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Subject: Ludology Episode 19 - Two's Company, Three's a Crowd rss

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Geoffrey Engelstein
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With me out of commission due to a freak snowstorm, Mark Johnson steps up to the plate to join Ryan in a discussion of two versus three player games. What are the differences? What design choices does player count present the designer?

Many thanks to Mark for filling in so ably. However, it would have been better if he were a little bit less interesting, so I don't have to worry about losing my cohost spot...

http://www.ludology.net or on iTunes.

Geoff
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Ryan Sturm
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engelstein wrote:
in a discussion of two versus three player games.




Two player games versus Multiplayer games
 
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Mark Johnson
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Thanks, guys. It was a fun discussion.
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Ryan Sturm
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Another note that this was accidentally posted in stereo. It will be reposted in mono tomorrow if that is something that bugs you.

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Alex P
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FYI for those with iPhones (mine is running iOS 5, if that matters):

- settings
- general
- accessibility

Scroll down and find a "mono audio" option and turn it on.
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Joe Kundlak
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And for us with REAL mp3 players (and using Rockbox), we are smart enough to make a mono out of it arrrhninjagoocool
 
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On partnership games. I can think of a two other main branches of games that have partnership games other than traditional card games.
1. Party games, there are several team or partner games where one (or more) people have to comunicate something to another person in the team-partneship via some system, charades and pictionary are examples of this.

2. games that are mainly 2 player games but have rules for team games. A lot of war games are for 2 or 4 players, summoner wars is another example. The most popular multiplayer magic format is two headed giant which has people play in partnerships with decks that are designed to go together.

The most popular chess variant (maybe except for suicide chess) is bughouse chess where you and your partner play two games against a partnership side by side, If you are black, your partner is white and vise versa. In bughouse if you take one of your opponents pieces you give the piece you take to your partner who may use a turn to put it on his board.

But cards are pretty classic.
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Geoffrey Engelstein
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Mono version has now been posted.

Geoff
 
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Joel Eddy
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Great episode but I have a gripe! whistle

And, it's a teeny tiny gripe that I believe you guys "mostly" addressed. I can sum it up as follows.

I think people that like Euros should not be so afraid to try two player direct conflict games. Direct conflict in two player games can be much more satisfying than it can in a multiplayer games. I really think they are entirely different experiences. In a two player game there is no viscious or petty actions available. However, in a (flawed?) multiplayer game with direct conflict, there can sometimes be ample opportunity to "Kingmake" or illogically "hose" another player.

I often see that I will recommend a strictly two player game to someone, and I get the same response about it being too conflict-based, yadda yadda yadda. I don't want to diminish someone's preference, but it's my contention that people are shutting a door because of a bad multiplayer experience!

Anyway, you might have actually brought this up toward the very end, but my work's internet decided to buffer (or unbuffer) the last few minutes of the podcast.

Great episode by the way! You should have Mark back again. I understand three is probably a crowd (see what I did....nm) for this format, but he's a great sub.

-edit-

I should mention that I agreed with the assessment that "cards" is a better couples game than Chess. But, I think if you have two evenly matched opponents a game "like" Chess is fine. But the cards can make up for the difference in skill with "chance".

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Tim Koppang
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Good episode! Very interesting discussion.

I can't believe I'm going to do this -- again -- but I want to talk about Power Grid. I swear I have a larger point, though!

Specifically, I want to comment on the idea that, to play games like Power Grid and El Grande, you have to hang back from the lead. Incidentally, this is a phenomenon that I also see in Alien Frontiers with more than two players. I've realized that I don't like El Grande, and to a certain extent, Alien Frontiers for just this reason. Unless I'm playing Diplomacy, or some other overtly political game, I don't want to have to hang back and worry about being picked on because the others think I'm winning. As a result, the responsible gamer in me must confront the question: Why do I enjoy and defend Power Grid when it has a similar feature?

Well, to me, it seems like the need to hang back in El Grande is generated by the players. In other words, when the other players perceive that someone is winning in El Grande, they all gang up and rein him in. The punishment comes from the other players and is based on a perception, a perception that can often be wrong or motivated by meta-game factors like favoritism. Same goes for Alien Frontiers, which can even be worse because the take-that factor is high and scores are typically very close (i.e., within 1-2 points).

