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Are auctions evil?

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Maaartin
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This is a reaction to a posting from another thread:

larienna wrote:
Maaartin wrote:
In a game of mine, there are a lot of cards obtained via auction.
Bad, horrible, auctions are EVIL. How do you explain the auctions, there is a merchant at the entrance of the dungeon that is auctioning stuff? The slimes are holding up an auction for the stuff the dead heroes dropped? I strongly suggest you avoid this idea.

I agree that auctions are hard to embed in a theme and would welcome any examples how it's done in games and also any suggestions.

However, I think that auctions are a very nice instrument allowing to introduce variability into games without too much luck. For example, randomly selected cards can be put to an auction, this way eliminating nearly all luck (a given card may be more useful for a given player than for others, so some luck remains). I see no good alternative:

  • Ignore the luck factor -- I hate too luck-dependent games.
  • Make all cards about the same strength while maintaining their diversity. -- This is very hard to achieve.
  • Use the same cards in another game (played by a different group) and make the scoring depending on the other group's result (like in Bridge). -- This is only for very serious gamers as it need quite some management.
  • Play a lot of games thus letting the luck even out. -- This works only for very short games.

Any other ideas are welcome.

What do you think about the auction?

larienna
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I already wrote an article

I already wrote an article about why I hate auctions. You can find it here

"Using mechanics that reflects reality, the problem with auctions"
http://bgd.lariennalibrary.com/index.php?n=DesignArticle.Article20100112...

The main problem I have with auction is that designer use the fact that the player need to enforce the rules of the game to play which allow the possibility to create auctions without any entity to control it because the players can enforce the rules of the auction.

So it allows the creation of auction mechanics in situations that would have never been possible in real life. Which has the effect of increasing the disbelief level of the game and it makes it easier for the mind to reject the game.

Baron Bill
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larienna wrote: The main

larienna wrote:

The main problem I have with auction is that designer use the fact that the player need to enforce the rules of the game to play which allow the possibility to create auctions without any entity to control it because the players can enforce the rules of the auction.

So it allows the creation of auction mechanics in situations that would have never been possible in real life. Which has the effect of increasing the disbelief level of the game and it makes it easier for the mind to reject the game.

I absolutely disagree. I will preface this by saying that I am not a huge fan of auctions in general. I think they are a valid mechanic and when done right they can add a level of strategic thinking that is unique to the auction mechanic.

When used sparingly and in the right situation, auctions are a tremendous equalizer. I don't think you need to worry about having any separate entity controlling it. I don't even see that as a negative. Players will not take advantage of the mechanic because they are all out to win. If the concern is that they will make deals or somehow "cheat" the system, then your rules aren't good enough.

As for "realism", I for one look to games to escape reality to some degree. If I were faced with a game where every mechanic was a perfect facsimile of real life, I probably wouldn't play it. In addition, there are situations were the auction mechanic could work perfectly well to mirror reality (ie: stock market, resource collection/worker placement, business simulation, etc...). How about abstract games where not of the mechanics mirror ANYTHING in real life. I've never "rejected" a game because it didn't resolve itself according to real world rules or mechanics. Sorry, I just don't agree.

To the OP, count me as one who sees auctions as perfectly valid under the right circumstances and not evil.

Just my 2 pennies,

Bill

Maaartin
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I prefer less luck even when it's less realistic

Thank you for the link. I really appreciate your arguments, however I dislike your proposed solution:

Quote:
Tech race mechanic: Each x resource spent makes you roll an additional die. If one of the die rolled is a 6, you gain a new technology.
This way you make each game to a sort of more or less overcomplicated Mensch_ärgere_dich_nicht. It may be realistic, it may be fun, but I probably wouldn't play it. For me it's just too random. Moreover, the randomness here equals to pure luck (I strongly prefer random events like "storm preventing all ships from leaving the ports" which are at least in theory neutral). Other people may like it, but there will never be a dice in any game of mine (although I'm going to create alternative rules for those who require it).

Is there somewhere a discussion on this article of yours?

GustavMahler
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My extended rebuttal. :)

Putting my ( extended 2 cents in here as well. :) )

I think to take a wholesale scorched earth approach to saying any kind of game mechanic is just evil and should be thrown out completely is a tad myopic. I mean, if you don't like a certain game mechanic/style then don't PLAY IT!-- but to say that it's not just a matter of personal preference for one mechanic or the other, and to say X given mechanic is just " EVIL"-- well I personally find that unconstructive.

I have mechanics I don't like as does every gamer. I have a design colleague who doesn't really like resource gathering games. I don't hear him saying playing Puerto Rico is evil and a total waste of time, it's just his preference.

