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Subject: You Split! I Choose...Orcs? rss

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Jesse Dean
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Dragon Valley, by CW Karstens, was originally sold to me as being the equivalent to a tower defense video game in board game form. In a tower defense game, you are forced to deal with a constant onslaught of enemies, which you fight against using a variety of units and constructible elements such as walls and towers. Many of these games are essentially unwinnable, you are forced to fight an ever increasing supply of enemies with the only goal being to simply survive, but there are some that have more achievable goals and Dragon Valley seems to take more from those sorts of tower defense games than those that are essentially unwinnable.



Of course this thematic basis is only partially relevant the actual game. Mechanically, it centers on players using the “You Split I Choose” decision making structure seen previously in San Marco and Piece of Cake. During a given round some of the players divide up units cubes (both enemies and allies), special power cards, and building tiles while the other players are allowed to choose between the divided lots, with the actual assortment of how the splitting and choosing is conducted being dependent on player count. This is the central mechanic of the game, and the other parts of it are mostly used to provide context for the division of the resources.


Components
Dragon Valley’s components are largely effective and easy to use, without anything that particularly detracts from the overall game play experience.

The board artwork succeeds at both being fairly evocative of the theme while also conveying game state information. The designer has also made sure to include the game phase information, including the order of the special action cards, on the board itself allowing for players to easily follow along even when learning the game. Having an actual spot to put cards for drawing and discarding was a good idea, but it frequently ends up being useless during actual play. Since the deck is reshuffled every round cards are mostly in front of the players or being shuffled; game state was easy enough to monitor that discarding cards was not necessary to remember if they had been played or not.



The player aids are also good, including much of the information that players will need to know frequently, thus reducing the required number of rulebook references, or is not included in the rulebook in the first place. They are made of fairly sturdy cardboard, which is a relief considering the number of flimsy player aids that are little better than pieces of paper that I have seen in games lately. This one feels like you can handle it, or perhaps even throw it across the room if you are so inclined, without very many issues.



Unfortunately, the cards do not seem to share the quality of the board and player aids. While the artwork and iconography on them is effective, and the quotes are cheesy and mildly amusing, the actual stock seems to be a little lacking. I did not sleeve the cards, and after a handful of games they are already showing a bit of wear and tear due to the frequent need for shuffling. If you choose to purchase the game I highly recommend you sleeve the cards.

Since units enter play through a draw bag, cubes are probably the best possible physical representation for them. It would be nice if they had chosen to use cardboard tokens instead, but it is perfectly reasonable and understandable that they used cubes instead. Tokens may have been prettier, but they do not provide nearly as good game state information as cubes do and could potentially have been confused with the buildings tokens.

Game Structure and Criticism
Dragon Valley is centered on getting resources lots, with one or two players splitting those lots and then whichever players are paired with them choosing between these lots. In all player counts the player with the lowest victory points is able to determine who will perform the splitting. In the two player game, this is a pretty simple affair, but in three players one player will split and the other two will choose, while with four, the players split into groups of two as determined by the player with the lowest victory points. Once those two groups are formed, whoever has the lowest victory points in each group determines who the splitter will be.

The items that are in these lots provide context for further player decisions. While each player starts evenly, each set of one-shot cards, buildings, and unit cubes provides differentiation that serves as a basis for increasingly complex lot valuations as the game goes on. This results in situations where the splitting player can create two lots that each are very helpful for one of the two players, ensuring that a player can get the lot they desire or they can create two lots, both of which are good for them, but one of which is both much better for them but equally awful to the opposing player, forcing a tough decision on that player. This is even more complicated in the three player game where whomever is doing the splitting has to consider valuations for two other players. As such, I recommend that you play this game at first with two or four, at least until individual players are familiar with the relative balance of the game’s various items.

After lots are chosen, a number of the cards trigger and then players are able to take one of three different actions: move all of your units, recharge all of your activated “fraternal buildings”, or build as many buildings of one particular name that you like. Enemy units than perform movement based on a pre-existing formula then a new round begins. Scoring occurs in three main ways, with points being given for defeating enemy units close to their entry point, for building walls in such a way that enemy units are forced off the edge of a player’s area, or by conquering tiles in enemy territory.

