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I have played this game about ten times now and I like it a lot, but there are some things that I personally feel need fixing. The three main things are R&D cards, Raw Material Cards, and Bribery cards.
R&D cards: I feel like these are absolutely necessary to pick up every round if given the chance. In fact I hardly even consider piles unless they contain these. Not only are you improving all of your actions with these cards, but you are gaining points exponentially. Every game I have seen won is by the player who researched the most. Coupled with the fact that you can use the x2 guy with it, I see this combo used quite a bit for a crap ton of points. You have the potential of spending 10 dollars to not only improve your actions tenfold but get on average 8 points at least.
I feel they are too important to the game. I know they SHOULD be important because that is a main part of the game, I just feel like one player can get short-sided if they aren't dealt as many, and it makes the stack picking in the beginning less interesting.
Raw Material Cards: Completely useless cards towards the end almost always. In the beginning they are very important, but towards the end since raw materials are worth nothing at the end, usually get bid up to about 1-2 dollars if not being passed entirely. There is a lot of RM cards in the deck, so you can almost always get how many you need for almost nothing towards the mid to late game.
Bribery Cards: Are you telling me I have to keep this card in my buffer slot just so I don't have to move back when there is an accident? And that I still have to pay the fine plus 1 dollar anyways? Seriously? This card is useless and only kept if no other card is necessary in keeping, unless you are in the red and you can't afford to lose two points. (I hardly ever see this).
Some suggestions I have read along with a few of my own, but I would love to hear some feedback from others:
-Bribery cost you 1 dollar only to avoid the effects of an accident.
-Raw Materials are worth 1/4 a point each at the end of the game.
-If you double a R&D development the first costs you five the second costs you ten, although this might make the cards more valuable, not sure.
-If you max out one research slot you may not research anything else.
These are just a few ideas I have read and kicked around myself mentally. The game is actually extremely balanced with scores having about a 5 point spread which is good. With some variants though I think the game could be a little less on the rails and maybe open up a few more strategic possibilities instead of doing what is completely obvious. I like this game a lot and will definitely continue to play it unchanged or not, I just wish it played with a bit more variance.
I was thinking about how to fix R&D just today. As you say, it (or advisor, to double R&D) is the best card in the deck. It's almost always the card that makes me pick a hand, which is a problem because it often overwhelms what should be a compelling matter of balancing your needs when picking a hand. The question should not be "which hand that has an R&D card suits me best?"
The problem, I think, is that the face value of tech is worth more than its price. Four tech steps score you 14 points, for 3.5 points per step. Hence, even if you never use the tech, it's worth $7. In most every other game, a tech/ability advance is an investment. Here, it's pure gravy. Yes, sometimes, you need to spend $5 on raw materials instead, so you hold the R&D card until you fill and order.
So... Tech should cost somewhere in the $8-10 range. At $8, it's a bigger chunk of liquidity, it slows down an early tech rush (or requires a loan), but you'll still take it most of the time. In the endgame, you're scoring 4-5 points from the tech, so it's still slightly positive, even though you may never use it.
At $10, it begins to hurt. Tech will often require a loan, or a game plan that keeps ready capital. Players won't value a tech card unless the tech really helps them. In the endgame, tech may be a dead card. And it may be so costly that it messes up the basic math of the game. Or it might be more compelling. I only play on Yucata these days, so I can't easily experiment.
Thoughts? SHOULD tech be underpriced to make it hurt to pass up a tech hand for cards you really need?
I play that the bribery cards lets you pay the yellow penalty if you are in the red, and no penalty if you are in the yellow.