On the subject at hand of auctions, again to just say they are all evil once again seems a tad myopic.

On the most base of levels.. how about games like nightstalkergames.com Auction Junktion? I mean, IT'S A GAME ABOUT AUCTIONS!!!!-- are you just saying it shouldn't exist? :) And despite this OLD BG classic being flawed otherwise what about Masterpiece? And as said earlier.. what about stock market games, or ALL of the art games? We just wholesale say they are **** because they have auctions inherent in their makeup? :)

On a more extended level, doesn't virtually every single current " hit" card game have something AKIN to an auction in it's card mechanics.? When saving/buying/attaining cards in something like Dominion or RFTG, aren't you doing something that is at least RELATED to auctioning? "Bidding" indirectly as it were to get action cards that will get you possibly more resources or cards? And isn't there a factor of luck in what cards indeed come up especially in RfTg?

However to play devil's advocate --- I do agree that if a game is of a supposed " heavy weight"-- then having far too many blind bidding issues especially combined with too much dice luck, is definitely a flaw IMO -- this is why I and many others have issues with Civilization at times. ( a zillion hour game with that much luck at times? Really? ) -- but again I emphasize this is my opinion, many other people adore that game. I am just proposing that you can't totally escape ANY luck factor, nor do I think at least some type of auction element in many games.

And finally, since this door was opened in L's essay on hating auctions and in his arguments of why they are evil. This whole issue of " it takes away from a realistic feel or mechanic" , well if you take that to the nth degree, isn't this, sorry to be harsh, NONSENSE? :) I mean do people who don't like RftG say " Well, ya know it just really doesn't feel like laying a card down is really developing a world in outer space."

Do the majority of the gamer community who despise Monopoly say " Ya know, I hate this game because colored cards just don't make me feel like I am buying property in Atlantic City, New Jersey?"

And finally to plug one of my own games in development , will someone judge my SUCK IT UP!! card game and say " Dude, your game is broken because I don't get the same thrill I do cleaning my carpets in real life?" :)

I am sorry if it seems I am carrying your argument here Eric/L to the nth degree and I don't mean to so harshly attack you to the point of ridicule , but when you open this door, someone indeed might have to walk through it. :)

To conclude my essay length post at last-- I re-emphasize my main point-- I don't think telling a designer certain mechanic is totally evil and worthless for the reasons you stated above ( or any reason for that matter ) without clarifying that this is YOUR PERSONAL OPINION as opposed to stating it as objective given axiom isn't terribly productive.

My extended 2 cents. :)

larienna
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I don't say that auctions are

I don't say that auctions are always bad. There are games that auctions are OK. Some quick examples: "Modern art", "chez dork", "you're bluffing", etc. The problem is that auction is overused in board games and underused in real life. I am tired of seeing being used in every game.

As for realism, I do not say that games must be 100% realistic, I say that a wrongly used auction will increase the disbelief level which COULD make the game rejected by the mind. Like I explained in another article than I'll link below, games are like a dream. You try to impose to the player a new reality with your game. The subconscious is willing to accept a certain level of irrealism, but if you exceed a certain threshold, the subconscious will reject the world. This threshold level is different from a player to another. Mine seems just thinner than the average board gamer.

For example:

Puerto rico: The un-realism there is the roles. My mind accept the game. I really have the feeling of managing a plantation even if the roles make no sense.

Agricola: The un-realism is the worker placement, years that get shorter, the must do everything but do not have the time, and many path to victory but you get penalized if you do not them all. My mind reject the game, because I have really no feeling of managing a real farm.

[forgot the link]

http://bgd.lariennalibrary.com/index.php?n=DesignArticle.Article20100813...

GustavMahler
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Ah yes..

This clarifies your position better, I apologize if I mistook it earlier. Thanks for said clarification. :)

truekid games
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Auctions aren't evil, but

Auctions aren't evil, but they are over-used. And unfortunately, the reasons you listed evidence WHY they're over-used... auctions are a fix-all patch that solves a lot of inherent problems. need interaction? need resources balanced? need less luck? need to include an economy, or perhaps remove money from the system? just slap an auction on top. candyland suddenly becomes a euro-game when you start auctioning off the cards.

Thus I mostly agree with Larienna- unless your auction is mechanically interesting (meaning, a very different kind of auction, like in Ra) or thematically appropriate, you're probably including it for the wrong reasons.

Rick-Holzgrafe
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In some games, the values of

In some games, the values of various resources can vary wildly depending on the player who acquires them, the phase of the game (early, middle, or late), and the state of everything else in the game. There is no fair way (that I've heard of, anyway) other than an auction to allocate those resources among the players. Anything other method becomes a matter of luck.

