Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Subtle Balancing Tweaks

Boardgames are like Movies.  You have a few blockbusters, and a lot of flops.  You might take pity on the flops, but what about the blockbusters?  Those few games are going to be played over and over until every little wart shines through.

Looking back at thousands of plays can often give new insight that wouldn't show up without that much testing.  And sometimes, some simple changes need to be made.  Here I've compiled just a couple of those subtle changes that people have come up with for some true classics:

Tigris and Euphrates - The player going first has a very high chance of winning.  I'm pretty sure it was over 30% in a 4 player game.  The easiest and most applied fix is:  Have the first 2 players take only 1 action on their first turn.  It's just the same as Through the Desert for just the same reason.

Dominion - Again, the first place player has a higher chance of winning.  The silly rules have a balance of the prior winner going last.  I applaud them for trying something new, but still think this rule is stupid.  Much better and simpler is to borrow from Puerto Rico:  Just continue play until everyone has had an equal # of turns.  Allow people to buy "Ghost Provinces" if they have run out.  Makes for a much closer game IMHO.

Puerto Rico - This was actually what inspired the list for me.  The players that start with Corn tend to kick the Indigo players' asses.  It's true at all player counts.  Hell, in tournaments they often bid 2-3 VP to start with corn to balance things out.  I came across a thread on BGG that showed a much simpler balance for the corn players: Corn players start with 1 less doubloon.  It slows them down just enough in buying the first mid-range building that scores balance out almost perfectly.  Alternatively, you can view it as giving the poor indigo saps a buck to buy their indigo plantation.  Source:


So, are there any other minor balance tweaks for much played classics you have used?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Nearly Dimes

So I do enjoy fiddling with Friendless' Extend Stats over here:


In particular, I like how it forces me to see how much of my collection I have actually played.  And how often I have played them.

He has a metric that encourages people to achieve "dimes" = 10 plays of a game.  So of course, given a metric, I have to try and maximize it.  So what games do I own that are really close to dime status that I just need to nudge over?  And what ones am I likely to play next?

10 Days in the USA - Okay, this one is a slight cheat.  I own all the 10days series, but I just list them as a single game.  They really aren't different enough by my standards.  I just bought 10 days in the Americas, so I figure this one is going to make dime status in no time.

Brass - This comes out like twice a year.  So it may make it, but no time real soon.  Expecially with a kid on the way next month.  2+ hour games in the evening are probably right out.

Sushizock - See, just making this list makes me realize games I haven't played in awhile.  I should get this game back to the table.  It is adorably cute after all.

Ticket to Ride - Maybe when my kids get to 6-7 years old.  I'm just rather burned out on the series as a whole.  I would rather play Transamerica in almost all cases.  It's just more interesting to me.

Utopian Rummy - Yea, my own design.  I only recorded 9 plays after finally giving it it's own page on BGG.  Trust me though, I've played it 100+ as a prototype.  Still, my wife was mentioning it the other day, so maybe it will see the table again.  (If I can find a copy laying around...)

Vegas Showdown - Just played this a month ago.  Had fun.  Want to pull it out again!

Yspahan - Totally burned out for me.  However, my wife still enjoys it a lot.  So it'll probably creep over the 10 plays line.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Allure of the Dungeon Crawl

I think every boardgamer wants to be a dungeon hero at some point.  I know I was just fascinated with HeroQuest when I was younger.  I solo-played my copy over and over.

And yet I just don't remember all that many good sessions.  More recently I have owned and played Return of the Heroes.  It too was good, but just not great.

And do you know what killed my enjoyment in the end?  Combat Modifiers.  I hate the damn things.  I understand their thematic allure, but I think they are just boring as piss.

I don't care if the hill gets me +1 defense.  I don't care if the barbarian rolls 1 more die.  I just wanted to kill something dang it.  Instead I spend time calculating what the rules say I did.

I feel the same way about Memoir 44 and Conflict of Heroes.  Both were solid thematic and easy to enter wargames.  And both wanted me to remember different rules about trees and hills and roads.  Blah.  That is anti-fun.

Probably the only interesting dungeon crawling I've done recently is Catacombs.  There isn't a ton of story.  There is combat goodies, without friggin' modifiers!!!  The most there is are a couple occasional "Deals 2 damage if hits" conditions.  But that's all she wrote.

And yet it all works out fine.  In particular, the whole way arrows and ranged spells work is genius.  You get a small little arrow disc you can shoot from near your character.  That way you can hide behind a pillar and shoot around it.  Brilliant!

I also like the way teamwork plays out.  You can bounce a teammate around a corner and then let them take a nice pop-shot at the archer hiding behind there.  A nice little one-two punch.

I'm not sure it will withstand the test of time in my collection, but dang it, it's going to have a soft spot in my heart for getting rid of combat modifiers for much time to come.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Euchre vs Spades - The Suspense

Had a fun week of playing cards at lunch.  Heck, I always have a fun week of playing cards at lunch.  A couple days in particular though highlighted a sharp divide between Spades and Euchre for me.


My team was down significantly.  We had to make two loners in a row, or a loner without help.  (We play 6-player bid euchre)  My partner calls a regular loner, so I overcall with a no-help.  I get 7 of my tricks, but need the eighth one to fly.  I have a lowly 9, someone keeps a king and nails me.

Now, did I do anything wrong here?  Nope, not at all.  Was there any thought at all to playing my cards?  Nope, not at all.  Was it still fun?  Yea.  But on to spades.