Power Grid, on the other hand, dispenses with the arbitrary perception of one player being in the lead, and instead substitutes a mechanical limitation. You either do or do not have the most cities. There is no judgment call. And I think that makes a big difference. By design, there are also fewer opportunities to screw over the winning player in Power Grid because confrontation, while present, isn't as direct as in El Grande or Alien Frontiers.

To me, this idea of other players deciding who is in the lead, and then taking them down a peg is very close to king-making, which is a big problem for me in multi-player games. I love Attika, for example, as a two-player game, but with 3-4, the game loses a lot of its luster due to king-making issues. I know that I now prefer Alien Frontiers with two because I can push as hard as a want and know that my opponent will come after me regardless of perception.

EDIT: Just to be clear, I'm saying that in PG, the game system punishes you, while in El Grande or Alien Frontiers, the players must choose to punish you. That's the difference that makes all the difference to me.
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Troy Holaday
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Great episode. It was good to hear Mark's voice in a new context. When you called Mark the grandfather of boardgame podcasting though, I couldn't help of thinking of Aldie and Dirk. Wasn't Geekspeak a.k.a. Boardgamespeak first? (Or did I just discover it first?)
 
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John Rogers
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I love that you had Mark on guys. I'm glad to hear that BGTG was an influence on Ludology as I'm a HUGE fan of BGTG; it probably explains why I enjoy Ludology so much. Also, I completely relate to Mark's thoughts on trying to figure out why he likes what he likes and with the statement "we're the people who think it's fun to analyze fun". Yep that's me.

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Wanda Davies
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tckoppang wrote:

Well, to me, it seems like the need to hang back in El Grande is generated by the players. In other words, when the other players perceive that someone is winning in El Grande, they all gang up and rein him in. The punishment comes from the other players and is based on a perception, a perception that can often be wrong or motivated by meta-game factors like favoritism. Same goes for Alien Frontiers, which can even be worse because the take-that factor is high and scores are typically very close (i.e., within 1-2 points).

Isn't one of the beautiful things about games that humans can become integrated with the game- our minds are, among other things, one of the mechanisms?
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Chris Berger
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knaves wrote:
2. games that are mainly 2 player games but have rules for team games. A lot of war games are for 2 or 4 players, summoner wars is another example. The most popular multiplayer magic format is two headed giant which has people play in partnerships with decks that are designed to go together.


I think the problem with 2 player war games that allow for 2 teams of 2 is that the game doesn't really change at all, and there's no hidden information between the two players, so it doesn't feel the same as a partnership game like Spades or Euchre or Bridge. In those, both players have to keep up their side of the partnership in order to win. If you're playing a 2 player game as teams, you can tell each other what to do, so it might as well be one player on each team.

Quote:
The most popular chess variant (maybe except for suicide chess) is bughouse chess where you and your partner play two games against a partnership side by side, If you are black, your partner is white and vise versa. In bughouse if you take one of your opponents pieces you give the piece you take to your partner who may use a turn to put it on his board.


Yeah, bughouse is a good example of a 4-player partnership game that works. You normally can't tell your partner what to do because you have to pay attention to your own board (if you are enough of a savant to play both boards, then you should play with clocks and reduce the amount of time appropriately - I used to like about 15 minutes... just enough so you have time to think and it isn't "speed chess").
 
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Alex P
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arkayn wrote:
knaves wrote:
2. games that are mainly 2 player games but have rules for team games. A lot of war games are for 2 or 4 players, summoner wars is another example. The most popular multiplayer magic format is two headed giant which has people play in partnerships with decks that are designed to go together.


I think the problem with 2 player war games that allow for 2 teams of 2 is that the game doesn't really change at all, and there's no hidden information between the two players, so it doesn't feel the same as a partnership game like Spades or Euchre or Bridge. In those, both players have to keep up their side of the partnership in order to win. If you're playing a 2 player game as teams, you can tell each other what to do, so it might as well be one player on each team.


I never understood this complaint - I feel the same way (those kinds of team games aren't interesting) and the solution is simple: add a rule - no talking about the game during the game. You can plan your decks and strategy with your opponent ahead of time but during game-time you have to rely on good execution and reactions.

It can even make some two player games even better because there's another level of strategy with the need to be able to read your teammate's situation and his reaction to said situation and whether you need to intervene and put off your plans or... etc.
 