And please don't tell me that these designs are flawed by the imbalanced and varying values of those resources. The essence of a game like that is to correctly judge the true value of something, and to try to get it for a good price, and especially without over-bidding and paying more than it's worth to you. I'll agree that if it's easy to judge an item's value, an auction is silly and dull. But if it's difficult to assess value, then the auctions become very tense. Age of Steam, Ra, and Power Grid are all excellent examples of games that implement auctions very effectively.

Like any other mechanism, auctions are a tool to be used judiciously.

Louard
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I couldn't agree more with Rick

Board games, and many games in general are most often about creating an abstraction of a real world activity. Sometimes that abstraction is in the form of playing a card from your hand (like the lines of communication in Memoir 44), sometimes its rolling dice (um, everything in Roll Through the Ages) and sometimes its conducting an auction.

What I personally love about auctions is that they are, to a certain degree, self balancing. Players pay what they think is fair for something and if someone wants it badly enough, they'll pay extra for it. In a game like Ra, the player decides how valuable a tile is to him or her, not some pre-defined cost, and not chance.

Now, are auctions over-used? I think this isn't too hard an argument to make as they do seem to be a bit 'in fashion' these days, but I find auction mechanisms to be a powerful design tool and worth keeping in the toolbox.

larienna
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One of the argument about

One of the argument about auction is that instead of making the designer balance the game, they give the job to the player. I find this pretty lazy: "I'll let the player finish my design".

The problem is that it does not work all the time because each player has various game play experience about the game. So inexperienced players will have a bad perception of the value of an item and their bid will unbalance the game anyway.

So unless you are playing the with very experienced players, you will never achieve a balance. Designing a game with fixed values will be as unbalanced than with auctions.

It reminds me of Cleopatra, where the bid were something like: 0, 1, 3, 15, 20. If you use the triangular number table, 15 and 20 should have been the right value for the bid, but the 3 first player failed or did not care to recognize the real value of the auction.

The biggest problem I have with auctions is how to evaluate the value of something. In Medici, or in Power grid, it is very hard to determine how much you will gain if you win the auction.

If I would be forced to have an auction in a game, I would use a system similar to Ra. Since you only have 3 values to bid with, you do not have to know the precise value of the item being auctioned, but rather an approximation. So it is easier to take a decision and it makes it easier for unexperienced players to judge the value.

benjaminvictord...
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larienna wrote:One of the

larienna wrote:
One of the argument about auction is that instead of making the designer balance the game, they give the job to the player. I find this pretty lazy: "I'll let the player finish my design".

I don't understand how you can construe an auction mechanism as a lazy way out of game design. For most of the (good) games that include an auction, it is an integral part of the design and everything around it had to be designed with an auction in mind. I would hardly call that "lazy".

Quote:
The problem is that it does not work all the time because each player has various game play experience about the game. So inexperienced players will have a bad perception of the value of an item and their bid will unbalance the game anyway. So unless you are playing the with very experienced players, you will never achieve a balance. Designing a game with fixed values will be as unbalanced than with auctions. It reminds me of Cleopatra, where the bid were something like: 0, 1, 3, 15, 20. If you use the triangular number table, 15 and 20 should have been the right value for the bid, but the 3 first player failed or did not care to recognize the real value of the auction.

This problem is true of all game mechanisms, not just auctions. Disparate skill levels inevitably unbalances the game. Only really good game designs prevent this.

Quote:
The biggest problem I have with auctions is how to evaluate the value of something. In Medici, or in Power grid, it is very hard to determine how much you will gain if you win the auction.

This is exactly what makes them so juicy as design mechanisms! If you can create a system that makes it difficult for the players to judge values properly or makes values different for different people, play skill becomes very important. When play skill is important, you create long-term replayability.

truekid games
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benjaminvictordraper@gmail.co

benjaminvictordraper@gmail.com wrote:

I don't understand how you can construe an auction mechanism as a lazy way out of game design. For most of the (good) games that include an auction, it is an integral part of the design and everything around it had to be designed with an auction in mind. I would hardly call that "lazy".

my experience is exactly the opposite. most auction games out there use it as a band-aid, for exactly the reason everyone is defending it for- it self-balances. it's lazy, because as i said above, it CAN be slapped on any game and suddenly we've got lots of good qualities (balance, interactivity, etc). a designer don't have to design ANYTHING around an auction. you CAN, and that's good when you do, but tons of games could have the auction lifted out and a real distribution mechanic used to replace it, and the rest of the game would be virtually unchanged.

i'm not saying auctions aren't a good tool, because they're a great tool. the problem is that they're such a good tool that people use it for everything. it's like taking an adjustable wrench and using it to loosen bolts... and then deciding you shouldn't buy a screwdriver because you can just grip the screw and undo it, and furthermore you don't need a hammer, because the wrench is heavy enough to just pound the nails in. if the auction isn't a good thematic abstraction of what's actually going on, OR interesting mechanically, then the designer is pounding in nails with the wrench because they're too lazy or too cheap to find the actual right tool for the job.

it's a good tool if you know when to use it... but most people don't.

jwarrend
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I have to agree with Andy;

I have to agree with Andy; auctions are, generally speaking, a design crutch. That's not to say they don't have their uses, but rather, that they bring with them the baggage of other design issues and designers don't always exert sufficient effort to address these secondary issues.