On the whole I find this simple structure provides an effective means to highlight the focus of the game, the splitting and choosing of lots. However, individual decisions made in the selection and balancing of buildings strikes me as questionable, not to the point where they throw the game majorly out of balance, but enough so that they serve as a bit of a drag on my enjoyment of the game.

The best example of this is the Dungeon tile and Squashed Rebellion card. The Dungeon, unlike most of the other buildings, is completely useless by itself. However, if a Squashed Rebellion card is drawn and you are able to select it then you can add a cube to the dungeon and, if you choose, triangularly score the cubes that are in your dungeon. However, you do not know if you are going to ever have an opportunity to get the Squashed Rebellion card again, particularly in the four player game, and even if you do its primary value seems to be to make a lot that would include a “-1 vp card” into one that probably has a “+1 vp card.” When you factor in how scarce and valuable actions are, this negligible shift in the overall value of the lot means that there are really very few situations when it is worthwhile to build the Dungeon. This applies for a lot of other buildings to, as many of them are designed for pretty narrow circumstances, and even for those that have a broader level of usefulness, there is the potential that the way items come out will leave you with little opportunity to take advantage of them. So the building action ends up being either being something that is only used on items that are universally useful, only after you are absolutely sure that the item is going to be useful enough to spend an action, or when there is a moment in the game where building something is the only logical choice.

Some will argue that having varying power levels in the provided items is useful, as it allows for finer gradations in the value of individual lots, and on the whole I agree with that. However, items that are virtually useless add no additional consideration to a lot, as they are likely to be simply ignored in lot selection and thus do not really belong in the game. Luckily, this problem really only manifests itself in the buildings. Units all have the potential to be useful, and the action you take with them, moving, does not actually serve as a drag on your efficiency, as you are able to move the units that you know you are going to need in addition to the ones that you are less certain about. Enemy units are worth victory points and even if they are something a player cannot deal with, it does provide additional context for determining the value of an individual lot. Similarly cards always provide some value, even if some of them are more situational than others, because you generally do not need to take an action to use them. Those that do are powerful enough that taking them can be reason alone to take the action that they enhance.

In the three and four player games buildings are likely to run out, resulting in lots composed only of cards and units. This bothered me at first because it seemed sort of odd that one of the three major components of the lots run out. However, as the extreme specialization of some of the buildings became apparent, then this exhaustion bothered me increasingly less. The vast majority of buildings that a player acquires are never going to be built, so it makes little sense to continue providing a player with resources that are largely going to be ignored. On the plus side, this end point also provides additional pressure for those rare few buildings that are always useful, as you know if you do not get them earlier on, you may not get another opportunity. For two player games there is also a risk that the building you want will not come out again and four player games also have the possibility that the more valuable buildings will end up not being seen again by you, since you will only have access to roughly half of the total number of buildings in the game.

The game is also somewhat susceptible to kingmaker situations. A fairly useful card allows you to swap one of your opponent’s cubes with your own and there is also a building that enables you to prevent all buildings of a particular type from working in a turn. Either one of these could be used to potentially hurt a player without necessarily benefiting the player using it, particularly if they decide they need to stop a person from winning on a particular turn. This, as is the case in all such games, can be mitigated by a group of skilled players, or by simply not looking like you are in the lead, but for those who are turned off by these sorts of mechanics should probably stay away from the game.

The actual time required to split the resources can also be a bit of a drag, particularly for those players who are performing the choosing and thus are sitting around while the other person splits. During early plays, a lot of this is simply a matter of identifying what items do, but even as players get more experienced it can take a while as the implications of what a combination of cards, buildings and units will do for another player. Of course, considering the variance in what an individual player can use it may be that the best bet is to simply focus on the cards, units, and the most valuable of buildings while ignoring the rest, since they are unlikely to be useful except for in situations where the random draw happens to provide them with an opportune situation to use them.


