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Need help with payouts for card game Gems and Greenbacks

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Louard
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Let me apologize in advance for the length of this post. I've got to run through a fair bit of how the game works in order to get the advice I need because what I need advice on are payouts, which are dependent on, well, the rest of the game.

So I'll start by introducing the game. It's called Gems and Greenbacks and it's an auctioning and set collection game for 3 to 4 players played using two sets of cards, one containing gems of various types and cuts and one containing money in different denominations. The gem cards are shuffled together and separated into three draw piles that will be used during the games three rounds. The money cards are sorted into denominations to form the bank, like in monopoly, and 50G (Gazillions) are given to each player. By the way, the money cards all have the same back so you can't see exactly what players have in their hands or what they are bidding, as the cards are played face down.

One player is chosen to be the first dealer. One of the three gem decks is chosen to be the draw pile for the round and the other two are set aside. The dealer turns over the top three cards of the gem deck to become the lot and places an initial bid of 1 money card face down. This card can be of any value. Players then take turns clockwise placing bids onto the table face down until we're back to the dealer. The dealer can now place a final bid, then all bids are revealed. The highest bid is payed to the bank and the player takes the lot and becomes the new dealer. If there is a tie then the player who bid first (closest to the dealer's left takes it) Lather rinse repeat until the gem deck is empty. This signals the end of the bidding round and the start of the selling round!! YAY!

In order to better understand how sales work, I'll take a step back and explain what's in the gems deck and how players form a "Tableau".

Gems come in 5 types: Diamond(D), Topaz(T), Jade(J), Sapphire(S) and Rubies(R).
...and in three cuts: Round(r), Princess(p) and Emerald(e)
...and there are four copies of each card, for a total of 60 cards

As players start accumulating gem cards they arrange them to for a Tableau of five columns and three rows based on type and cut. Duplicate cards are placed on top of each other to form stacks.

An example of a full tableau (picture each spaced stacked four high):
Dr Tr Jr Sr Rr
Dp Tp Jp Sp Rp
De Te Je Se Re

(please excuse alignment issues)

Obviously anyone who has the above tableau has won the game and was probably playing alone... Chances are players will have different partially completed tableaus.

So how does this factor into selling off your gems? This matters because as you run out of gem cards in the draw pile and the selling round starts players can now make sales based on rows, columns and stacks. And each different sale nets you different payouts. Aaaaand this is where I'm having issues with the game.

Just, FYI, I've had the chance to play the game a couple times, make a few little changes, and the game play seems totally good, we enjoy it, the problem really seems to lie with the payouts being out of whack.. and maybe the starting money. (50g)

Ok, here's how each sale works and the payouts as of the last playtest.
You may make three kinds of sales, and you can make as many of them as you can during any selling round. Usually you make every sale you can at the last selling round as this signals the end of the game and you count money to declare a winner.
The three kinds of sales are Row sales, Column sales and Stack sales.

Row sale:
Choose a row (matching cut, different types) and sell the top card of each stack forming the row. You rake in money based on the number of columns in the row, but you only sell off the top card of each, so you could be leaving some behind for other sales, or later rounds.
Payouts for row sale:
1 card=1g
2 cards=3g
3 cards=7g
4 cards=12g
5 cards=20g

Column Sale:
Choose a column (matching type, different cuts) and sell EVERY card in the column. You make money based on the number of rows making up the column (regardless of the number of cards in each stack). A column sale will leave no cards behind in the column. You're better off selling columns made up of stacks containing as few cards as possible to maximize how much you make off each card.
Payouts for column sale:
1 stack=1g
2 stacks=8g
3 stacks=22g

Stack sale:
Choose a stack (matching cards) and sell the whole thing. The odds of making a stack are the lowest so payout is the highest. Stacks pay out based on how many cards are in them.
Payouts for Stack Sales:
1 card=1g
2 cards=10g
3 cards=25g
4 cards=50g

A player may sell a column, row or stack that isn't complete (as you can see above) but may never choose how much of a row, stack or column to sell.

Here are the issues that came from the playtesting...

-The row sale (same cut different types) was never used. The payout just wasn't good enough. The selling rounds came down to selling stacks if you could and rows for some extra cash.

-Players liquidated their money. All players finished with no money and made back they final scoring tally entirely through the final selling round.

My goal for the game is for players to have to make tough decisions about whether they are going to sell rows, columns or stacks. I would like selling rows to be a viable tactic, but still, ultimately, out numbered by the payout of the riskier column and (especially) stack sales. in the interest of choice as well, I would like players to have to mull over how much to sell and how frugal to be, because playtests are showing that you don't over think it.. just sell everything you can, spend it all and make it all up at the end.