Larienna already addressed the biggest of these -- auctions make a game very difficult to enjoy for players of different skill levels. If you have no idea what something is worth, you can't play competitively against experienced players, or as I've often seen, you simply cue your bids off of the most experienced player in the game, which isn't really a strategy.

But an issue that's even bigger for me is the seat order effect, and the role of "obligatory blocking". Auctions aren't really about different players having different valuations for different commodities. They are, in my experience, much more about properly evaluating the value of bid items to the other players /so you don't let someone get something too cheaply/. A player is expected and almost required to bid on something he may not want just to prevent another player from being able to get it at too low a cost, and this expectation increases the closer one gets to the desiring player in seat order. Often, all but the last person before that player can pass, knowing that the weight of responsibility to "block" the player can rest exclusively on the shoulders of the player to his right, and that this player will have no choice but to take one for the team and drive up the bid. Auctions aren't the only mechanic with this problem, of course, but this is probably one of the worst problems in game design -- worse than kingmaking, worse than leader bashing -- because it's so hard-wired into the ordinary clockwise flow of play in most turn based games, and auction games, depending so heavily on bidding in clockwise order as most do, are especially prone to it. (Of course, simultaneous or "closed-fist" auctions solve this problem only to replace it with another).

Auctions have their place and can give rise to interesting decisions, but the problems they bring have to be honestly and carefully addressed in the design, or the overall design will suffer.

-Jeff

larienna
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I am surprised that I am not

I am surprised that I am not alone against the Auction mechanics. I am sure if the same question was posted on BGG, the odds would have been 1000:1 FOR auctions.

Quote:
Make all cards about the same strength while maintaining their diversity. -- This is very hard to achieve.

It's normal that some cards are more powerful than other, and I should say that a game is better designed if all cards are not exactly equally powerful.

Maaartin
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Overused???

Quote:
Now, are auctions over-used?

Are they? I know a couple of games based on auctions -- saying they're overusing auctions is like saying Chess is overusing pawns or Bridge is overusing tricks. So let's ignore them for now. I know auction get used in the advanced version of Tikal. I know no other game employing auctions, so how can they be overused when 99% of games not based on them do not use them???

Why nobody says that dice are overused???

larienna wrote:
One of the argument about auction is that instead of making the designer balance the game, they give the job to the player. I find this pretty lazy: "I'll let the player finish my design".

I can't disagree more because I suspect you to use luck instead of auction. Would you say you let the dice (card stack shuffling or whatever) finish your design?

larienna wrote:
Quote:
Make all cards about the same strength while maintaining their diversity. -- This is very hard to achieve.

It's normal that some cards are more powerful than other, and I should say that a game is better designed if all cards are not exactly equally powerful.

It depends on how you get the cards. In case you obtain them using some fair means (e.g. auction :D), there's no need for them being equally powerful at all. In case you get them at random you need either make all of them equally powerful or tolerate more luck than I do.

truekid games
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this almost didn't deserve a

this almost didn't deserve a reply, but here goes:

Maaartin wrote:

Are they? I know a couple of games based on auctions -- saying they're overusing auctions is like saying Chess is overusing pawns or Bridge is overusing tricks. So let's ignore them for now. I know auction get used in the advanced version of Tikal. I know no other game employing auctions, so how can they be overused when 99% of games not based on them do not use them???

Why nobody says that dice are overused???


here's a list of just over 2000 auction/bidding games at BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamemechanic/2012/auctionbidding

Quote:

I can't disagree more because I suspect you to use luck instead of auction. Would you say you let the dice (card stack shuffling or whatever) finish your design?
why do YOU jump to random as the only resultant solution? because that's certainly not where I'd go.

Quote:

It depends on how you get the cards. In case you obtain them using some fair means (e.g. auction :D), there's no need for them being equally powerful at all. In case you get them at random you need either make all of them equally powerful or tolerate more luck than I do.
and again, there are many, MANY more options than just auction or random.

