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Subject: Thoughts from a Fascinated Onlooker rss

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James Clarke
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Firstly, I am not qualified to offer any personal experiences on the playing of this game, since I have neither played it nor have I witnessed it being played. In fact, I overlooked it when first released, I suppose because I felt that a war themed game would not receive much interest in my family. I have however, recently noticed the extensive discussions in this forum and have been following these with growing fascination. Such is my fascination (as a lover of games), that my interest and admiration for the game has reached the level where I could not resist the compulsion to own it. For the price of a modest meal out for two, I am now delighted to have the game on my shelf, and I am sure that I will be giving it a go with my daughter in the near future. I suspect that we will find the game to be highly enjoyable over repeated plays, and it is unlikely that at our friendly level of competition, we will ever by troubled by the often reported ‘game-breaking’ aspects.

As an outsider looking in on this debate, the quest for a ‘perfect’ rules fix, has reminded me of the blind alleys visited in pursuit of (the eventually solved) Fermat’s Last Theorem. Instinctively, it just seems to me that (for experienced players) any attempt to fix the game just by changing the powers of cards or by adjusting routes on the board, will inevitably be futile, somewhat akin to simultaneously trying to fix all corners of an ill-fitting carpet. I base this on nothing more than a gut feeling that whatever the rule-set, the game will always migrate towards a particular guaranteed winning strategy. It seems that experienced players are becoming all the more adept at quickly identifying such winning strategies.

It appears to my (as yet) un-tainted eye, that the underlying problem of the predictable outcome lies with the relative lack of variability of the game set-up. One of the reasons that we love Last Train to Wensleydale, are the game variations introduced by the random seeding of the board with cheese and beer. I suspect that Wensleydale would be at risk of descending into a single-route-to-victory game, if those resources were laid out the same way every time. Whilst I am not personally seeking a fix for A Few Acres of Snow, I am just wondering whether A Few Acres of Wensleydale (or something like it) offers a possible way forward. The equivalent of cheese for one side and beer for the other (I’m not saying which), as additional random resources/rewards for connecting supply lines perhaps. Would such a mechanic create a sufficient degree of randomness to the game set-up that would eliminate the pre-determined automatic strategy?

My ramblings are offered with due respect to remarkable work of the designer, and I recognise that a suggestion of this nature may represent an unacceptable departure from the overall design intent. Above all, I apologise if I am not offering anything new here.


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Gavan Brown
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The game is a masterpiece.
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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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RoosterJuice wrote:
The game is a masterpiece.

Wait... weren't we just discussing its "fatal flaws?"
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Gavan Brown
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out4blood wrote:
RoosterJuice wrote:
The game is a masterpiece.

Wait... weren't we just discussing its "fatal flaws?"


Most genre defining games have imperfections.

It is fatally flawed, and there will likely be others that do what it does better, but it will always be the first of it's kind. I respect that.
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Matt Leach
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Cheese and beer, particularly the latter, make everything seem better.
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Clyde W
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RoosterJuice wrote:
out4blood wrote:
RoosterJuice wrote:
The game is a masterpiece.

Wait... weren't we just discussing its "fatal flaws?"


Most genre defining games have imperfections.

It is fatally flawed, and there will likely be others that do what it does better, but it will always be the first of it's kind. I respect that.
I don't see how a game can simulatenously be both a masterpiece and fatally flawed...it seems like this demeans the meaning of the word "masterpiece." "Groundbreaking" perhaps is a better word. A masterpiece doesn't even need to be groundbreaking, though it often is. It DOES, in any case, need to be perfect, and A Few Acres of Snow is not perfect, unfortunately.
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Gavan Brown
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"Masterpiece (or chef d'œuvre) in modern usage refers to a creation that has been given much critical praise, especially one that is considered the greatest work of a person's career or to a work of outstanding creativity, skill or workmanship."

Any person critting a work can determine their own interpretation of the term.
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Clyde W
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Well I hope we can both agree in hoping this isn't the best game Wallace will ever release.
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Richard Young
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clydeiii wrote:
Well I hope we can both agree in hoping this isn't the best game Wallace will ever release.
Brass holds that distinction for me - but I agree that AFAoS will certainly fall in the "ground-breaking" category.

Mark Herman's We the People was a ground breaking title introducing us to what we recognize now as card-driven games (CDG) but it far from the best of the genre and had its share of issues. Martin has taken the concept in a fresh and exciting direction and I expect follow-on titles to fine-tune the engine and resolve the balance problems.
 