On the plus side, the game seems to be one that would greatly reward repeated play. The game becomes more interesting as you are able to better able to analyze hands and provide your opponents with tough decisions or decisions that will give you the collection of items you want. This can provide some real excitement too as you wait to see if the person choosing selects the lot you really want or if they pick the lot you designed that is perfect for you but puts them in an awkward situation. The puzzling aspect of where to place buildings and where to move units is also engaging, but is fairly tactical. Earlier choices impact later decisions, but you only have a limited ability to choose to try to accomplish particular goals or attempt new ways to play at the start of the game.

Another highlight is the combat system, which provides units, both friendly and otherwise, with distinct capabilities and roles. You will never feel like any particular unit is completely useless, and getting a given unit simply requires you to change your play, and future selection decisions, so that you are able to optimize them. Knights are fast and are great both at eliminating battering rams and dealing with orcs, but are completely useless against dragons, archers work well against orcs and dragons, and trebuchets can’t actually affect any other units but are needed for all conquest. Knights and archers are also required for conquests, but individual conquests can lack the requirement for archers or knights entirely.

Conclusion
As you can probably tell by this point, I am not a huge fan of Dragon Valley. I do find it to be entertaining, which is more than can be said for a lot of games, but the weak or borderline useless buildings, the downtime, and the large focus on the tactical over the strategic for a game of its length are sufficient to make me question if it is entertaining enough. That being said, if you find the you split/I choose mechanic to be particularly fun or really want a game that is in the style of the more productive tower defense games, this one can be a good choice particularly if you find my particular qualms to be minor. I do not consider it a bad game, I would be willing to play it again if someone was particularly inclined to do so, but with limited hours in a week, there are others that I would choose before Dragon Valley.

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Paul Incao
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Wow, for such a comprehensive review, my assumption would be that you loved the game. Nice Job.

-Paul
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Jesse Dean
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Games you love are not the only ones that are worth talking about. I think there are a lot of people who are going to love this game, unfortunately it just did not quite work for me.
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Dave Heberer
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My group found that if you randomly distribute the objects you are supposed to split up that it chops quite a bit of time off the game and made about as much sense. That said, I sold mine when I had played once or twice. It's not bad, and definitely different (which I like) but the split and choose bit seems central and I can't take the down time.
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Tim Seitz
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Quote:
As you can probably tell by this point, I am not a huge fan of Dragon Valley.

I could fairly tell you didn't like the game because of your tone, but I am not sure you delineated why that was so.
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Matt Smith
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There are two aspects of the dividing process that I would like to comment on:

1) Kickstarter backers (i.e. most of the people who have this game right now) also received three mini tournament games (jousting, archery and trebuchets). These mini games are meant to be played by the "choosing" players while the "dividing" players are creating the piles. They are easy and fun, but the really clever part is they can provide real victory points in the Dragon Valley game. They work as a sort of timer on the "dividing" players. The longer it takes to create the piles, the more victory points will be awarded to the "choosing" players. Not only does this help keep the game moving, but it gives all players an activity to perform during the dividing process. Brilliant!

2) Whether you find the dividing process to be slow, or to involve "downtime", I believe is a function of your perspective on board gaming in general. Some players are almost solely focused on their actions/decisions. Thus, the times when they're not taking an action or making a decision is considered "downtime". Other players (like me) are interested in what their opponents/teammates are doing. Unless the game is multi-player solitare (which Dragon Valley is most definitely not), other player's actions can and will affect my strategy. It's to my benefit to pay attention to what they're doing. So, even when players don't want to use the mini games during dividing, I find it interesting to watch the "dividing" players while they mull over different combinations of resources. It tells me something about their strategy, and I can start deciding what pile looks like my first choice.

Either way, I didn't find the dividing process to take too long. It was interesting to see how the other players grouped the resources, and the mini games were a fun alternative.
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pincao wrote:
Wow, for such a comprehensive review, my assumption would be that you loved the game. Nice Job.