Maaartin
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I am still looking for alternatives

truekid games wrote:
Maaartin wrote:
Are they? I know a couple of games based on auctions -- saying they're overusing auctions is like saying Chess is overusing pawns or Bridge is overusing tricks. So let's ignore them for now. I know auction get used in the advanced version of Tikal. I know no other game employing auctions, so how can they be overused when 99% of games not based on them do not use them???

Why nobody says that dice are overused???

here's a list of just over 2000 auction/bidding games at BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamemechanic/2012/auctionbidding
Thanks. So 2070 out of 52500 games on BGG use auction/bidding, i.e., less than 4%. That's more than I thought, however is it too much?

Quote:
Quote:
I can't disagree more because I suspect you to use luck instead of auction. Would you say you let the dice (card stack shuffling or whatever) finish your design?
why do YOU jump to random as the only resultant solution? because that's certainly not where I'd go.
Because I don't see any alternative. That's one of the reasons why I started this thread. I'm looking for alternatives to auction. As an example, look at Tikal, what were a nice alternative to the "Auction Variant"?

Quote:
and again, there are many, MANY more options than just auction or random.
In the very posting in this thread...
Maaartin wrote:
Any other ideas are welcome.
but I wasn't given any (or maybe overlooked it?).

truekid games
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absolutely, your original

absolutely, your original post included a few words at the end about looking for ideas. but your responses up until now were almost purely to defend auctions as a choice. similarly, you offered the single game you are familiar with as evidence that auctions weren't over-used. I offered 2000 as counter evidence, which you immediately trivialized? a 2000 PERCENT increase over your proffered sampling, and it's not enough? It doesn't actually sound like you're looking for input, it sounds like you're looking to argue.

but let's look at the small part of your post you're now putting forward as if it was the overarching theme- here's a listing of about 40 commonly recognized mechanisms:
http://boardgamegeek.com/wiki/page/mechanism#

a chunk of them are heavily random in nature (dice rolling, roll and move, rock paper scissors) or not really relevant to distribution of resources (pencil and paper, variable phase order, etc). leaving you with 20 or 30 options that could be explored to distribute resources in a non-random way. Perhaps you gain resources only if you manage to pick-up-and deliver them to a main city. Perhaps it's done by drafting. Perhaps you need to area-enclose a field, and the first person to do so gets the resource provided. Perhaps you need to tell a story about why you need a resource, and the other players can vote on whose is best.

Honestly, my best advice on this front is to play as many games as you can. if Tikal is the only auction game you're familiar with, a good place to start might be with a few of the top-rated auction games.

larienna
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I tried to make a more refine

I tried to make a more refine proportion ratio of games that has auctions according to what the BGG engine could offer me.

I searched strictly in strategy game category to remove the tons of war games and miniature games and I searched for "auction/bidding" mechanic in games that were published between 2006-2010. (If I have too much result, they get cut to 1000 results). In the end I got these numbers:

104/467 = 22% of games have auctions.

Note that the % could be more because I included the expansions. Maybe I'll redo the search later without the expansions.

I also wanted to each in the games I played, but I cannot search for a mechanic in the games I have played. I would not be surprised if 1 game out of 3 that I played had auction in it.

Stay tunes for new numbers

An alternative to auction? ... Fixed price.

larienna
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OK, I have new numbers which

OK, I have new numbers which include strategy games only and exclude the expansions.

From 1996 to 2010
130/630 = 20% of games have auction

From 2001 to 2010
114/539 = 21% of games have auctions

From 2006 to 2010
67/346 = 19% of games have auction

So in average, it seems to be around 20%

benjaminvictord...
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truekid games wrote:my

truekid games wrote:
my experience is exactly the opposite. most auction games out there use it as a band-aid, for exactly the reason everyone is defending it for- it self-balances. it's lazy, because as i said above, it CAN be slapped on any game and suddenly we've got lots of good qualities (balance, interactivity, etc). a designer don't have to design ANYTHING around an auction. you CAN, and that's good when you do, but tons of games could have the auction lifted out and a real distribution mechanic used to replace it, and the rest of the game would be virtually unchanged.

Can you give a couple of examples of games in which the auction mechanic is lazy design and would be better if replaced by a different mechanic? It's hard to argue against (or begin to agree with) an abstract point without supporting examples.

jwarrend wrote:
Larienna already addressed the biggest of these -- auctions make a game very difficult to enjoy for players of different skill levels. If you have no idea what something is worth, you can't play competitively against experienced players, or as I've often seen, you simply cue your bids off of the most experienced player in the game, which isn't really a strategy.

How is this a problem endemic to auctions? Experienced players ALWAYS have a competitive advantage over beginners in EVERY game. If this weren't the case, the game would likely either be a) too simplistic to warrant repeat plays; or b) too luck-driven to warrant even a single play. Either way, I would have more of a problem with a game if beginners could compete with experienced players.

