbowmen and a level 1 Wolf get lucky against my Knight and shoot him to death from full HP in broad daylight? Or what happens if the merfolk picks up the Trident of Doom and then gets slaughtered by the two guard Nagas before he gets a chance to use it?

I could restart the turn, or restart the scenario, or even restart the whole campaign, and use the same strategy again and hope to get better results -- but that feels very much like cheating; if I'm going to keep re-rolling the dice until I get the dice I like, I may as well just play on an easier difficulty level. But often I feel like I've chosen an optimal or nearly-optimal strategy, and I still lose. It's not even that I can't think of a better way of deploying my forces -- it's that in some of the earlier scenarios in the mainline campaigns, you don't even have that many choices. Right, like you only have enough gold to recruit or recall 10 to 12 units, and they only come in a couple of different flavors, and there's only a couple of plausible places to put them; they either go in a forest or at the waterline or they charge recklessly ahead into the next enemy keep. So what do you do when you try all of those strategies and get defeated each time? What's your approach to the "hard" difficulty setting that keeps it fun for you even when you're losing?

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patience_reloaded
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Re: How to enjoy hard campaigns when they go wrong

Post by patience_reloaded »

On hard difficulty, there's usually many enemy units around. Don't let them go to waste, use them. Try to level more units, so even if one of your high-level units die, you still have a spare one of the same type on the recall list. Since it's your second playthrough, you might remember which scenarios are the hard ones where you will need to recall the high-levelers and where you can afford to not recall all of them in order to level some newbies.

Remember, if you don't have fun, try something else that is fun for you, like a different campaign. There's a lot of user made campaigns, some of them hard, some easy. You can always try them (download via the add-on button in the main menu).

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Re: How to enjoy hard campaigns when they go wrong

Post by gnombat »

Argothair wrote:
July 3rd, 2020, 4:50 am
So what do I do when the Marksman whiffs and hits his target 0 out of 4 times, leaving everyone around him exposed to counter-attacks? Or what do I do when two orcish crossbowmen and a level 1 Wolf get lucky against my Knight and shoot him to death from full HP in broad daylight? Or what happens if the merfolk picks up the Trident of Doom and then gets slaughtered by the two guard Nagas before he gets a chance to use it?
Usually, as you progress through a campaign on one of the harder difficulty levels, you will find that you end up with a lot of high-level units on your recall list - likely more than you actually need or can even use. That means you can probably afford to lose some high-level units and still complete the campaign. I would not worry too much about losing high-level units unless those units are very important for some reason (e.g., if the unit has an irreplaceable item like the trident in your example, or if the unit is loyal).
Argothair wrote:
July 3rd, 2020, 4:50 am
I could restart the turn, or restart the scenario, or even restart the whole campaign, and use the same strategy again and hope to get better results -- but that feels very much like cheating; if I'm going to keep re-rolling the dice until I get the dice I like, I may as well just play on an easier difficulty level. But often I feel like I've chosen an optimal or nearly-optimal strategy, and I still lose. It's not even that I can't think of a better way of deploying my forces -- it's that in some of the earlier scenarios in the mainline campaigns, you don't even have that many choices. Right, like you only have enough gold to recruit or recall 10 to 12 units, and they only come in a couple of different flavors, and there's only a couple of plausible places to put them; they either go in a forest or at the waterline or they charge recklessly ahead into the next enemy keep. So what do you do when you try all of those strategies and get defeated each time? What's your approach to the "hard" difficulty setting that keeps it fun for you even when you're losing?
Well, ultimately it's up to you to decide how you want to play the campaign and what you will do if (probably when) you are defeated or sustain a critical loss so that there is not much point in continuing. Personally I wouldn't recommend restarting the entire campaign from the beginning - that seems to me like it would be an extremely tedious way to play the game (although some people do in fact do this). On the other hand, restarting the turn may be tedious as well - if you're in an unfavorable situation, you may just get defeated again, and you end up reloading over and over trying to get enough lucky random numbers to survive. Restarting the scenario is usually a more sensible option, but even that might not work if you have very little gold at the beginning and can only recruit/recall a small number of units (from your description it sounds like you may be in this situation). In that case, it might be best to re-play the previous scenario, with the goal of finishing with more gold this time around.

As a general rule, gold management becomes much more of an issue at higher difficulty levels. (At easier difficulty levels, you do not have to worry about gold too much because you can usually complete most scenarios even with the minimum starting gold, but this is probably impossible with the more difficult levels.)