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I always thought Perikleswas a great title. I just could not get anyone to play it.
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Bruce Wigdor
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Bubslug wrote:
[q="clydeiii"]Mark Herman's We the People was a ground breaking title introducing us to what we recognize now as card-driven games (CDG) but it far from the best of the genre and had its share of issues. Martin has taken the concept in a fresh and exciting direction and I expect follow-on titles to fine-tune the engine and resolve the balance problems.


I think We the People is very close to being the best of the genre. The issues it had were not game breaking, and the most serious one (too many roadbumps of 1 combat unit) was satisfactorally addressed. Most of the issues weren't even issues; they were a matter of personal taste, most specifically the idea that it is a "flaw" if some cards are unusable; I strongly disagree and wish there were more CDGs that had this aspect.

Unlike A Few Acres of Snow, WTP does not suffer from a single strategy that breaks the game. A game played between two advanced players can have action on any part of the board depending how the game develops. You can't decide on a strategy on Turn 1 and stick to it. WTP is every bit as enjoyable now for me as it was when I first played it, even moreso.

I have zero interest in a game that's going to lose it's appeal once I get enough experience playing it. I'm not interested in playing every game that comes out a few times--I'm only interested in the "keepers." To me, the true enjoyment of a game comes from being familiar with it and appreciating it's subtle nuances.

I was very interested in AFOS when it first came out. I am a CDG player whose favorite light game is Dominion. But I think AFoS misses out on the very thing that makes Dominion so great: the cards you play with in Dominion change from game to game, making each game a unique challenge. There's nothing like that in AFOS, and therefore, it's not surprising that an optimal strategy has been found.
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Ien C.
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Highland Cow wrote:
I suspect that we will find the game to be highly enjoyable over repeated plays, and it is unlikely that at our friendly level of competition, we will ever by troubled by the often reported ‘game-breaking’ aspects.

James, I've just discovered this thread -- belated thanks for your thoughts. I'm currently in my second ever full games of A Few Acres of Snow (via Yucata.de) and really enjoying it. My attitude is much like yours quoted above.

Highland Cow wrote:
It appears to my (as yet) un-tainted eye, that the underlying problem of the predictable outcome lies with the relative lack of variability of the game set-up. One of the reasons that we love Last Train to Wensleydale, are the game variations introduced by the random seeding of the board with cheese and beer. I suspect that Wensleydale would be at risk of descending into a single-route-to-victory game, if those resources were laid out the same way every time. Whilst I am not personally seeking a fix for A Few Acres of Snow, I am just wondering whether A Few Acres of Wensleydale (or something like it) offers a possible way forward. The equivalent of cheese for one side and beer for the other (I’m not saying which), as additional random resources/rewards for connecting supply lines perhaps. Would such a mechanic create a sufficient degree of randomness to the game set-up that would eliminate the pre-determined automatic strategy?

I think your "un-tainted eye" was rather insightful. Here's what Martin Wallace added as a designer's note to the second edition rulebook:

Martin Wallace wrote:
There are now a significant number of people on the planet who
have played the game many more times than myself. Some of these
folk think there is a particular British strategy which is hard for the
French to beat. I have to say that I agree with them. Some of the
changes to the second edition have been made to weaken this
strategy. However, it remains the fact that no matter what rules are
changed a strong strategy will emerge for one side or the other.
There is no simple fix, as the main reason for this issue is the nature
of the game itself. Therefore, in my opinion there is only one way to
deal with this problem, which is to create a set of scenarios which
subtly change the game creating a fresh challenge for each player.
These scenarios are not necessarily historically accurate, think of
them as ‘what if’s’. These scenarios will be produced on an irregular
basis and appear on the Treefrog website.

Now Wallace isn't saying those scenarios will be random -- to the contrary they sound like they are going to be hand-crafted. Although I'm still so new in my experience with the game, I look forward with fascination to seeing what those will be.

Meanwhile, Wallace has produced the "Random Rules Generator" which adds variability through rules changes which seem to generally favor the French but obviously not reliably given the randomness.

So -- it seems, without even having played once, you got very close to grasping the essence of the game designer's own vision of the game's future -- not variability through random scenarios but variability through randomness (in the rules rather than the scenarios) and scenarios (probably hand-crafted). Impressive.


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