Quote:
But an issue that's even bigger for me is the seat order effect, and the role of "obligatory blocking". Auctions aren't really about different players having different valuations for different commodities. They are, in my experience, much more about properly evaluating the value of bid items to the other players /so you don't let someone get something too cheaply/. A player is expected and almost required to bid on something he may not want just to prevent another player from being able to get it at too low a cost, and this expectation increases the closer one gets to the desiring player in seat order. Often, all but the last person before that player can pass, knowing that the weight of responsibility to "block" the player can rest exclusively on the shoulders of the player to his right, and that this player will have no choice but to take one for the team and drive up the bid. Auctions aren't the only mechanic with this problem, of course, but this is probably one of the worst problems in game design -- worse than kingmaking, worse than leader bashing -- because it's so hard-wired into the ordinary clockwise flow of play in most turn based games, and auction games, depending so heavily on bidding in clockwise order as most do, are especially prone to it. (Of course, simultaneous or "closed-fist" auctions solve this problem only to replace it with another).

This is the best point anyone has made in this thread against auctions as a game mechanism. I won't argue with your point (because I concur), although I will say that left-right binding is also a problem outside of auctions. See: Puerto Rico as an example.

Quote:
Auctions have their place and can give rise to interesting decisions, but the problems they bring have to be honestly and carefully addressed in the design, or the overall design will suffer.

Again, true of all game mechanisms. I feel like people's negative reactions to auctions as a mechanism are based on some bad design choices in specific games. Can anyone bring up a specific example that we can discuss? To me, that would make the debate a little more concrete, and useful as examples of what TO DO and what NOT TO do as game designers.

benjaminvictord...
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Off-Topic: I can't, for the

Off-Topic: I can't, for the life of me, figure out how to edit my user name. Any tips?

Maaartin
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Good points, benjaminvictordraper

benjaminvictordraper@gmail.com wrote:
jwarrend wrote:
Larienna already addressed the biggest of these -- auctions make a game very difficult to enjoy for players of different skill levels. If you have no idea what something is worth, you can't play competitively against experienced players, or as I've often seen, you simply cue your bids off of the most experienced player in the game, which isn't really a strategy.

How is this a problem endemic to auctions? Experienced players ALWAYS have a competitive advantage over beginners in EVERY game. If this weren't the case, the game would likely either be a) too simplistic to warrant repeat plays; or b) too luck-driven to warrant even a single play. Either way, I would have more of a problem with a game if beginners could compete with experienced players.

I'm a fan of auctions, but I must admit that auctions may make a game harder for very newbies. It may be hard to figure out if you should afford a new building, but finding out the proper price of something seems to be even harder, if you're new to a game.

However, sometimes there's a simple remedy. For example, in a two player game with an inexperienced opponent I always proposed a fair price and let him choose if he want's to have it for the price (this also made the auction much faster). With multiple players I was always ready to propose a realistic price if asked.

benjaminvictordraper@gmail.com wrote:
Quote:
But an issue that's even bigger for me is the seat order effect, and the role of "obligatory blocking". Auctions aren't really about different players having different valuations for different commodities. They are, in my experience, much more about properly evaluating the value of bid items to the other players /so you don't let someone get something too cheaply/. A player is expected and almost required to bid on something he may not want just to prevent another player from being able to get it at too low a cost, and this expectation increases the closer one gets to the desiring player in seat order. Often, all but the last person before that player can pass, knowing that the weight of responsibility to "block" the player can rest exclusively on the shoulders of the player to his right, and that this player will have no choice but to take one for the team and drive up the bid. Auctions aren't the only mechanic with this problem, of course, but this is probably one of the worst problems in game design -- worse than kingmaking, worse than leader bashing -- because it's so hard-wired into the ordinary clockwise flow of play in most turn based games, and auction games, depending so heavily on bidding in clockwise order as most do, are especially prone to it. (Of course, simultaneous or "closed-fist" auctions solve this problem only to replace it with another).

This is the best point anyone has made in this thread against auctions as a game mechanism. I won't argue with your point (because I concur), although ...

Can't this be countered somehow?

  • Wouldn't variable seat order help?
  • In my game, the items aren't exactly worth the same to each player, but the differences are quite limited. They're hardly bigger than the "measurement error", i.e., if I ask people how much they'd offer if they were in my situation, their figures differ by about the same amount.
benjaminvictord...
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Maaartin wrote:I'm a fan of

Maaartin wrote:
I'm a fan of auctions, but I must admit that auctions may make a game harder for very newbies. It may be hard to figure out if you should afford a new building, but finding out the proper price of something seems to be even harder, if you're new to a game.