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tckoppang wrote:
Specifically, I want to comment on the idea that, to play games like Power Grid and El Grande, you have to hang back from the lead. Incidentally, this is a phenomenon that I also see in Alien Frontiers with more than two players. I've realized that I don't like El Grande, and to a certain extent, Alien Frontiers for just this reason. Unless I'm playing Diplomacy, or some other overtly political game, I don't want to have to hang back and worry about being picked on because the others think I'm winning. As a result, the responsible gamer in me must confront the question: Why do I enjoy and defend Power Grid when it has a similar feature?


I agree there is a significant difference. I don't know El Grande well enough, but in Alien Frontiers and Risk and many many multiplayer games, it's in your best interest to build as big and fast as you can, except that if you look too strong the others will gang up on you and you will lose. This is relatively rare in Power Grid.

In Power Grid, a player who builds too many cities will find he has more limited opportunities. This is not the players bashing the leader, this is a simulation of a company blowing opportunity cost, and not being nimble enough to adapt.
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Mark Johnson
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gwangi wrote:
When you called Mark the grandfather of boardgame podcasting though, I couldn't help of thinking of Aldie and Dirk. Wasn't Geekspeak a.k.a. Boardgamespeak first? (Or did I just discover it first?)


Aldie & Derk's Geekspeak was definitely first. Not only was it the first boardgames podcast, it was one of the very earliest podcasts of ANY kind. I had been blogging for a while, and had heard a few podcasts including Geekspeak and Reel Reviews (for movies) before deciding to try my own. My contribution had more to do with showing it could be done with a $15 headset and free software, rather than the complicated & expensive mixing boards, microphones, and home studios I was hearing about. (It shows in my audio quality, but I just focused on the information content--ironic considering my recently admitted devotion to boardgame aesthetics!)
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Tadeu Zubaran
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Very nice episode guys congratulations.

I was a little bit skeptic it would be a good episode after I found Geoff wasn`t in it (not that Ryan doesn`t have interesting things to say, its just that there is a synergy amongst both).

Will look for Mark`s material after such nice and interesting episode.

I was happy that Ryan commented the thing that makes Dominant Species a very bad game IMHO, the whole politics and "play dead" thing. The game is actually very unbalanced, but as it is a free for all experience no matter how unbalanced anything in the game is the players will balance through leader bashing.
 
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Ludology » Forums » News
Re: Ludology Episode 19 - Two's Company, Three's a Crowd
eekamouse wrote:
I think people that like Euros should not be so afraid to try two player direct conflict games. Direct conflict in two player games can be much more satisfying than it can in a multiplayer games. I really think they are entirely different experiences. In a two player game there is no viscious or petty actions available. However, in a (flawed?) multiplayer game with direct conflict, there can sometimes be ample opportunity to "Kingmake" or illogically "hose" another player.


I agree with you there. I almost only an eurogamer but I love Dungeon Twister for instance. I`m a joyless, sad human being as my fun is trying to win and optimising my strategy (I don`t mind loosing but my fun is trying to win).

I only consider direct conflict games possible if there are exactly 2 teams but even then I think they can have two problems one is the king maker problem you mentioned(when there are more then two teams) another is that many times there is a self feeding process in which the winner gets an advantage because he is already better that many times make the second part of the game pointless(in two team games). That said, a well designed a well designed direct conflict game can be very entertaining.

edited for clarity
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Doug Faust
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I'm not sure that I agree with Mark's contrasting El Grande and Settlers of Catan. If I'm remembering correctly, he didn't like the bash-the-leader mechanics. I love El Grande, but I can see where people may not like this aspect of the game. Settlers was used as a foil though--doesn't Settlers have the same issue? If you're in the lead, you'll probably get hit with the robber every single time (and even sometimes twice in the same turn, if someone has soldiers). If you manage to work your way up to 9 points, then no one will trade with you. When I'm playing, I often play to avoid the longest road unless I can win the game with it, so that people don't get the perception that I'm in the lead even though I have points that can be taken away.

Just not sure how these scenarios are really different.
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Tim Koppang
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Interesting. I agree that, in Settlers, the leader will be hard up for trading partners and suffer the robber more often. Nonetheless, I've never felt the need to hold back while playing Settlers. There seems to be a real sense of momentum in the game, so that a larger network begets more resources, and, therefore, more victory points.
 