Today we come to the last hand and our opponents are up by two tricks.  My partner makes a huge bid, forcing the other team to bid Nil to stand a chance.  His partner now has to not take all the bags and cover him.  So he's forced to somehow walk a thin line of playing high enough to cover, but not high enough to take slop.

Turns out the covering partner had to trump in one two many times.  Late in the hand I lead a 4 of spades, the covering opponent throws off, and my partner plays the 3 of spades.  The Nil bidder was forced to take it with a 5 of spades.

Now, again, he didn't do anything wrong.  And I wouldn't even say his opponent did anything wrong.  But somehow it was just a much more enjoyable experience.  Maybe some of that is because I won... but I hope that I'm at least somewhat objective about it.  No, I think the real difference was the conflicting goals that the covering Partner had in Spades.  He had a real challenge set out for him.  Two mutually exclusive goals of not taking too many tricks but not letting his partner take any tricks.  It just squeezed a lot more skill and interesting decisions into the game for me.

Still, too bad 6-player spades sounds rather crappy.  Oh well, on to next week!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Taming the Collection

With my first offspring soon on the way I've been trying to trim back the collection a lot.  I still want to play some games with my wife in the next few years, but maybe I'm just trying to be more realistic.  In particular, I don't see new, long & complicated games getting played.  Although, there is a silver lining.  I do get to move a few games classified as "Kids games" into the play room.

So in my current collection, there is only one game I haven't played.  That would be Amun-Re.  I'm thinking about trying it out with some family this weekend.  But I have a conundrum.

I believe the stupid bid-bounce mechanic would drive me nuts.  If you're outbid, then you *have* to bid on something else.  I realize this might encourage higher initial bids, but it almost sounds like a random event to determine what province you actually end up with in 5 players.

And the thing is, I've played Vegas Showdown many times.  It's a very solid game.  And it works by allowing re-bids on the same item.  So does Homesteaders.  So why does Amun-Re need this annoying mechanic?  I don't usually like house-ruling respected games, but what would happen if you allow re-bids?

Well, I know a couple power cards would need removed, but only a couple.  Other than that, would it really break anything?

Grr, we'll see if I get it to the table, and then we'll see if re-bids are allowed in the end...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Equilibrium Playtest

GenCon rekindled some PnP interest for me.  I got to try out a few prototypes too, and so I decided it would be a good time to revisit some of my designs.  I sat down tonight for a round of Equilibrium.

Early Game

I started right off with nailing the "First Pair" score cards in my first two hands.  Nice boon for me.  I followed it up with the permanent "+2 Draw" to let me really control what I paid with.  Notice I didn't actually signal what colors I was collecting.  This left my wife in the dark for quite awhile so I counted on her trashing a nice spread of cards.  Unbeknown to my wife, I was trashing all the yellow out of my deck setting myself up to score blue or red later.

My wife played the "Discount Score Cards" as her first card.  Then she started alternating between score cards for Red and attack cards to reduce my deck.  I think she made me trash and extra 7 cards over the course of the game.  So even though she didn't know what color to hit, she was still making me pay.  Unfortunately for her though, I knew she was going Red and started sniping the red out of her deck.

Mid Game

I played a "7+ of 2 Colors" to delay giving Ang info for another round, but then I finally had to signal a color.  I did about 3 blue score cards back to back.  I had the nice large hand size to work with though, so I could weed out the yellow while going lightly on trashing blue.

My wife was a score card machine.  Dropping more and more red.  And then even the hard to achieve "12VP for 11+ of a single color".  Her early discount meant she could play far more score cards than I since they were each subtly cheaper for her.

Last Plays

My last play was a gambit "Guess Opponent's Blue".  Ang never actually signaled if she was collecting a second color, but I noticed a lot of yellow down and remembered feeding a lot of blue back into her deck.  So I went with "7" as my guess.  The turn after that she drops a "7VP for 9+ Blue" right on top of a "+3VP if Successful" so I thought my guess would be way off.


I slimmed my deck all the way down to a lean-mean 18 cards.  Exactly 7 Red to nail my "7+ of 2 Colors".  And 10 Blue so enough to score all my own score cards.

Ang had to stop earlier than she wanted since she knew I'd been sniping her Red.  She actually went a turn longer than I, but still ended with a bigger deck due to her discount permanent and the number of attack cards she'd played.  Turns out she hit *exactly* 11 Red for the big 12VP bonus, AND exactly 9 Blue for the extra 10VP from her earlier gambit.  (But the 9 was just in range for my guess to pay off)

After tallying the scores, Ang had 2 more positive points than I, but my deck was 4 cards smaller so I won a very close game by 2 VP.  (If I'd guessed one lower, ang would have won.  If Ang had had 1 less Red or Blue in her deck, then I would have won.  If I'd had one less Red in my deck, Ang would have won.  It was all razor thin to me.)


I had a lot of fun.  Our strategies were sufficiently different, and yet reached very similar scores.  You can tell our skill has come up since we both managed to collect exactly the cards we needed in our remaining deck.  Some of that is closely counting cards, but even then you can't exactly know.  You have to guesstimate how much your opponent is trashing of what colors as you go.  It's an engaging and intriguing exercise to me.  And that's how I like it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

GenCon is Over

So I spent a lot of time cataloging my adventures over on BGG.  Here are the series of links:


Hit of the show?  Probably Ascension.  It was a great take on the deck-building genre.  In particular, the rules are a little simpler and the setup time is vastly reduced.  It seems quite balanced to me although I haven't gotten a chance to play it much yet.

The bigger hit was getting to see all the publishers and designers who showed up.  That was quite the treat to put faces to a lot of names.

Now only a year left until it starts again.