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Subject: Confucian Confusion rss

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S. R.
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So we played a 5-player game Monday night. For me, it was the second game, for all the other players, the first. I had fond memories of my first play, a few years ago, and the fantastic mechanisms of gift-giving and obligations. Although I cannot remember how many players we were back then, we immensely enjoyed ourselves. Or so I think I recall...

Now, back to the present.
5 players, all analytical gamers, all used to heavily involved games. Although this one threw some of us, with it's complexity of obligations due to gift-giving.
We had tremendous fun during the game.
...more or less...

And that was that.
Game over after 5 rounds, one foreign country invaded, one far-away colony travelled to, all ministries full with bribed officials, only two students left, over and done with. And the joy went out of us all during the last round, even left an aftertaste of bad misfortune cookie in our mouth...

What happened?
Well, there are several things that did not turn out the way we anticipated...

1. The Ministries
Ministries have high levels of victory points. Which is quite understandable, seeing as it takes a while, and some effort, to secure them. However, in comparison to voyages or armies invading, they are (or seem to be) infinitely more lucrative. So all of us were gunning for the offices from the get-go. And anyone who would have concentrated on anything else would have been left behind. Fighting for the big fish, neglecting the scraps - that was all we did.
Does it make sense?
Well, in light of the ever-present threat of ministry resolution, it is imperative to get your officials fresh and early. Before someone closes the door on you. Especially if obligations force you to get into the gift-giving process to have a chance, yourself.
Could we have done differently?
Well, we could have. Thereby leaving the really big points, and the open field of politics, to the players without major obligations...

2. The Securing of Officials
Why? Why should anyone use this action? It is a waste of time, since there are (without Petitioning) exactly eight chances to replace a minister, and the game will be over before most of them can see the light of day. Especially when officials are so fought-over.

3. King-Maker
But what left us totally flabberghasted was the king-maker problem. Not everyone is under obligations at the end of the game. Which makes it quite likely for a player to have to give up his influence in Ministry Resolution without being beholden to one of the parties.
Which makes such a player the inevitable King-Maker.


We were, at the end, totally shocked. A game with lot of potential and fun drifted into a frustrating king-making session in the end. We enjoyed it immensely, and got kicked in the nads in the last round.

I am utterly confused.
Is this the normal situation?
Is fighting over officials and ministries at the forefront, with voyages and invasions being only an afterthought?
Is the securing of officials rarely used?
Why aren't there more possibilities to remove a non-secured official?

We discussed it for quite some time afterwards. Thinking about possible ways to "fix" the ending. But that cannot be it, right?

Or is this because we played with 5 players? Not being scaled according to player number can make the game more or less flexible with more or fewer players. Right?

All I can say is - I like the mechanics, but when playing seriously they seemed to fall short.

So - help?
Any help would be appreciated.
Although I don't know if next time it won't be a bribe-fest for officials again, with the whole shebang repeating itself. And why shouldn't it?

Help?
 
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Maarten D. de Jong
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The help comes in various hints and tips.

First, drop the 5th player. Confucius at 5 is very difficult due to the chaotic nature of turn order, gift obligations, and ministry resolution. 4 makes the game more amenable.

Second, I have a strong hunch you cannot play the game without resorting to both the Advanced and Admiral variants. The Advanced variant offers you more opportunities to mess with the other players' position preventing uncatchable leaders (especially in the sense that the 6-gift allows takeovers of unsecured officials); and the Admiral variant means that if two or more people end up tied for first place at the end, it will be the Admiral who wins, irrespective of his score. This creates incentive to strongly play the merchant navy, and do just enough in the ministries to force said tie. The only defense is a more general approach, which sees people spreading around their influence instead of focussing it too strongly.

Third, spreading influence around means that Emperor's Reward cards enter the game which are useful Swiss army knives to cut through erected trenches.

Fourth, there is a certain amount of groupthink active in your group. Don't belittle the war and merchant navy paths just because their point rewards seem meager in comparison to some of the ministries.