-Paul


I've read a few reviews where the author did such a good job of describing why they hated the game that I knew exactly why I would like it. :-)

i7dealer wrote:
My group found that if you randomly distribute the objects you are supposed to split up that it chops quite a bit of time off the game and made about as much sense. [...] the split and choose bit seems central and I can't take the down time.


Um, if you play your cards randomly in Dixit or Bridge it also chops a lot of time off the game... but how does that help the experience?
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Tim Seitz
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mvettemagred wrote:
There are two aspects of the dividing process that I would like to comment on:

1) Kickstarter backers (i.e. most of the people who have this game right now) also received three mini tournament games (jousting, archery and trebuchets). These mini games are meant to be played by the "choosing" players while the "dividing" players are creating the piles. They are easy and fun, but the really clever part is they can provide real victory points in the Dragon Valley game. They work as a sort of timer on the "dividing" players. The longer it takes to create the piles, the more victory points will be awarded to the "choosing" players. Not only does this help keep the game moving, but it gives all players an activity to perform during the dividing process. Brilliant!

You know, that's not all helpful for anyone, right? Kickstarters already have the game, so they don't need to read reviews of it to see if it's right for them. Whereas people who are now considering a retail purchase don't get the Kickstarter bonus.
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mvettemagred wrote:
2) Whether you find the dividing process to be slow, or to involve "downtime", I believe is a function of your perspective on board gaming in general. Some players are almost solely focused on their actions/decisions. Thus, the times when they're not taking an action or making a decision is considered "downtime". Other players (like me) are interested in what their opponents/teammates are doing. Unless the game is multi-player solitare (which Dragon Valley is most definitely not), other player's actions can and will affect my strategy. It's to my benefit to pay attention to what they're doing. So, even when players don't want to use the mini games during dividing, I find it interesting to watch the "dividing" players while they mull over different combinations of resources. It tells me something about their strategy, and I can start deciding what pile looks like my first choice.


Good! Someone finally has dismissed the myth of downtime. Even with multi player solitaire I find it's interesting to watch other players.
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Jesse Dean
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It is perfectly fine for you to find the down time to not be an issue. I even noted that this game would work pretty well for people who found my problems to be irrelevant.

However, I don't play board games to sit and watch people stare at the game state. I play to make meaningful decisions and react to the decisions of others. Neither of those take place when there people are deciding what to do on their turn unless you have things to consider of your own. In Dragon Valley there is nothing at all to consider. You don't have anything to consider until you get the lots that have been divided.

I spent the time playing Ascension on my phone.
 
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Richard Morgan
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It's meant to be a social experience. I would have taken your phone and thrown it into Mount Doom. Surely you could have found something better to do like make sarcastic comments about the people taking a long time?
 
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Jesse Dean
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Yes, and our game was very much a social experience. Though apparently a very different social experience then yours since we do not destroy each other's property.
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Richard Morgan
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It is illegal to destroy one another's property. Except when it comes to cell phones and similiar gadgets. It is perfectly admissible by law to utterly annihalate them.
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Jesse Dean
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Things are so weird in Canada!

Though going all the way to Mount Doom seems like a bit of a hike. Why not use something more immediate?
 
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
I don't play board games to sit and watch people stare at the game state. I play to make meaningful decisions and react to the decisions of others. Neither of those take place when there people are deciding what to do on their turn unless you have things to consider of your own. In Dragon Valley there is nothing at all to consider. You don't have anything to consider until you get the lots that have been divided.


So you'd hate 18MEX and Mage Knight and Dominant Species and Imperial and any other games where there can be long downtime between turns where you can't meaningfully plan your own?

More specifically, WHY is downtime in Dragon Valley more of a problem than in other games? Is itreally not useful to look at the pile of stuff being divided and plan out which bits you really want, what you might do with X or Y?
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Ian Allen
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I don't like the divide and other player chooses mechanic in San Marco which is why I got rid of it and I would guess that I am not going to turn around and like it here. I found that in SM it was tedious waiting for the split to be set up and obvious which stack to take, so it was just a lot of churn for very little gain in fun gameplay. Some folks may enjoy it I suppose.

