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Need help increasing player control in Leaving Earth

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gabrielcohn
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Joined: 11/25/2010

Hey all-
Please read and let me know if you have input...

BACKGROUND
I've been on a 3 month break from game design, but getting back to it now. I took one of my games, Leaving Earth, to GenCon this summer and had a lot of interest, especially from Rio Grande, but their one worry was that there was a bit too little player control. Jay and I discussed how we both love games with blind bidding (like Aladdin's Dragons), but that some Rio Grande players complain about such games because they lack absolute knowledge of what is going to happen. My game depends heavily on blind bidding, and I'm wondering how I should try to decrease it to potentially satisfy RGG customers...

BASICS OF LEAVING EARTH (as of now)
The game is played over a number of rounds. Each round, you divvy up your money between five potential action spaces (and probably save some money too). The amount of money people has varies depending on the income their ships generate, the amount they've saved, and any special cards they may have played. So, everyone takes their money and places a face down bid on each of the five actions (you may bid zero).

Then, everyone reveals their bid for the "fleet admiral" space--this determines who wins ties on other bids, gives the ability to select the order of the rest of the turns actions, and gives a small resource bonus. Once this is settled, the newly elected "admiral" picks which of the other four actions occurs first (this works a little like Puerto Rico)--everyone then reveals their bid for that action, and the winner gets the best version of the action, whereas the lowest bidder gets a weak version of the action (or none at all). There is an element of screwage here, as some actions involve collecting resources, and others spending them. So, if I have lots of resources, I will pick an action that involves spending them, whereas if you have none, you'd prefer an action that collects more.

This is just the most basic of overviews. I could go into more, but don't want to bore you...

IDEAS FOR ALTERATIONS
I have lots and lots of ideas, here's a few that you can comment on, add to, or dismiss...

(1) Eliminate the dynamic phase order, so the actions always occur in the same order.
(2) Eliminate the "fleet admiral vote"--tie breaks could rotate, or even be eliminated (so all tied people get equally good actions)
(3) Completely eliminate bidding and move to more of a worker-placement mechanic (i have a vision of how this would work, but then...why play this game? it's no longer unique)
(4) Eliminate money--instead everyone has an equal number of priority points that they allocate towards actions. This eliminates one source of randomness that you have top pay attention to (i.e. other people's stockpiles)

These are just the tip of the iceberg...but I'm wondering what you all think about this issue--how much should players have absolute control? I like the sense that the values of the different action keep changing and dpend on your awareness of how much others value them. Let me know what ideas you have...

Thanks!

-gabe

Orangebeard
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Joined: 10/13/2011
IDEAS FOR ALTERATIONS I have

IDEAS FOR ALTERATIONS
I have lots and lots of ideas, here's a few that you can comment on, add to, or dismiss...

(1) Eliminate the dynamic phase order, so the actions always occur in the same order.

I think I would keep this as it allows for more player control.

(2) Eliminate the "fleet admiral vote"--tie breaks could rotate, or even be eliminated (so all tied people get equally good actions)

see above...
(3) Completely eliminate bidding and move to more of a worker-placement mechanic (i have a vision of how this would work, but then...why play this game? it's no longer unique)

This seems to be a key element of the game and I would hesitate to remove this unique mechanic.

(4) Eliminate money--instead everyone has an equal number of priority points that they allocate towards actions. This eliminates one source of randomness that you have top pay attention to (i.e. other people's stockpiles)

I like your priority idea; perhaps you could have a "priority focus" that allows the player to guarantee a certain level of result regardless of the bid outcome. From a theme standpoint, this could maybe be a Research/Worker focus; something of such importance that the player is using both dollars and labor resources to ensure a good result. I'm not sure this would need to be any more complicated than a token or some other indicator that is played during the bid process.

These are just the tip of the iceberg...but I'm wondering what you all think about this issue--how much should players have absolute control? I like the sense that the values of the different action keep changing and dpend on your awareness of how much others value them. Let me know what ideas you have...

Tip of the iceberg indeed! It sounds like you are very close to something here - best of luck with your design!

Thanks!