Fifth and finally, I find it amusing to read that on the one hand your group considers ministries to be very important, and then on the other complains king making rears its head because not everyone is under a rules obligation to favour one player over another... Well, what do you expect to happen if you pick a strategy and then only follow it through partially? If ministries are important, then you want to make sure that everyone votes your way, whether they want to or not!
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J C Lawrence
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To whit: the entire game is about setting up king-making relationships in your favour.
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First of all, thanks for the help so far.
I'll comment by quoting your statements directly...

cymric wrote:

First, drop the 5th player. Confucius at 5 is very difficult due to the chaotic nature of turn order, gift obligations, and ministry resolution. 4 makes the game more amenable.

Well, you might be right, there. Although we found it to be over too fast, and therefore would drop the 5th player. Not due to complication, but due to speed.
However, this is only true when concentrating (almost) solely on the ministries, as we did (see below).

cymric wrote:

Second, I have a strong hunch you cannot play the game without resorting to both the Advanced and Admiral variants. [...] This creates incentive to strongly play the merchant navy, and do just enough in the ministries to force said tie. The only defense is a more general approach, which sees people spreading around their influence instead of focussing it too strongly.

Is this a generalizing "you", or do you mean my group, specifically? As this was first play for most of us, we resorted to what was suggested in the rules. And I think that, for the first time, playing without Petitions is probably better, as it greatly enhances complexity of decision making.
As to the Admiral variant, yes, I can see its value. Although many players might argue against it, due to the fact that strong play can be upended by very few actions, and that the worst player could still win...
So I'm not sure that, in first play, these two options are really a good thing. Still, I'm open for persuasion, here...

cymric wrote:

Third, spreading influence around means that Emperor's Reward cards enter the game which are useful Swiss army knives to cut through erected trenches.

I know.
Unfortunately, the ministries are not only point generators, but also end game triggers. Which means that if one player picks up very significant speed in the ministeries, you either try to keep up, or fall behind. Which is what happened, generally speaking. And since Examinations can only eliminate bribed officials if there are no empty spaces left, they either come too late, or are hardly fought over. As was the case in our games...

cymric wrote:

Fourth, there is a certain amount of groupthink active in your group. Don't belittle the war and merchant navy paths just because their point rewards seem meager in comparison to some of the ministries.

Yes.
Unfortunately, there always is. At least in my groups (I don't have one group, but rather an ever-changing subset of people).
The thing is, big points draw attention. And if you then factor in the obligation system (with one player playing smarter than everyone else, possibly, and some players getting lost in battle over just one ministry), and the above mentioned feeling of time running out, you got yourself a frantic struggle over officials, and everything else falls behind.

Now, I don't say that the game CANNOT be played differently.
I am, however, supposing that in a 5-player game, at least two players will run for the ministries. The game, as it is structured, does not lend itself to the realisation that you fare best if you get a piece of every 3,1415 on the board. As the efforts to get your fleet going are a bit higher, as well as the risk factor of invasion, ministries seem most lucrative. So it seems that ministries are the best cake.

I guess that everyone would play a little different next time, though. And maybe then it would work better. However, there will possibly not be a next time, as everyone was disappointed by end game...

cymric wrote:

Fifth and finally, I find it amusing to read that on the one hand your group considers ministries to be very important, and then on the other complains king making rears its head because not everyone is under a rules obligation to favour one player over another... Well, what do you expect to happen if you pick a strategy and then only follow it through partially? If ministries are important, then you want to make sure that everyone votes your way, whether they want to or not!

The problem here is not that our play was not consistent. Quite the opposite was true - we played with gifts all the time, and tried to get others into obligations, while they (and us) were constantly trying to get out of others...
This obviously led to situations where there were "no obligation situations" on the board in the last turn.

And that is what frustrated us. Players had to choose who would win, because they managed to throw off obligations. Unlike, say, in MIL, where vassallage is something that you will not lose that easily, here obligations can be discarded in a much simpler way.
Now, I am not saying that those were good strategy decisions. I made very bad decisions, getting into a war over just one ministry with two other players, and being the only player with 0 points at the end (okay, they handed me my behind quite harshly, too). I should have rather concentrated on other things. But the game was in a race against time, and I feared falling behind. Also, I had no chance to secure points in any other ministry by then...


The biggest problem here is that I am looking for improvement in first play. As I have always changing players at my table, I need to make sure the game does not tank again next time. But I see another run on the ministry spaces, once again...