The only difference, in my opinion, is quantitative, not qualitative. Sure, in an auction, valuation is more difficult than in a fixed-price system, but newbies will still be disadvantaged to the extent that they should lose the game against more experienced foes. The net result is the same - the newbie loses, but learns more about proper valuation in the context of that game.

Quote:
However, sometimes there's a simple remedy. For example, in a two player game with an inexperienced opponent I always proposed a fair price and let him choose if he want's to have it for the price (this also made the auction much faster). With multiple players I was always ready to propose a realistic price if asked.

We do a variant of this, since a "fair price" is usually different for different players (in well-designed auctions). We explain the influencing factors and how those affect the value of the lot for various players. Sometimes, this is easy to put into terms of victory points (in Ra, for example), and sometimes it has to be explained more generally. By explaining the REASONING behind the "fair price", newbies are able to understand how to value lots on their own in the future.

Quote:
Can't this be countered somehow?

- Wouldn't variable seat order help?
- In my game, the items aren't exactly worth the same to each player, but the differences are quite limited. They're hardly bigger than the "measurement error", i.e., if I ask people how much they'd offer if they were in my situation, their figures differ by about the same amount.

It depends what you mean by "variable seat order". We always randomize seating at the beginning of each game, so that each player has an even chance of sitting adjacent to each other player. Re-seating in the middle of the game might work to alleviate the left-right binding, but would be more than a trivial physical inconvenience if repeated multiple times. Caylus deals with this problem in a rather elegant way by allowing you to purchase your place in the auction order. (Note: Your are not literally purchasing your place, rather you are giving up an action that could be utilized elsewhere, in order to take actions earlier in future rounds. By giving up an earlier action to get this spot, you are essentially "paying more" for that privilege.) This varies the order in a way that is controlled by the players, and its value changes based on the players' relative positions in the order.

Without knowing your game, it's hard to comment, but here's a thought: If items are worth similar amounts to each player, find a way of making items worth different amounts based on the time in the game. For example, in Puerto Rico, a Warehouse is practically worthless early, very valuable in the middle, and either very valuable or worthless in the late game, depending upon an umber of other factors. An auction would make the valuation of these buildings very interesting, because a player would have to decide whether the price of an item was worth the "fair value", when the value would change as the game progressed.

ericphillips
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When it works it works, when it doesn't it doesn't

I have to agree with a lot of the above comments and say, don't discount ANY mechanic. Yes, sometimes auctions are put in when they don't work, but I have seen almost every other mechanic used badly as well.

I have a friend who is against using dice in games. It's to passe for him, too much "old school America." If dice work, use them (6000 years as a randomizer means something is good about them).

Auction as a special case, because some themes they really work well. In a market game they can fit well, but in a space combat game using auctions might seem out of place (although Risk 2210 does have an auction mechanic to bid for turn order and it works).

If I were to implement one, I would make it simple. One person bids or passes, it moves to the next player who bids or passes (bid must be higher than previous bid), and when everyone has passed, whoever was the bid leader gets it. No need for an auctioneer.

As for the criticism that new players are at a disadvantage because they will mess up in an aution because they don't knwo the value of things int he game, well, doesn't that logic just about rule out the WHOLE GAME as well. Come on... new players need to learn.

larienna
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Quote:Experienced players

Quote:
Experienced players ALWAYS have a competitive advantage over beginners in EVERY game.

How many times do you replay a game? My gaming group is stuck with the cult of the new, I happen to play a game I already played at most 3 times in a year. This means that in this case, players will ALWAYS be a NEWBIE. This is why the newbie MUST have a chance to win.

I have played a short game of age or renaissance lately. You start with 40$ and there is a starting bid to know who is going to have which faction. It's the only bid in the whole game. The owner of the game clearly said that you should not want to spend more than 5$. But imagine he did not say that, some people could have bid 15$ without knowing they were actually overbidding.

Quote:
I feel like people's negative reactions to auctions as a mechanism are based on some bad design choices in specific games. Can anyone bring up a specific example that we can discuss?

It's hard to point out games with auctions that are wrongly used, because I hate all most all games with auctions in them. Here is a pseudo list of games I have played where auction gave a very bad taste to the game.

1856
Amazones
Before the wind
Cleopatra
Cyclades
Giants
Hermagor
Justinian
Leonardo Da Vinci
Medici
Phoenicia
Power Grid
Princes of florence
The sceptor of Zavandor
Shazamm
Siena
Wild Life

ReneWiersma
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Joined: 08/08/2008
Are auctions evil? Of course

Are auctions evil? Of course not. Game mechanics aren't evil.

