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First player advantage?

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Xayiede's picture
Joined: 05/14/2020
Part of the gameboard.jpg

Here is my first topic about my game, and especially the fact that the first player (maybe?) has an advantage. I'm not sure how to fix it. First, let me explain the way of the game.
(Explaining in English is hard, I hope it is clear!)

The game is a race. You play an ant willing to get back to his home/nest/colony. The board has a 'Start' place at the bottom and then spaces going from 1 till 20, 20 is the 'End' space. There are 2 routes going to the end: the fast route over the river (more 'danger') or the slower route over the grass (more benefits).

I try to put a picture in here of a part of the board so you can see. Yeah, the board is to small for the ant-pieces but it works for play-testing (when we use small pawns and little wooden cubes).

On the grass side of the board, there will be cards specifying what will happen on the spaces (on the picture I put on 2, but normally it will be filled up). Like: find nectar (for moving), find a tool (useful to bully other players), find an ant (called ‘friends’ – worth 2 points in the end) or greenfly (don’t know the right word in English, translator says “aphid”, which is a sort of lice the ants use and befriend, worth 1 point in the end), or something bad like meet a ladybug (which will force you to move to the river, so you have to roll 6 to move on). For the river, there is a ‘riverdeck’ with cards of the events happening on the spaces, which are kinda like 60/40 bad/good.

Your turn will be:
1) search: On the grass: Roll 2 dice (d6) and choose 1 to use. On the river: Roll 1 dice (d6).
1,2 or 3 rolled: you get ‘1 nectar’ (used for moving), 4 or 5 rolled: you get 2 nectar and rolled 6 you find a tool ór a leaf to go on the river (like a boat).
2) move: On the grass you can move up to 3 spaces, which cost 1 nectar for every space, ór go back up to 2 spaces, for 1 nectar, ór choose not to move and rest: receive 1 nectar and your turn is over. On the river you can move 3 spaces up for free, never go back.
3) discover: Find out what happens on your space. On the grass: Read the card. On the river: Take a card from the riverdeck. Follow the instructions.

End of the game: The game ends when a player reaches the ‘End’ space (he find the last ant-friend there for extra points) ór there can be end-spaces in the grass-cards to end the gamer sooner if you want (you need 2 ant-friends in possession to do so).
You get points for getting as far to the nest as possible, for every ant-friend and greenfly you’ve found.

So, that is the game, not going into all the details that can happen along the way.

The problem is, the ant-friends and greenfly’s you can find along the way. On the spaces indicated with ‘find friend’, there will be 1 ant-friend and 1 greenfly. The first player to come along, will take the ant-friend, the second player will get the greenfly. A third or fourth player will get nothing? And the first player, is he lucky with his nectar and cards, he will get ALL the ant-friends… It felt a bit unbalanced! Unfair, so to speak. But how to fix it? Must it be fixed? Or is it part of the game? Don’t know yet…

Maybe… give the not-starting players a benefit? Is that fair?
Or Maybe… refill the board after the greenfly is taken? How will that go on, will the second player just happily go backwards to take the new ant-friend also? Hmm… I don’t know. Kinda stuck.

And, of course the question; do you think this game sounds ok? Any ideas?

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Your problem can be simply resolved by...

Randomly using a Deck of 5 cards. Each card has a "value" of 1 to 5. At the start of a ROUND (after all players have taken ONE turn), players choose a card and the highest value goes first all the way to the lowest last.

There is a element of CHANCE, I agree. But the unpredictability ADDs a layer of "fairness". This way not always Player #1 will be first and Player #2 always second. It will be random from one round to the next.

This is a simple fix IMHO. Cheers!

I Will Never Gr...
I Will Never Grow Up Gaming's picture
Joined: 04/23/2015
Moving first player marker?

When you gain an ant friend, if you are the current first player, pass the first player marker to the current last place player. That person becomes the new first player for the next round.

Or, perhaps pass the first player marker to the player with the fewest ant friends.

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011

Seems like there are lots of ways to go about addressing this.

I do think that your idea to "give the not-starting players a benefit" is the way to go, particularly if you've found that as the game goes along the player that moves last consistently loses or ends up close to last place in most games.

What is the trend in your playtests? Have you seen a consistent first-player advantage or last-player penalty? Or is it just a "gut feeling" you have? If you've done a lot of playtesting, have you asked those players that moved last how they felt about it? If the game is still fun for everyone, then this might not need to be addressed.

If you confirm that there is a clear first-player advantage, a couple thoughts came to mind. Think of these as different options to test.

  • Yes, give the later players some "starting equipment." Maybe the fourth player has an aphid/greenfly at the start of the game, for example, even before they do their first search.
  • Allow players to choose a starting bonus. For example, "starting first" could be a bonus in itself, while another option is "start with 2 nectar," "start with one greenfly," or "go last but start on a leaf."
  • Same as above, but players choose randomly from face-down cards or tokens. In effect, turn order is chosen randomly and players that start later have better starting bonuses.
  • Force the order of the "Finding Friends" space, instead of allowing players to choose. Think of the rewards as being in a "stack," like a stack of cards or tokens, and the stack has the least-valuable item on the top of it. The first player takes the first token (which is worth the fewest points), and players landing on that same space later receive more valuable rewards.
  • When searching, allow players to add their turn order to their roll. Players moving later in a turn will be more likely to receive higher-value rewards, or the leaf, or whatever. You can allow this to happen all the time, a certain number of times (a player turns in a token when they do it), or once per game.
  • Have the player order change from one round to the next, either in a specific order, or randomly. Depending on how you structure this, you can make it less "fiddly" and not take up too much game time to do.

The idea here is that you may want to encourage players to explore the map more, instead of racing as fast as possible to the end. Give them a reason to not want to be first player - or not reach the end of the map first - and you may find some success.

Juzek's picture
Joined: 06/19/2017
I really like Let-off's

I really like Let-off's suggestions, especially the stack with the least valuable on top. If players could choose to move slowly early in the game, but try to catch up later, it would make for some interesting decisions.

I will also add my own suggestion: slow down the first player. Maybe there are sticks or something blocking the path that the first player to get to must clear for everyone else, or do some other mechanism to slow the first player. This way the advantage would more naturally rotate between players

Xayiede's picture
Joined: 05/14/2020

Yeah... thank you very much! This is great, all those ideas to think about!
I've been thinking about changing who goes first every turn but I could not find a way to do it 'fairly', but now I do. Many ways possible.

In playtesting, I found that kids don't mind. They think they just roll poorly or just aren't fast enough because they are unlucky. But adults see the disadvantage and get frustrated.

I will think about all your options, and work out some more playtesting. I like the idea of an Player Order Deck or maybe a deck for the things you find (more random) or slowing down the first player with something also sounds fun.

Thanks!! I'll let you know how it goes.

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