One thing to note. We've been playing with a rule by which all gem cards sold during a selling round are shuffled in with the next draw pile, so by the end of the game you end up with every single card in the player tableaus. I'm thinking that simply eliminating this and having sold card be out of the game completely some of the above goals could be partially addressed. Suddenly the row sales look more attractive as a way to make a little cash because you know that if you sell half that stack you are NEVER making it up again, for instance. Also, by not shuffling cards back into the game, players would not end up with such loaded tableaus at teh last selling round maybe forcing them to accrue funds during the game instead of relying entirely on the last sales.

So there's the game, and there's the dilemma. Sorry again for the EXTRA LONG post.

Louard

SiddGames
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I think your change is

I think your change is definitely the direction to go. Making cards leave the game permanently adds more of a card counting/memory element and causes relative value of specific cards to decline over the course of the game.

Also, if you want people to NOT always cash out completely between rounds, perhaps add bonus scoring at the end of the game for completed stacks. A complete stack inhibits both row and column scoring, so there's a drawback to trying to collect them, in addition to being the hardest to collect (is this actually true?), offset by a significant bonus -- perhaps a full stack at the end of the game is worth 100G instead of 50G when sold off during play, or possibly lower the sell-off value of stacks during the intermediate rounds and have them all (different sized stacks) worth more just at the end.

Another possibility is to allow point-scoring during intermediate scoring. That is, when selling off your stacks, you can decide how much of it is taken as points and how much is taken as gazillions. This adds another resource to track (points) but makes players decide how much money they want after each sell off vs. taking points. Maybe early round selloffs are worth more points than later rounds, etc.

Louard
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No points

Although I get the effect points could achieve I won't be adding them. I really want to keep this game about the money. I also like how there's nothing outside the cards to keep track of.

I'm not sure if 100g is the right amount for selling a stack, but I like what you're getting at. That the more complete rows and stacks (columns aren't that hard to complete) could be worth a slightly disproportionate amount of points to encourage players to gather up a fuller tableau by end game. Also helped by cards not being re-cycled back in after selling.

Maaartin
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I'm not sure if I understood

I'm not sure if I understood the whole posting, but this are my ideas:

Louard wrote:
The row sale (same cut different types) was never used. The payout just wasn't good enough. The selling rounds came down to selling stacks if you could and rows for some extra cash.
That's strange. With row sales you can get 20g for 5 cards, i.e. 4g per card. With column sales you can get 22g for 3 stacks, i.e. up to 7.33g per card. The latter is better, but you may lose more cards this way. OTOH it may be hard to get all 5 cards for the row sale, which could make the row sale unattractive. A stack sales may give you 50g for just 4 cards, it's seems to be too good.

So I'd suggest to increase the payments for the row sales, maybe just for long rows. Instead of 1 3 7 12 20 I'd go for 1 3 7 15 31, which is easier to remember.

In case no numbers work well, you could create a constraint like "there must be at least so many row sales as column sales".

Louard wrote:
Players liquidated their money. All players finished with no money and made back they final scoring tally entirely through the final selling round.
Is this a problem? A single card may give you between 1g and 25g, so I can imagine that quite a lot of money get invested in the auction.

With more money at hand than it can be invested, the players would keep some of them. With some interest rates for money at hand (providing an alternative investment) they may do it, too. Diminishing the payout with time may lead to the same effect. Also some limitation or cost for selling a lot per round could force them to do it.

It might be fun to let the players start with no money at all (or even a debt). They could get some loans and after each selling round pay interest for them and adjust the loan balance. No idea if it fits into your concept.

Louard
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hhmmm...

I would like to avoid a condition like you mentioned "Nope kiddo, you can't sell that column, you haven't sold enough rows!" so I will continue to strive for payouts to fix this. I've still not figured out what makes the payouts you suggested easier to remember... Oh.. double +1 I see... So the logic here is to simply boost the attractiveness of the upper end of the row sale?

As for the second point... Ya, I kinda do see this as a bit of a problem, though not a crippling one, mind you. What I don't like about it is that it seems to point to ONE way of doing thing when it comes to do I spend or not. The way we've played, there hasn't been an internal debate, no decision to make, the answer is YES you buy! If the numbers were such that on average someone who strikes a good balance between buying and passing up sales wins I think that would be best as long as the player playing the perfect middle gets creamed by the risk taker when the risks pan out. That, to me would create that nice dilemma of, 'do I hedge my bets or go for broke?'

Although I fear the idea of depth might be adding more for little return I do think there's something interesting there. Definitely in theme with traders and merchants.

Ludomancer
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Core design?

I think your struggle might be a struggle with your core design. You seem to be trying to combine a round-by-round betting/bidding game, like Bridge, with a deck-building game, like Dominion. If I'm wrong, please feel free to ignore the rest of this post.