-gabe[/quote]

Ratmilk
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Joined: 02/03/2009
I love blind bidding and use

I love blind bidding and use it in a lot of my designs myself. I'd have to know exactly what your five actions are but I may have an idea for you. I designed a game with similar goals and this is how I got around a similar issue. In my game I had a total of 9 actions. There where three categories each with three of each type of move. By categorizing my actions it gave a hint to the other players what that action might be and narrowed the possibilities down so that they could potentially counter that action. This, paired with board placement gave everyone a hint at what the strategy of the player might be. They were color coded and consisted of warfare, politics, and subversion (espionage/sabotage, etc.). I also threw in a 10th plan which was a deception plan where the majority of resources played by the player went back into there hand, while the attempted countering player spent all of his.

If you categorize your moves into say economic, etc. Your players will get a better sense of what is being done by the other players and have more control over countering the outcome.

Another design element in an entirely different game I've designed involves every player simultaneously placing a card face down. There is an open bid for control of the initiative, it's limited throughout the game turn. The player who wins initiative then actually holds onto an initiative card and either goes first, or hands it to whomever he wants during that round. When handed over, the player who receives the card then chooses whether to flip and play his card or hands it to whomever he chooses etc. until everyone has gone. Some moves are optimal at the beginning of the round and some at the end. For example market prices degrade each successive move so getting to it first is the best. Players fighting over an area would be advised to wait until the end after other players have weakened themselves by fighting it out etc. Each card may have an optimal time to be played and that may be completely screwed by not getting the initiative at the right time. The effect is that players are constantly interacting, making deals and begging and negotiating the initiative holder for the chance to flip and play their card. It also allows a lot of deception too because players can say that the move they have secretly played won't effect the initiative holder when in fact it might. Be warned though, it can get very vicious and you have to decide whether this is right for you or not.

Maaartin
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Joined: 05/15/2011
Don't eliminate, extend

I second to Orangebeard: Keep the things in (1), (2), and (3). If the problem is players lacking control, so add it somehow:

  • Maybe provide additional means how to get the action. Maybe allow the players to simply buy it (either for fixed prices or in another, open auction) in addition to the hidden bidding. Make this possibility more limited and/or more expensive than your hidden bidding, so the hidden bidding remains the main source of actions. Maybe give each player a couple of tokens they can use to get an action without bidding.
  • In case your game is not already complicated, add another aspect, the players can control well.

I like your priority idea, too, but I also like using money. I would not eliminate them, if they work well. Earning and spending money is more realistic than using some fixed amount of priority tokens, and may be more fun.

IIUYC, the problem is that players can't develop a strategy, since there's nothing they can rely on (the hidden bidding is just too unpredictable). So just give them a "fixed point".

The Loneliest Banana
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Joined: 09/06/2011
Consolation prize

Orangebeard sort of mentioned this, but I think having a guaranteed effect will help give players control. Players buy the guaranteed effect with their bid, and then get something better if they win. For example:

--------

Unloading Action

Whoever bid the most for this action (or tied for most) may exchange any amount of their Cargo for twice that many Credits.

Each player who bid at least 4 Credits for this action may exchange up to 4 Cargo for twice that many credits.

Each player who bid at least 2 Credits for this action may exchange 1 Cargo for 2 Credits.

---------

Scouting Action

Whoever bid the most for this action (or is tied for most) may play an asteroid card from their hand.

Each player who bid at least 6 Credits on this action may play a small asteroid card from their hand (certain weak asteroids are labeled "small").

----------------

This will allow players to have some control over what happens. Anyone who wants to play a small asteroid, for example, doesn't have to win a frustrating bid, they just have to pay at least 6 Credits and their play is guaranteed. It sounds like you have some sort of similar system in your game already, but it may help to emphasize it.

If you try to make the consolation effects predictable, players will have an information hook that will assist them in bidding. For example, if player's hands are face-up and you see Alice has a small asteroid, you know she'll probably bid at least 6 credits in the Scouting action. Then you can safely decide to bid few credits in that action. This is especially nice for newer players who will feel like they're flailing in the dark until they can learn how to predict more subtle player actions.

