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My friends and I quite like this game, but we don't really like the Animal Companion as it stands - if you pick it up, you all but guarantee the Max treasure. One of the cool things about this game is that the Min treasure requires you to have a few first-picks (and a way to anticipate or dodge your last-pick cards), but you can get the Max treasure with many middling picks. Unless Animal Companion is in the game. Then one person wastes many picks hoping to get a Max treasure and the other person picks Animal Companion and a few high-ticket adventurers.
The nerf we played in last night was pretty simple - Animal Companion only doubles the base value of *one* adventurer. This does mean that it's strictly worse than a 12 (Buck Thunderstick), unless the Min treasure is bad and you like that Animal Companion is optional. It worked pretty well for us - AC went later in the draft, and the competition for Max was much tighter (in a six player game, we often had three people with 25 points each, including the player with AC).
I think the game is more fun and strategic with this nerf, but I'd like to see other people try it and find out what they think.
The animal companion changed a few times in playtest. I went back and forth on whether it dominated the play for high too much.
One change that came pretty late was making the companion an action card - which was easier to write the rules around - a consequence of that was that the companion became even better, because you could pick it and still go low. I was ok with that change because it didn't feel like a huge change - people certainly wouldn't want to pick it if they were going low. But it does make it better.
I am curious how most people see the animal companion. Your fix seems ok but less exciting - but it might be better.
Another fix you might try is
Animal companion: +3/adventurer in the suit.
That might be interesting because the person who grabs a couple high cards might think twice about letting a, say, 5 go by because it is an 8 for someone with the animal companion. I could even see the card going to +4, it would take 2 additional picks to get the animal companion up to +8, but 4 picks gets you an enormous +16. You better be getting an amazing deal though for 5 cards.
Thanks for the idea!
I haven't found it to be that bad because you don't always want to be the highest.