Here's a scenario I'm thinking through ATM. I'd like to see some opinions.
In a worker-placement mechanic, decrementing values are assigned based on sequence. That is, in a 2-3 player game, placing a worker in a particular location first earns 3 VP, placing second earns 2 VP, and placing third earns 1 VP. In a 4-6 player game an extra space for each point value becomes available, so that 1st and 2nd place both take 3VP, 3rd and 4th take 2VP, and 5th and 6th take 1VP. Note that you don't need to have 5-6 players to make the 5th and 6th placement viable -- 3 rounds of play are completed before a partial reset takes place, and each location could potentially be placed twice per round -- so in a 4+ player game, it is possible to use all six spaces in three rounds, while in a 2-3 player game, two rounds are sufficient to claim all three spaces.
With me so far? What I'm wondering about is the theoretical underpinning of this approach. The max number of spaces is driven by sufficiency. I want every player to have a chance at using each location at least once in the three round cycle, though "chance" does not mean "guarantee" or even "choice" in this context, merely an equal opportunity. The fact that four players would have equal placements available as compared to five and six goes against this somewhat, and it means that scores are likely to vary substantially with different player counts.
I wonder if this is a good or bad thing (or merely indifferent). My experience of Agricola suggests that having more or less choices based on different counts can be an aid to replayability. On the other hand I've seen people complain on the Geek that certain games aren't worth playing if you have less than the optimal number of players.
Thoughts? Experiences? Bemused stares?
There's nothing more frustrating than playing a great game but having it unbalanced because you have the wrong number of people. In fact, my gaming group is frequently trying to figure out how to make our favorite games work with more or fewer people. For example, we found that 5-player Dominion doesn't work too well because the stacks are gone before some strategies are able to bear fruit (when those same strategies will serve you well in a four player game). So when we have five people, we play until four stacks (or provinces) run out, which seems to be a good compromise.
I think "Betrayal at the House on the Hill" doesn't scale so well. Certain haunts are hopelessly imbalanced with the wrong number of players. If you get the right haunt for the right number of players, it's a great experience.
If nothing else, I think scalablility is good for marketing your game. I'm always more likely to buy games that are for "2-6" players than "3-4 players," because the number of people in our gaming group fluctuates from week to week. Even if I love the 3-4 player game, I'm more likely buy a 2-6 player game that I don't enjoy as much because I'll be able to play it much more often. The 3-4 player game I love does me no good if it just sits in my closet because I can't play it with my wife or my gaming group (which sometimes has 4 people, but is usually 5 or 6)
So far as I can see, if you're trying to make a scalable game, you can either do what Bonanza does, and essentially provide a very different gaming experience for different numbers of players, or you can do what Battlestar does, and scale things to try and provide a consistent experience regardless of the number of players. I think either way could work, depending of the type of game. I think once you identify the "ideal" number of players for your current itteration of your game, it'll be pretty easy to figure out what aspects are thrown out of whack with greater or fewer players.
Battlestar is interesting because a lot of the scaling happens automatically. While there are some minor setup changes (i.e. how many of each type of loyalty card there are), for the most part, a lot of the scaling happens without players needing to think about it. If you haven't played, a lot of the game revolves around a "Crisis" phase at the end of each players turn, where the fleet stands to loose or gain resources or progress. Each player typically puts cards face down into a skill check to determine the result of the crisis (some will play positive cards, others negative). So with a small game of three people, players put more cards in because they only have to wait one or two turns to replenish their cards at the beginning of their turn, while with a large group of 6, everybody still draws the same number of cards, but since there are more people (with roughly the same ratio of humans to Cylons), each person puts in fewer cards per check, but the end result is the same. And since players have the chance to progress towards their final destination with each crisis card, the game doesn't run too much longer with more people. Players in larger games don't get the same number of turns in a game, but since they are fairly active during other players' turns, it doesn't hamper their enjoyment of the game (and since everyone is guessing about everyone else's loyalty, the payoff of extra intrigue more than makes up for it).
I'm afraid your specific example about how you're trying to make it scalable goes a little over my head a little bit, but from what I do understand, it seems like the mechanism you came up with should allow the game to have the same "feel" with different numbers of players. If you play it and it captures the same "feel" of playing with the "ideal" number of players, I'd say you've nailed it.
So yeah. Not sure you wanted a whole deconstruction of Battlestar in answer to your post, but those are my thoughts/experiences, for whatever their worth.
LoW scales as a worker placement really well, not by changing the number of spaces on the board, but rather by altering the number of workers each player gets.
This does change the gaming experience a lot. But in a very interesting way that sets it apart from Agricola (your example)
In Agricola your set up and card options are different for each player level, as you said this increases replayability, but it also can lend itself to the results you mentioned where players "settle" into a card set/play experience (#of players) that they enjoy the most and may even gradually shun playing outside of their preferred experience.
In LoW you get far more actions in a 2 player game than you would in a 5, but the actions are all the same. What this does is allows for game exploration w/ lower # players and strategy specification in high # of players. More actions allows me to try new things find new combo's etc, so that when I do play with more players I have a better idea of where to focus my fewer actions.
Both approaches are good, personally I feel the LoW approach runs less a chance of settling into a must have player range than the Agricola approach. However, LoW may also run into the problem of not as much replayability as Agricola because of the lessened variety of options.
Here's another idea that I'm currently working on incorporating in my game, The Underminister.
The number of options doesn't change with the number of players, but obviously, the board gets more crowded with more players playing, right? However, it is possible to use a space someone is already occupying by paying them some amount. In a 2pl game, that cost is very high. In a 5pl game, it is relatively low. Therefore, the number of spaces and the number of playing pieces don't scale, but the cost of repeating an action does.
An aside...this reminds me of the one time I played Kavaii (very cool game BTW). There are a number of action options. The first player to choose each action can do it for free. The next player must pay 1 resource to use that action. The third player pays 2, etc. We played with the max number of players and the game felt almost impossible b/c often there were few moves you wanted to make that seemed affordable. Still, it was an interesting mechanic...
Having less workers is a very nice idea. I think it's the simplest method.
But another idea could be to add more locations to place workers. A bit like in puerto rico where prospectors are added when there are more players.
Another Idea could be to have double space that get activated when a certain nb of players is playing. Instead of having 3 spaces ABC. You could have 5 space AABBC where the 2nd B is activated with 4+ players and the 2nd A is activated with 5+ players. You just need to design the board in a way that it's not confusing to understand and make sure the system is the same for every location to avoid confusion.
You could change the rewards according to the number of players. Or like in Leonardo da vinci, the reward is the same for everybody, but people that are not first needs to pay to get the reward. So you could make the price to pay vary according to the nb of players.
Finally, you could have dummy workers. Players are allowed to place a certain number of workers and dummy workers to block other players. Dummy has no effect besides blocking space.
There is quite a lot of possibilities.