Thanks for the review- i'll save my money.
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
... Neither of those take place when there people are deciding what to do on their turn unless you have things to consider of your own. In Dragon Valley there is nothing at all to consider. You don't have anything to consider until you get the lots that have been divided.


I do watch people divide because depending on the personality of the person, most move the pieces into groups of what they find important and what they don't find important. That speeds up me making my choice b/c I can evaluate their benefits quickly, etc.
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out4blood wrote:
mvettemagred wrote:
There are two aspects of the dividing process that I would like to comment on:

1) Kickstarter backers (i.e. most of the people who have this game right now) also received three mini tournament games (jousting, archery and trebuchets). These mini games are meant to be played by the "choosing" players while the "dividing" players are creating the piles. They are easy and fun, but the really clever part is they can provide real victory points in the Dragon Valley game. They work as a sort of timer on the "dividing" players. The longer it takes to create the piles, the more victory points will be awarded to the "choosing" players. Not only does this help keep the game moving, but it gives all players an activity to perform during the dividing process. Brilliant!

You know, that's not all helpful for anyone, right? Kickstarters already have the game, so they don't need to read reviews of it to see if it's right for them. Whereas people who are now considering a retail purchase don't get the Kickstarter bonus.


The Tourneys (Mini-Games) were not Exclusive Kickstarter rewards. They are available for purchase at either conventions or contacting me directly.

The convention schedule is available here: http://www.diamondkgames.com/calendar.html

They are $2.00 (plus S&H if mailed). They require a copy of Dragon Valley or 8 wooden cubes of 2 colors, 4 of each color.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgameexpansion/121105/drago...




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3dragonfly wrote:
doubtofbuddha wrote:
... Neither of those take place when there people are deciding what to do on their turn unless you have things to consider of your own. In Dragon Valley there is nothing at all to consider. You don't have anything to consider until you get the lots that have been divided.


I do watch people divide because depending on the personality of the person, most move the pieces into groups of what they find important and what they don't find important. That speeds up me making my choice b/c I can evaluate their benefits quickly, etc.

My experience is limited, but so far that is how it worked. The players doing the dividing wouldn't stare at the table for five minutes, then WHAM you have the final groups. They start by dividing something (usually the cards), then add buildings/cubes. As they tweak the piles, I'm assessing what each pile would do to my board situation, and prioritizing the piles.
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out4blood wrote:
mvettemagred wrote:
There are two aspects of the dividing process that I would like to comment on:

1) Kickstarter backers (i.e. most of the people who have this game right now) also received three mini tournament games (jousting, archery and trebuchets). These mini games are meant to be played by the "choosing" players while the "dividing" players are creating the piles. They are easy and fun, but the really clever part is they can provide real victory points in the Dragon Valley game. They work as a sort of timer on the "dividing" players. The longer it takes to create the piles, the more victory points will be awarded to the "choosing" players. Not only does this help keep the game moving, but it gives all players an activity to perform during the dividing process. Brilliant!

You know, that's not all helpful for anyone, right? Kickstarters already have the game, so they don't need to read reviews of it to see if it's right for them. Whereas people who are now considering a retail purchase don't get the Kickstarter bonus.

My comment was more to help those gamers who may enounter the game being played at a local game group to know what the mini games are about, and that they're not available in retail copies. It would be very easy to photocopy the mini games (they're just three oversized double-sided cards, including the rules). I suspect they will also be made available on the web eventually, if not already. You use cubes provided with the base game to play the mini games, so it's certainly something everyone who buys the game could get, with a small amount of effort. The mini games are not necessary to play Dragon Valley, but for the players who prefer to divide and not to choose, printing up the mini games would give them a way to stay engaged with the game. Remember, you're scoring points while playing the mini games, so it certainly should be better than checking your cell phone.
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mvettemagred wrote:
I suspect they will also be made available on the web eventually, if not already. You use cubes provided with the base game to play the mini games, so it's certainly something everyone who buys the game could get, with a small amount of effort. The mini games are not necessary to play Dragon Valley, but for the players who prefer to divide and not to choose, printing up the mini games would give them a way to stay engaged with the game. Remember, you're scoring points while playing the mini games, so it certainly should be better than checking your cell phone.