Somewhat counter-intuitively, losing some high-level units in a battle can actually be helpful in the long run, because those units may be expensive (requiring 2 or more gold per turn in upkeep) and if they die instead of surviving to the end of a scenario, you may end up finishing with more gold, which will help you in the next scenario.

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beetlenaut
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Re: How to enjoy hard campaigns when they go wrong

Post by beetlenaut »

I don't think you need a new philosophy--just more experience. I remember thinking the same things about HttT on hard, but now it's so easy that it's boring. If you keep playing, you will be surprised at how much better it's possible to get. Wesnoth is deeper than it seems to be.
Argothair wrote:
July 3rd, 2020, 4:50 am
At hard difficulty, I usually have so few units that all of them have to perform "up to par" just to make it through the scenario.
Like what patience_reloaded said, there is so much experience available on hard that you should be able to level up more units than on medium. You must be losing a lot of units with high XP. You should use Ctrl-V constantly to make sure those units can't be attacked by enough enemies to kill them. That goes double for the irreplaceable units. You should have made sure not to leave your only Knight in range of two archers or the special Merman in range of both Naga Warriors. In those cases, even a 1% chance of death is probably too much: something that rare happens almost every scenario. However, if you play like I used to, it was probably more like 20%. And something with that probability happens every turn.

I just played through the first three scenarios of HttT and had six level-2 units at the end of Isle of Alduin. (And 194 gold carried over so I can recall them all.) That's the kind of thing you should be aiming for. Then you don't have to think deep thoughts to cope with losing one!
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Re: How to enjoy hard campaigns when they go wrong

Post by Argothair »

All right, thank you everyone; there's some good advice in there; I'll try it, and I'll let you know how it goes.

It might be that I just don't enjoy the problems posed on hard difficulty very much -- if a major point of the hard difficulty is to challenge the player to expertly manage their gold reserves, then I'm not sure that that's a challenge I want to engage with. I take your point that hard difficulty brings extra enemies that can be killed for extra XP, as well as a more intense need to place your units conservatively to avoid exposing them to even a 3% risk of death...but lingering to kill extra enemies and position your units more cautiously runs out the clock, which means you have less gold to bring with you into the next scenario! I am perfectly willing to believe that with enough skill you can finesse those trade-offs and learn to tell the difference between the risks that are worth taking and the risks that are worth skipping, but I'm not sure that I care to invest the time. I will try the CTRL-V shortcut and see how far that gets me in terms of planning ahead more easily; I haven't used it before. And I do like the idea to make a point of levelling some 'extra' units so that even the Level 2's will sometimes be expendable. It can be frustrating to treat a scenario as a 'failure' if you level up 3 units, defeat all your enemies, lose no levelled units, and carry over plenty of gold...but if what's needed to move forward in the campaign is to level up 5 units, well, so be it.

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Re: How to enjoy hard campaigns when they go wrong

Post by beetlenaut »

Argothair wrote:
July 4th, 2020, 10:20 pm
if a major point of the hard difficulty is to challenge the player to expertly manage their gold reserves....if what's needed to move forward in the campaign is to level up 5 units
Neither of these are ever the case with HttT, and probably not in any mainline campaign, because there are always multiple ways to play and win. I have beaten HttT with the extra rule of no recalls allowed (which did require managing my gold), and another time recruiting only shamans (which didn't). It's just that getting a large number of level-2 units is definitely the easiest method, and will probably work in any campaign. I didn't mean to say that six level-2 units was necessary at that point. There is no specific number, and I personally would have been satisfied with three as long as some others also had significant XP. I just wanted to show that getting a large number of them quickly was possible.
Argothair wrote:
July 4th, 2020, 10:20 pm
but lingering to kill extra enemies and position your units more cautiously runs out the clock, which means you have less gold to bring with you into the next scenario!
Not by much. In fact, if you own all the villages anyway, it only reduces your carryover by a single digit amount (unless you wait around for 13 turns or more). In my example, I did wait to beat Isle of Alduin in order to level one more unit and only won on the last turn, which reduced my carryover by 2. But, since I had owned a lot of the villages for most of the scenario, I had 484 gold at that point.

I also played Bay of Pearls to see how many units would get leveled. It turned out to be seven more. You can see how I managed XP. Several times I didn't kill an enemy I easily could have because I planned to use a specific unit to do it later. I also milked a troll for a few turns. (I did get carried away and over-recruit, so my gold would have been low if I had continued, but I didn't want to do it over.)
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Argothair
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Re: How to enjoy hard campaigns when they go wrong

Post by Argothair »

All right; thank you, that was a very interesting replay. I think the two biggest things you did differently than me were (1) recruit multiple Elvish Shamans to slow down enemies before charging into them with Horsemen/Knights, and (2) send virtually all of the merfolk to the far west edge of the map, with only one or two merfolk left behind near the central fords as a delaying tactic.

