I'd like to see some discussion and thoughts about the impact that the official Mississipi Variant has on gameplay. The only real change is to the turn order, which in the Mississipi variant requires you to keep throwing rocks until you get one better than your opponent's closest one, just like bocce and curling. Here's how it is described in the rulebook:
When a player (or a clan) throws a rock into the cave, the opposing player/clan must throw rocks until he plays a better (closer) rock or he knocks the first rock out. It is possible that a player/clan will throw many rocks in a row. If the second player/clan has no more rocks, then first player/clan throws all his remaining rocks.
So how does it change the game? Here are some of my thoughts:
1. It seems to reduce the advantage of going second. Normally the non-starting player gets to throw the last rock of a round, which can be a big advantage. But now the player throwing the last rock can vary, because it depends entirely on how the rocks are positioned, and turn order can change as the round proceeds e.g. if one player has to play multiple rocks after one another. In the regular game the last rocks thrown are often the most important, whereas under the Mississipi variant rules, each rock thrown plays a more important role, because these will often determine who throws the critical last rock.
2. It seems to facilitate higher scoring, and more quickly changing fortunes. Sometimes one player will end up playing multiple rocks in a row, either from a losing position or from a winning one. In some instances you can get several rocks in for points after your opponent is `rocked out'. Games played under the regular rules tend to be fought very closely, and 2 or 3 point rounds are rare, whereas they are more common with the Mississipi variant.
3. It seems to make decisions about totems more interesting. In the regular game, it's almost always an obvious decision to take back a protected rock with a fallen totem for a rethrow rather than leave it on the board. But under the Mississipi turn order rules, that decision is no longer so obvious, because sometimes it's worth keeping that rock on the board if it's in a good position that forces your opponent has to take the next turn instead of you. So the Mississipi variant adds additional elements of decision making with respect to the totems, and strategy with respect to the placement of your rocks and use of the hammers.
Overall the Mississipi variant tends to lead to more fluctuating scores and bigger swings in fortune, by making positional play of all the stones more important rather than just the last ones, and also giving possibilities for higher scoring rounds. I wonder if it is less suited to new players, because blowout scores in the regular game seem to be more rare. On the other hand it does give the possibility for more excitement and come-from-behind wins, and makes choices about the totems more difficult and arguably more interesting.
What do you think is the best way to play, and why?
Just like you, I think that this variant might be better for experienced players. Maybe its too "mean" for beginners.
Anyways, we added this variant to let you know there is more that one way to play. Find the one you like the most!