Regarding the "fleet admiral": is the order of actions each round really important? Really really important? If it doesn't have much of an effect, I would eliminate it. If you're worried about ties, I would first look to see if an "all tied players win" system works and if not either break ties randomly (which would be exciting but possibly frustrating) or have a "tiebreaker token" that passes right after each round. Whoever has the token or is leftmost to the token wins the tie. There are other tiebreaking system too, of course.

I'm confused why you'd want to replace blind bidding with worker placement. You'd end up with a completely different game.

gabrielcohn
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Joined: 11/25/2010
Thanks for all the comments!

These are really helpful y'all! A bunch along the lines I was already considering, but i especially like the idea that if you bid at least X you are guaranteed at least Y.

Regarding Worker Placement--I'm not seriously considering that. As you said, it would be a different game. I've figured out that what I like in designing games is designing ones where values are not fixed--where player interaction changes the values of objects, actions, etc. And, while that may work in worker placement, that ain't this game.

Finally, on the dynamic phase order--it makes a HUGE difference in the game. Because of it's importance I am both loath to remove it, but at the same time, I think it may be necessary. Here's why it has such a huge effect: Two of the most important action phases are mining (where you gather resources) and building (where you spend resources to get new ships). Because of the way the actions work, some players will start a round with a bunch of resources (because they didn't get to build last round or they just mined) and others will start a round with almost no resources (because they just built a ship or didn't get much from mining). So, if I have a ton of resources and you have none, I will pick building and you are SCREWED. On the other hand, if your ships are full of resources (they have a limited storage capacity), and mine are empty, I will pick mining first, so I gain and you do not. In the end, this means that the bidding competition on "fleet admiral" is INTENSE! It's actually really interesting in playtesting to see how different groups end up valuing it differently...but usually by the end of the game, 2 or 3 players are bidding outrageous amounts on it, as their plans depend on controlling the phase order.

So, given that, you can see it's a really interesting part of the game. However, it is also one that can make players feel that they don't have much control. For instance, if I bid 10 and you bid 11 (both huge bids), but we have opposite agendas, I may end up with a mostly wasted round (and this is a game played in about 7 or 8 rounds). So...do I eliminate dynamic phase order so that people know what they are working with more or do I keep it because it's another level of strategy and the intensity of it is a challenge???

Thanks for the input!

-gabe

Ratmilk
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Joined: 02/03/2009
circle around

Give the last player to go in the previous round a bonus when bidding for admiral in the successive round. Or give the "fleet admiral" a limited term of say 2-3 terms in a row and then they are ineligible for the next round after that. Call the bidding bonus a "charter" and it would give them some reasonable bonus when bidding. These are catch up mechanics of course but could fit into the game without too much trouble. They would help mitigate players from getting screwed forever and add another layer of strategy in that timing the bonus or term as admiral could be critical.

Maaartin
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Joined: 05/15/2011
Keep it

gabrielcohn wrote:
So, given that, you can see it's a really interesting part of the game. However, it is also one that can make players feel that they don't have much control. For instance, if I bid 10 and you bid 11 (both huge bids), but we have opposite agendas, I may end up with a mostly wasted round (and this is a game played in about 7 or 8 rounds). So...do I eliminate dynamic phase order so that people know what they are working with more or do I keep it because it's another level of strategy and the intensity of it is a challenge???

By all means keep it. Make it a bit less important, if necessary. Maybe drop the capacity limit, so the mining phase doesn't get wasted (there's still some non-optimality involved). Or increase it, so the wastage is limited. Or better: allow to sell the excess resources for some not so good price (or in a very limited amount), so the screwed players are not screwed too much. Maybe allow also buying resources (again, under detrimental conditions) for easing the pain in the opposite case.

Or find something else, but keep the bidding for the dynamic phase order.

DogBoy
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Joined: 12/15/2009
So, the big player-control

So, the big player-control problem is that losing bids accomplish very little. I think the suggestion that there are guaranteed returns for certain bids is a really excellent solution.

Obviously, this doesn't work for the Fleet Admiral role.

Here's a suggestion which would dramatically increase player control:

  • The losing bids on Fleet Admiral are refunded and players gain them as a temporary "bid pool".
  • When the blind bids are revealed in turn for the other actions, players may augment the blind bids with bids from their bid pool.
  • The bid pool is lost at end of round.
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