I recruited three Elvish Scouts in my last couple of runs at this scenario, and I think the Shamans are better now that I see how you're using them -- slowing the enemies means that even if you fail to kill an opponent, they're unlikely to kill your units on retaliation. The Shamans are obviously much slower to walk across the map, and you didn't finish the scenario until the last possible turn, but it seems like that's an acceptable cost.

It would not have occurred to me to leave one or two merfolk behind as a delaying tactic in the center while rushing the rest to the trident in the northwest, for a couple of reasons. One is that you're abandoning all of the water villages to the enemy for the entire middle turns of the scenario. You say that you over-recruited and that you could have finished with more gold if you recruited a couple fewer units, and I believe you, but the specific part where I'm feeling stuck is in the Siege of Elensefar. I've heard other posters on the forums recommend 280 starting gold for that scenario, and it doesn't look to me like your strategy is going to get anywhere close to that -- I think Bay of Pearls is the scenario where your gold directly translates into gold for the Siege, because your gold is 'skipped' in the intervening Isle of the Damned scenario; you use the outlaws' purse instead of your own purse, and gold you earn in the Isle scenario doesn't carry over at all.

The other reason is that the AI was really stupid about not adequately following up on the openings you left. The AI sort of haphazardly attacked your delaying merfolk with 3-4 units per turn, but they could have easily attacked your sacrificial merfolk with 6 units every single turn, which would likely kill 1 merfolk each turn. The AI also sent nagas onto land for some reason to get massacred by your archers and mages. I think if a human player were controlling the nagas, then your sacrificial tactics would result in having your merfolk defeated in detail -- not enough merfolk would survive the race to the northwest to reliably defeat both the nagas guarding the trident and the orc boss in the north-central castle. At the very least, a proper attack by the nagas would cost you something like 4 loyal units, which feels like a lot early in the scenario. That said, I like the way you sacrificed a merfolk fighter to the two nagas guarding the trident in a way that allowed you to free the ranged units and then use those ranged units to kill the nagas and then the sea orc leader with zero casualties.

I suppose one of my takeaway lessons from the replay is that the AI is *reliably* stupid in that kind of way; that you learn to predict what kinds of mistakes the AI will make, and then exploit those mistakes. The orc leader in the northeast camp also uses a stupid strategy; they just sort of send a few units at a time trickling at you without any attempt to bunch up in waves or form a front line that can hold against a counter-attack. So perhaps part of what playing on hard is about is learning how the AI will respond to various strategies and then choosing strategies that encourage and exploit the AI's weaknesses.

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Re: How to enjoy hard campaigns when they go wrong

Post by beetlenaut »

Argothair wrote:
July 5th, 2020, 8:29 pm
I think the Shamans are better now
The first time I played HttT--many long years ago--I didn't recruit any shamans. They are obviously weak and flimsy as fighters, and +4 healing didn't seem that useful. I couldn't see what they leveled into either. Now, they are my favorite unit line in the game! Slow is arguably the best weapon special, and the healers are more mobile than white mages. Also, Sylphs are beasts.
Argothair wrote:
July 5th, 2020, 8:29 pm
you didn't finish the scenario until the last possible turn
I was in position to do it a turn earlier, but I delayed to level my initiate. I do this pretty regularly.
Argothair wrote:
July 5th, 2020, 8:29 pm
your gold is 'skipped' in the intervening Isle of the Damned scenario
Ah, yes. I always play Muff Malal's Peninsula though. You do get one more loyal unit on IotD, but you have a ton of loyals already, so it's not worth the trade-off of having weaker units overall for SoE. I played MMP, and leveled my merman with the trident, a mage, and a captain (so I have level-3 leadership), and got a ranger and the loyal knight right on the edge of leveling, which is even better. I have a lot of other XP spread around. Having low gold on BoP did hurt me a little though. It took me a while to recruit all my units, so I finished MMP a little slower than I would have liked, leaving me with 230 total for SoE. That should be plenty with my recall list, but I'll give it a try and see.