If you go to the official Dragon Valley Website, the Print and Play files are in a downloadable zip file. Feel free to download them and print them for personal use. The games are still available via mail or conventions that Diamond K Games attends.

http://www.diamondkgames.com/dragonvalley/

Edit: I updated this from saying "I will create a PnP file" to "I did create a PnP file".
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Jesse Dean
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Morganza wrote:
doubtofbuddha wrote:
I don't play board games to sit and watch people stare at the game state. I play to make meaningful decisions and react to the decisions of others. Neither of those take place when there people are deciding what to do on their turn unless you have things to consider of your own. In Dragon Valley there is nothing at all to consider. You don't have anything to consider until you get the lots that have been divided.


So you'd hate 18MEX and Mage Knight and Dominant Species and Imperial and any other games where there can be long downtime between turns where you can't meaningfully plan your own?

More specifically, WHY is downtime in Dragon Valley more of a problem than in other games? Is itreally not useful to look at the pile of stuff being divided and plan out which bits you really want, what you might do with X or Y?


I do not have any problem meaningfully planning my turn in any of those games. Also, I think Dominant Species and Imperial are not games that have a particularly large degree of downtime, at least with the groups I play. I understand that your groups might be different in that regard. devil

For Mage Knight and 18Mex a player usually spends other people's turns figuring out what they are going to do, such that when it gets to their turn it does not take a lot of time for them to finish what they are doing. When I am not absorbed in what I am doing I am processing how the other player's actions impact my own.

With the Split/Choose section of Dragon Valley figuring out what I am going to do with any given items is fairly trivial. I usually figure out what I would do with them and how I would allocate them as they are revealed. Watching them split can be entertaining, as CW noted, but there are only certain points in the game where players really have a strong attachment to getting a particular item, and usually that is obvious. The guy with three arc gems is going to want as many dragons as possible and will be quite happy if he can get invasion combined with it, while the gal who needs another trebuchet to finish her conquest tiles is going to want trebuchets, the swapping card, or the building that enhances trebuchets. So as the chooser, identifying watching them move things around mostly ends up being about determining how they are trying to minimize their chance of getting a "bad" lot. I did find this interesting for the first game or two, but by the third it became a lot less entertaining.
 
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Tim Seitz
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Glen Allen
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Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him. 2 Sam 14:14
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I haven't played Dragon Valley, but I can sympathize with the issue of downtime here.

In Mage Knight, I use the downtime to plan my next turn. Usually, I can plan with the expectation that another player is not able to interfere. But I also plan a back up if they use up the mana I need or take the location I was going to.

The same is true in Through the Ages. I have to plan my turn and how I am going to maximize my available actions. There's also an important need to watch what my opponent is doing so I can be prepared to counter their moves effectively.

Alien Frontiers and it's ilk are different. There's actually no planning I can do when it's not my turn, and there's no reason to watch to see what other players are doing. The downtime is just ... downer time.

As I understand how Dragon Valley works, you're waiting until things are divided up before you can even start planning. And for those who think you should be watching anyway, the kickstarter bonuses actually encourage you to NOT watch.
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Richard Morgan
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Brantford
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out4blood wrote:
Alien Frontiers and it's ilk are different. There's actually no planning I can do when it's not my turn, and there's no reason to watch to see what other players are doing. The downtime is just ... downer time.


What do you mean there's no reason? Enjoying seeing what your friends do when they make their moves for instance.
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Tim Seitz
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Glen Allen
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Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him. 2 Sam 14:14
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richiebabes wrote:
out4blood wrote:
Alien Frontiers and it's ilk are different. There's actually no planning I can do when it's not my turn, and there's no reason to watch to see what other players are doing. The downtime is just ... downer time.

What do you mean there's no reason? Enjoying seeing what your friends do when they make their moves for instance.

Maybe I am strange, but watching people games is not as interesting as actually playing them.
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