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Mark Johnson
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tckoppang wrote:
I've never felt the need to hold back while playing Settlers


That's it. While it's true that the leader in Settlers finds himself the victim of every robber and rarely gets to make a trade, that's not enough reason (in my experience) to play a sub-optimal game at the midpoint. Whereas in El Grande it feels to me that's exactly what you need to do.
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Chris Berger
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MarkEJohnson wrote:
tckoppang wrote:
I've never felt the need to hold back while playing Settlers


That's it. While it's true that the leader in Settlers finds himself the victim of every robber and rarely gets to make a trade, that's not enough reason (in my experience) to play a sub-optimal game at the midpoint. Whereas in El Grande it feels to me that's exactly what you need to do.


When I play Settlers, I feel like I want to avoid appearing to be in the lead unless the points I get assist me in actually doing better. For example, I don't want to get Biggest Army too early, unless I really need to move the Robber. I don't want to get Longest Road too early unless it connects me to a port I need. There's definitely some strategy to holding points "in reserve". Like having enough resources to grab Longest Road at the last possible minute (without loading up so much that you're vulnerable to the Robber), or similarly with Biggest Army (although it's harder since I believe you can only play one per turn (been a while since I played Settlers, so I can't remember for sure)). Building settlements and cities seems to always be worth more in potential resources then it costs in terms of "appearing ahead"... but in general, there is an interplay between having strength and your "perceived" strength.

I haven't played El Grande, but I think that Dominant Species is closer to Settlers in this regard than you guys imply. Not getting all my cubes on the board might seem to you like "holding back", but to me it would be suboptimal play to have them all out there before turn 6 anyway, because they're in danger. Scoring more points early, similarly, isn't necessarily optimal play, when you could be using your turns to give you the potential to get way more points later. Honestly, the biggest opportunities for piling on the leader are the Dominance cards (Competition can be good tactically but really isn't strong enough to cripple a player, and Glaciation can remove a point-scoring opportunity but even if it removes your cubes from the board, they're still in your supply where you can deploy them to good effect later on), and the way to avoid getting decimated by Dominance cards is to put yourself in a position to not be badly hurt by them - more than to look meek so you don't get targeted. Unless a player is really getting hammered on, I'll look to do the most damage possible with a Catastrophe rather than look to specifically hurt "the leader", because it can be hard to tell who the true leader is anyway. A player who is "obviously winning", is probably what I would call "overextended". Actually, more likely, I'll look to make sure I'm not a viable target, since I tend to play more to avoiding getting hit with those cards than to use them myself. They tend to get snapped up by the first person in initiative, and I value initiative lower than some people. It's true though - the swinginess of some of the cards is my primary complaint with the game, specifically because of how they are used to target the leader and act as a balancing mechanism.

More generally, I think that what one player might consider "suboptimal play" is another player's "strategic positioning." To the degree that any game has a political "I'm not winning, he's winning - hurt him" aspect, I don't like that aspect. So I do agree with you guys that far. But I don't think Dominant Species has that aspect any more than Settlers does.
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Tim Koppang
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Just an aside:

I think it's important to be clear about our terms. Playing "optimally" and "sub-optimally" is going to vary by game. In a game where appearing to be in the lead is a danger, it is an optimal move to hold back. Let's not confuse the issue by saying that, in order to do well, you have to play "sub-optimally" by holding back in such games. Holding back is not playing sub-optimally.

It comes down to personal preference as to whether you enjoy games that require holding back (or "positioning yourself" or whatever).
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tckoppang wrote:
Just an aside:

I think it's important to be clear about our terms. Playing "optimally" and "sub-optimally" is going to vary by game. In a game where appearing to be in the lead is a danger, it is an optimal move to hold back. Let's not confuse the issue by saying that, in order to do well, you have to play "sub-optimally" by holding back in such games. Holding back is not playing sub-optimally.

It comes down to personal preference as to whether you enjoy games that require holding back (or "positioning yourself" or whatever).


No, there's a difference. I don't quibble with the term "playing sub-optimally" by saying that "holding back is optimal". The reason I don't think you should get all your cubes on the board early in Dominant Species is because you're putting them in danger and overextending yourself, not specifically because getting a lot of cubes out makes you look like the leader. Not gaining a lot of points early is not always optimal because you may be sacrificing an opportunity to set yourself up for larger gains later.

There's a difference between "I can't do as well as I want to because then I'll appear to be in the lead," and "that move may score me immediate points, but this move will set me up for later without making me a target." The two are related, but not the same.
 
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