Edit: Oh yeah, I forgot to mention something. You can usually count on the AI to move most of its units towards your leader and "direct" it a little that way. That's why it didn't try to kill more mermen when it had the chance: Konrad is the highest value target.
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Re: How to enjoy hard campaigns when they go wrong

Post by Zrevnur »

Based on your OP I think you need more playing skill. If you lose a unit to "bad RNG" its usually due to a combination of bad play and bad RNG. If you dont face this (the bad play part) truthfully and dont enjoy improving your playing skill you probably will just get frustrated or something.
Argothair wrote:
July 5th, 2020, 8:29 pm
It would not have occurred to me to leave one or two merfolk behind as a delaying tactic in the center while rushing the rest to the trident in the northwest, for a couple of reasons. One is that you're abandoning all of the water villages to the enemy for the entire middle turns of the scenario. You say that you over-recruited and that you could have finished with more gold if you recruited a couple fewer units, and I believe you, but the specific part where I'm feeling stuck is in the Siege of Elensefar. I've heard other posters on the forums recommend 280 starting gold for that scenario, and it doesn't look to me like your strategy is going to get anywhere close to that -- I think Bay of Pearls is the scenario where your gold directly translates into gold for the Siege, because your gold is 'skipped' in the intervening Isle of the Damned scenario; you use the outlaws' purse instead of your own purse, and gold you earn in the Isle scenario doesn't carry over at all.
If you want to see how to play to prepare for Siege of Elensefar (if playing Isle of the Damned) you can look at my replay/s:
https://forums.wesnoth.org/viewtopic.ph ... 74#p650674
Argothair wrote:
July 5th, 2020, 8:29 pm
I suppose one of my takeaway lessons from the replay is that the AI is *reliably* stupid in that kind of way; that you learn to predict what kinds of mistakes the AI will make, and then exploit those mistakes. The orc leader in the northeast camp also uses a stupid strategy; they just sort of send a few units at a time trickling at you without any attempt to bunch up in waves or form a front line that can hold against a counter-attack. So perhaps part of what playing on hard is about is learning how the AI will respond to various strategies and then choosing strategies that encourage and exploit the AI's weaknesses.
Exploiting AI is critical for success. I dont properly understand the AI though so instead of trying to directly predict it I rather try to give it opportunities to do something stupid. And often it ends up doing that...

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Re: How to enjoy hard campaigns when they go wrong

Post by Argothair »

Zrevnur wrote:
July 6th, 2020, 5:27 pm
Based on your OP I think you need more playing skill. If you lose a unit to "bad RNG" its usually due to a combination of bad play and bad RNG. If you dont face this (the bad play part) truthfully and dont enjoy improving your playing skill you probably will just get frustrated or something.
I'm really not one of those people who says stupid things like "I always get bad luck; it's not fair." There's no such thing as a persistent string of bad luck; eventually, the law of large numbers kicks in and you get an average cumulative result. What's troubling me is that given my current style of play, hard mode often puts me in a situation where a single bad roll can cause major problems for my campaign -- I don't have enough margin to accept average dice results. If I win some battles and lose some battles, then the battles I lose will sink my campaign. So, I need to figure out how I can improve my margin and leave myself with more of a buffer despite the increased number of enemies and decreased amounts of starting gold.

That said, Wesnoth is a game for me, not a spiritual calling. The process of improvement has to be fun along the way; it has to be something that I can use for recreation, i.e., to restore my energy after focusing on less pleasant tasks. I wrote this post because I was starting to hit the point where improving my skill was not as much fun as it used to be. Learning how to manage time of day, type of unit, terrain, etc. was pretty exciting. Figuring out how to reduce the chance of death for my important units from 3% down to 1% is not nearly as exciting. Similarly, learning how to manage gold reserves down to the nearest 2 or 3 gp does not sound like fun. So, part of what I'm looking for is fresh approaches and fresh pieces of "curriculum" -- what else might I be able to learn that would improve my skill while still being fun?

Figuring out how to manipulate the AI might scratch that itch; knowing that the AI will relentlessly target your leader even when that's a bad idea is an important piece of information that leads to some new strategic insights, and I will probably have fun playing around with those.

Combining the 'slow' ability from the Elvish Shaman with the 'charge' ability from the Loyalist Horseman is another important idea, not so much because that specific unit combination is good (of course it's good) but because it's unthematic. In Bay of Pearls, the terrain on land is almost entirely flat, open plains, so I assumed that I would want to recruit almost entirely Horsemen and Elvish Scouts to take advantage of the opportunity to surround enemies on 5+ hex sides. Neither the terrain nor the story seems to invite the heavy use of Elvish Shamans. Nevertheless, that seems to be exactly what's needed to get an excellent result in the scenario. So, another question I can learn to ask is: "what unit combinations might be appropriate for this level that I hadn't considered on my first few tries?" That sounds like a fun question to get better at answering.

If you can think of other questions that I should be asking myself as I play, that might be helpful, but I probably have enough to go on for now.

