In a few conversations in various places, the concept of card combinations as a threshold for the power or "permission" for the AI to do certain things has come up as part of the game design.
My impression of the AI strategy and behavior, and what I've taken in from various conversations, leads me to suggest that it may be wise to thicken up the AI decks and introduce routines for sub-optimal play.
What I think may be happening is the enemy player is recycling anything too expensive to play, playing everything they can play as fast as they can play it, which is usually direct damage and reinforcement cards, and building up very effective combos as a certainty and deploying them as soon as it is a valid choice.
The highly overlooked but very special game AI War is considered to contain an "Emergent AI." A 4x type space strategy game in which the enemy group is much more powerful than the player, but what makes it Emergent is that the way the AI chooses and develops strategies. Reportedly, even so many years after it came out it still produces stratagems the developers never intended or programmed into it. From what I understand, this is accomplished by having the Enemy use only observed information about the player and their activities, determine what a perfect strategy would be against the observed model, and then regress the perfect strategy to be less than perfect, ie, imperfect strategies, openings, etc. I think they also include a level of commitment to fighting the player based on how annoying the player is to the AI's goals, which determines what the fight model looks like.
All that being mostly academic, relevance to Nowhere Prophet would be mixing up the optimal builds and play styles of the enemy decks, so that I don't know exactly what I'm up against. Beasts have been a focus of my attention for balance suggestions, for a few reasons. We talked about game balance at the beginning of the game, and making the beginning of the game accessible. The first milestone might therefore be the milestone at which the player feels they have a grasp of the game and are ready for tougher encounters. Beasts are also a target the player seeks out for their food rich payout. If I have no food, and I can choose between beats and *literally anything else* I choose beasts.
Things beasts aren't doing at the moment, as far as I've seen, that they could be doing, are things like stealth, and one turn flight. A sneaky panther-esque animal, or a chameleon skin type thing. If winged creatures aren't appropriate for the beast deck or are planned for an insect swarm deck, then an "on incite gain flight for one turn" or "fury: gain flight for one turn" or a Leader card that gives flight for one turn would represent a savage bestial leap, allowing the horde to pounce over barriers.
Tying in what I was saying about AI War and Emergent AI relies on how the AI determines what it does next. I've only caught a few glimpses behind what might be the curtain, so I really can't speak to what you guys are using. The AI seems to make some good decisions, and some bad decisions. Playing to the field much of the time is good at the moment, as it allows for more playtesting of the way cards work.
I've seen the AI use a field full of chargers to move them around or smash up obstacles instead of attacking me or my followers. I've seen the AI provide a buff to a creature that just finished attacking me. I've seen the AI place a creature in front of another creature that just refreshed. So some of this logic appears to be random.
Giving the AI a clear understanding of grand strategy for a game like this is super challenging, particularly if you want it to be able to anticipate player moves or provide an interesting opponent.
I'm certain you guys have a system already in place, and I haven't identified precisely what it is just yet. Giving the AI patterns of behavior based on what it has or what the player has done, such as "mitigate available attacker with if available attacker if then available direct damage card loop or place taunt defender exit." But the game is deeper than the current turn, which is why it is attractive. All the parts of its complexity that make it an enjoyable game to play, of course, make it challenging to develop AI for.
This post is getting super long, so I'm gonna end here and pick up this concept elswhere.