Take the much derided roll-and-move mechanic. It is used by a lot of novice game designers, simply because it is a mechanic they know from other games. So they use it as the basis of their own game design and then when they come here (or send it for review to publisher) they get the feedback that the roll-and-move mechanic isn't good, that it is overused and outdated, that it is better to substitute it with a mechanic that allows more choice and less randomness, etc.

Does that mean that the roll-and-move mechanic is bad? No, I'm sure that a clever designer can come up with new and clever ways to implement the mechanic to create a new and unique design.

Now, as for the auction mechanic, it has a lot of good things going for it. It is self balancing, creates (indirect) conflict, player interaction, introduces uncertainty into the game, and it makes for interesting decisions. A well designed auction is almost a game in itself, just slap on some scoring mechanism and, presto, a finished design.

This, of course, leads to lazy game designers. Can't come up with a clever, well balanced resource allocation mechanic? Just auction off the resources! Does the game have a turn order problem? Just have an auction for turn order! So, yes, I agree with this part of Larienna's criticism that sometimes having an auction is just lazy game designing.

The other part of Larienna's criticism is that an auction is very often a-thematic. Well, I can't really disagree. Parks, Lakes and Jesters weren't really auctioned off in Renaissance Italy (Princes of Florence). However, this is something that doesn't bother me personally. Anyway you look at it, any game is an abstraction of reality. Just how much abstraction you are OK with is a matter of personal preference, I suppose.

benjaminvictord...
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larienna wrote:How many times

larienna wrote:
How many times do you replay a game? My gaming group is stuck with the cult of the new, I happen to play a game I already played at most 3 times in a year. This means that in this case, players will ALWAYS be a NEWBIE. This is why the newbie MUST have a chance to win.

I get a chance to replay some games more than others. When I play a game that I have a lot of experience with, I tend to beat players with very little experience and vice versa. But, in the scenario you describe above, if all players are newbies, then there is no problem.

Quote:
I have played a short game of age or renaissance lately. You start with 40$ and there is a starting bid to know who is going to have which faction. It's the only bid in the whole game. The owner of the game clearly said that you should not want to spend more than 5$. But imagine he did not say that, some people could have bid 15$ without knowing they were actually overbidding.

You're right. And they would learn this through the playing of the game. Did the owner of the game also clearly tell everyone which moves to make throughout the course of the game as well? This may sound sarcastic, but I mean it quite literally. If he didn't explain the best moves, then the newbies still had a huge disadvantage. It only seemed like the auction mechanism was faulty because it was the only one the owner addressed.

Quote:
1856
Amazones
Before the wind
Cleopatra
Cyclades
Giants
Hermagor
Justinian
Leonardo Da Vinci
Medici
Phoenicia
Power Grid
Princes of florence
The sceptor of Zavandor
Shazamm
Siena
Wild Life

Of these, I've played Medici, Power Grid, and Princes of Florence.

In Medici, the auction IS the game. There would be no way to re-design the game without an auction mechanism. So, an auction isn't a "lazy design" in this case, it's THE design.

Surprisingly, I'm going to have to agree with you as far as Power Grid is concerned. There are multiple design issues with that game, one of which is the way power plants are distributed. I agree that a fixed-price purchase system or some other way of distribution would have served the game better.

It's been awhile since I've played Princes of Florence, but from what I can recall, players need different items to achieve their goals, thus creating a very interesting balance in pricing. The valuation in this game is about so much more than finding the correct point of equilibrium; it's about determining its value to you, its value to others, your place in the bidding chain, what professions players may hold based on their bidding, what point in the game you are at, and myriad other factors. Fixed pricing would "work" in Princes of Florence, but it wouldn't be nearly as good of a game without the auction.

ericphillips
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larienna wrote:How many times

larienna wrote:
How many times do you replay a game? My gaming group is stuck with the cult of the new, I happen to play a game I already played at most 3 times in a year. This means that in this case, players will ALWAYS be a NEWBIE. This is why the newbie MUST have a chance to win.

If everyone thought this, there would be no games with any complexity. Games are meant to be replayed. And at 50-70 dollars a box, I don't feel they are disposable.

Quote:
It's hard to point out games with auctions that are wrongly used, because I hate all most all games with auctions in them. Here is a pseudo list of games I have played where auction gave a very bad taste to the game.

Really, this is personal opinion. Auctions are not the problem. If you don't like them, don't play them and don't include them in your game. But otherwise, this discussion is silly.

WLhokies
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Joined: 06/13/2010
The auction in cyclades gave

The auction in cyclades gave you a bad taste? That is one game where the auction perfectly compliments the theme. Hmmm... Oh well! :)

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