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Re: How to enjoy hard campaigns when they go wrong

Post by beetlenaut »

Argothair wrote:
July 6th, 2020, 7:26 pm
So, another question I can learn to ask is: "what unit combinations might be appropriate for this level that I hadn't considered on my first few tries?"
It's a good question, but unit choice is more a matter of play style than terrain. Lots of combinations would work equally well on most maps. You might enjoy coming up with a style. I like to use lots of magic units with a few meat shields to protect them, but Zrevnur got a mass of heavy hitters instead.
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Re: How to enjoy hard campaigns when they go wrong

Post by patience_reloaded »

Argothair wrote:
July 6th, 2020, 7:26 pm
If you can think of other questions that I should be asking myself as I play, that might be helpful, but I probably have enough to go on for now.
I may have something... Though I'm not sure if it's useful, and I don't know if it's fun to ask yourself.
"What role does a unit have based on it's stats? What role does the unit have in my army?"
"Would it improve my play if I used a specific unit for a different role, or if I used a different unit for a specific role?"

It's true, wesnoth is not an RPG with those unit classes. Still, some of those classes are somewhat applicable.
I found that for me, trying to figure out what role or class a unit belongs to helped me to understand how to use them correctly, because it taught me what they can do and what they can't do.
I'll try to analyse some units here:

Horseman looks like a scout, at 8 moves. However, closer look at both his attack and his movement costs indicate that he's not a scout, but a damage dealer, with the bonus of a good mobility. However, any ability comes at a price. Either something is worse than a comparable unit of the same gold cost, or the gold cost is higher. Horseman is one of the most expensive lv1 units in default, so some good skills can be expected, but at the same time, losing one is a much greater loss than if you loose a 14g elvish fighter.
Meaning: Horseman is a damage dealer, but not tank or cannon-fodder.

Elvish scout is fast. Very fast. They have both melee and ranged attack. At the same time, their price is average, at 18 gold. Means: They have to have some weaknesses. The most visible weakness is the low attack power: 12 max damage.
Meaning: Elvish scout is a scout, but not damage dealer.

Elvish figher has some decent melee, but nothing that looks overly special. Costing 14 gold, it's rather cheap, and while not exactly great at the roles of damage dealing or tanking, you can use them for both of these and they're useful because with an elvish figher, it's easier to afford an additional unit to support them (or support a different flank) than with a more expensive unit.

Mage has some pretty heavy and accurate ranged damage, that is almost a necessity to fight enemies in villages and castles. This attack is so strong that balance-wise it has to be paid with either some horrible weaknesses elsewhere or a ridiculous gold price. Truth is: A bit of both. The price is high, and the hp is low, making them vulnerable. And if your army has too many mages and too few tanky units to protect them, the entire army is vulnerable to loosing a lot of gold value in units quickly when things go wrong (one bad RNG knocking out the only tank blocking the only way to your three injured mages can loose you a battle very quickly)
Meaning: Mage is a mage-type unit, dealing a lot of damage but absolutely requiring protection from enemies.

Good Luck Argothair!

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Re: How to enjoy hard campaigns when they go wrong

Post by max_torch »

Argothair wrote:
July 6th, 2020, 7:26 pm
So, part of what I'm looking for is fresh approaches and fresh pieces of "curriculum" -- what else might I be able to learn that would improve my skill while still being fun?
I have several answers to this question:
  • Multiplayer default/ladder era: Your habits and knowledge of dealing battling the AI will no longer apply. Learning how to become decent in multiplayer, balance of the factions, which units matter, different map tactics, dealing with random opponent factions, different play in 1v1, 2v2. This will feel fresh
  • UMC and mainline survival maps: I think dark forecast has been mainlined? Few mentions would be Orocia, Nosmos pack, Top Scrolling Wesnoth, Colosseum. Whats nice about Top Scrolling Wesnoth is that in its original form it still uses mainline units.
  • UMC factions and campaigns: World conquest would be close to original wesnoth feel but feel fresh with new mechanics. To Lands Unknown for great graphics and even cutscenes.
  • UMC development: You can learn how to contribute to art and sound. You can learn how to employ WML and Lua. You can learn how to balance maps and such things as micro ais, turn limits, etc. You can learn how to use Github to make an experimental branch of wesnoth and learn how to collaborate with others. You can learn how to view reported issues and pull requests of mainline wesnoth and see if it is possible to contribute.
  • Learn how to produce gaming media like casting wesnoth multiplayer replays or entertaining educational records of your playthroughs

Argothair
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Re: How to enjoy hard campaigns when they go wrong

Post by Argothair »

Thank you, patience_reloaded and max_torch; both good answers.

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