Currently, your design is working fine as a Bridge-like game. In Bridge, there are four sets of things to track (the suits). Some sets are more valuable than others, so players bet accordingly. Your players have identified which set is most valuable in the short-term (columns) and are using Money to track how many rounds each player has won. At the end of your game, players are turning Money back into sets to meet the win condition. Bam! game over.

Your problem seems to me to be that the deck-building portion of your game (the Dominion-like aspect) is weak. Holding sets has no short-term tactical value. In Dominion, players buy cards that are worthless when counting out points at the end of the game because these cards provide them with short-term advantages. Holding onto sets of Gems has no short-term advantage in your game. Sets are worth Money, Money can buy sets on the last turn (which you need to win), so you may as well convert all your early sets to Money as soon as you get them.

I think what you need to add is some kind of game effect benefit for holding sets, kind of like the benefit of owning monopolies in Monopoly. Perhaps holding onto Rows can give players some kind of advantage during the auction phase (e.g. as tie-breakers or 'trump' sets).

Your solution of removing the discard pile from the game won't really solve anything. Even if you can't figure out what Gems are left over by observing what gets shuffled into the deck, you can still figure out the probability of getting certain Gems by card-counting (subtracting the cards they've seen from what they know is in the starting deck).

If you want players to hold onto sets, or if you want certain set types to be a viable alternative to columns, you have to make keeping sets on-side a gameplay advantage. You can maintain Columns as the quick-and-dirty way to earn Money, but the other two set types need to provide completely different gameplay benefits.

Maaartin
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Louard wrote:I would like to

Louard wrote:
I would like to avoid a condition like you mentioned "Nope kiddo, you can't sell that column, you haven't sold enough rows!" so I will continue to strive for payouts to fix this.
Agreed. Forbidding something is rarely as good as controlling things using money. Maybe you could introduce a bonus for selling both a row and a column at the same time.

Louard wrote:
I've still not figured out what makes the payouts you suggested easier to remember... Oh.. double +1 I see...
Sure, and it is the sequence 2**n-1.

Louard wrote:
So the logic here is to simply boost the attractiveness of the upper end of the row sale?
Yes, that's all. I always try to find some formula for numbers I use and here it fits nicely.

Louard wrote:
As for the second point... Ya, I kinda do see this as a bit of a problem, though not a crippling one, mind you. What I don't like about it is that it seems to point to ONE way of doing thing when it comes to do I spend or not. The way we've played, there hasn't been an internal debate, no decision to make, the answer is YES you buy! If the numbers were such that on average someone who strikes a good balance between buying and passing up sales wins
Agreed, having to do such a decision would make it better. However, for any card bought you'll get maybe 3g in return on the average, so you simply must always offer at least 1g. Even if the card doesn't fit all all, you get your 1g back.

I don't get the part about buying (unless you mean the auction). You could introduce a minimum bid of maybe 3g and then there'd a fair chance that a card doesn't get bought. Using some small fee for taking part in the auction could work, too.

Louard wrote:
I think that would be best as long as the player playing the perfect middle gets creamed by the risk taker when the risks pan out. That, to me would create that nice dilemma of, 'do I hedge my bets or go for broke?'
Yes, always investing all the money feels strange.

Louard wrote:
Although I fear the idea of depth might be adding more for little return I do think there's something interesting there. Definitely in theme with traders and merchants.
Agreed, I like it but who knows if it's worth it.

Ludomancer wrote:
I think what you need to add is some kind of game effect benefit for holding sets, kind of like the benefit of owning monopolies in Monopoly. Perhaps holding onto Rows can give players some kind of advantage during the auction phase (e.g. as tie-breakers or 'trump' sets).

If you want players to hold onto sets, or if you want certain set types to be a viable alternative to columns, you have to make keeping sets on-side a gameplay advantage. You can maintain Columns as the quick-and-dirty way to earn Money, but the other two set types need to provide completely different gameplay benefits.

I think you are very right. IMHO this could help a lot.

Louard
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Hadn't thought of some of this stuff.

Thanks guys.
Maaaaaaaaaaaaaartin (did I put enough 'A's?): Looks like you and I are mostly on the same page. I'm not sure if introducing a minimum bid would really be enough to make not bidding a good option, it might simply drive the prices up slightly.

Ludomancer: I'm not sure where you're getting the Dominion comparison.. Winning auctions and gaining gem cards is more like, say building melds in Rummy, I think. In any case, your suggestion to sweeten certain set collections with a side effect rather than simple monetary boost is definitely worth considering. I'm trying to break out of my tendency to be a complex-o-phobe and actually give due consideration to ideas that would increase complexity because they, sometimes, also really amp up the fun or turn out to fix so many problems as to end up being quite elegant in the end.

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