I am, however, guessing that it takes a little longer for 4 players to finish the game, mainly because there are the same number of officials to be bribed, the same number of Examinations possible, but all in all 4 actions less each round.
And even longer in a 3 player game. By the way, how is it with 3 players? Not enough competition??

We discussed later that it would probably be best if the ministries would not be resolved when all officials were bribed. Maybe it would be better to resolve them, starting round 6 or so. That would leave room for the other parts of the game to be included.
Or make resolution dependent on the number of officials SECURED in a ministry.

Which brings me to the securing part.
We found it to be quite undesirable that officials would be secure in their unsecured status, as long as there was an empty space in the ministry. Barring Examination, that would mean that a ministry might have "securely unsecured" bribed officials until the fifth round...

Now, the action of securing would be much more interesting and valuable if the game would not be over so fast, if the spaces in the minstries were not that fiercely fought over.
Which once again leads back to the question of why the end game is triggered by the ministries in the first place...


Anyways, I think our problem is that frustration in first game will lead to unwillingness to try again. And makeup of the game suggests that frustration will once again occur, or is at least quite likely to do so, in next game...

Maybe the discussion part, the diplomacy and creating of short-term alliances, has to be played up a little bit more. I don't know.


I tend to write too much. I know.
But I am still lost. Because I want this game to succeed. I love the obligation mechanic - it is what makes this game truly shine, and stand out. However, there must be a way to ship around these shallow spaces of bad strategy, and bring the game to the harbour of constant enjoyment. There is for most games...

So please, more hints. More tips.
Anything you can tell me. I know we did not play it to the best of our ability or the games' own possibilities. But stressing this does not help. Hints and such do.

So far, I take one hint to heart. I will never again play this game with 5 players...
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Dumon wrote:

I make a lot of words. I know.
But I am still lost. Because I want this game to succeed. I love the obligation mechanic - it is what makes this game truly shine, and stand out. However, there must be a way to ship around these shallow spaces of bad strategy, and bring the game to the harbour of constant enjoyment. There is for most games...

So please, more hints. More tips.
Anything you can tell me. I know we did not play it to the best of our ability or the games' own possibilities. But stressing this does not help. Hints and such do.


Why not try out a game or 2 online at www.slothninja.com ? That would help you experience yourself the different strategies beyond what your group employed, rather than just hearing it from the rest of us. I'll be most happy to join in a game or 2.
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Me too, if you let me know.
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Thanks for the hint and the offer.
However, I am getting more practise than my fellow players, anyways. Since they are changing, I am not...
The problem here is - I don't want to know the game much better than they do. I don't like getting to know and play a game better and better, up to the point where I am "good at it". Yes, others might be better than me in gaming (and many are), but experience would teach me how to win more easily. And I don't want that.

What I want, or where I need help, is how to teach the game in a way that it does not tank, again. Or in a way that it does not fall short of its promising start, and once again disappoints in the end...

And tips and hints that I can give my fellow players, too...
 
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Maarten D. de Jong
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Dumon wrote:
What I want, or where I need help, is how to teach the game in a way that it does not tank, again. Or in a way that it does not fall short of its promising start, and once again disappoints in the end...

Your lengthy reply indicates that your fellow players do not really want to try again unless the collective wisdom of BGG can provide you with absolute guarantees that the following tips result in a game experience resembling a flawless diamond, despite you all being n00bs.

My serious 110% solution/tip: abandon further experiments, and move on to another game.

Confucius is a difficult game precisely because of the gift obligations and associated timing issues. Players must see how its patterns evolve before they can use them; if they enter the game with fixed ideas on what constitutes good play and what doesn't, then it is game over before the game even began. There is no instant gratification here: you must learn by doing, and that constitutes experiencing the occasional misgame and putting it into perspective. This isn't a stock VP engine game where you can 'borrow' experience from similar titles. If that willingness to learn together is absent, for whatever reason, then there is no real need to continue playing this game. Harsh, but the truth.
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Wow, wow, wow.
Hold your horses there, cowboy.
The fact that I tend to write too long paragraphs has nothing to do with my intent. And is no warranty for sarcasm or patronizing behaviour...

That much to your first paragraph.
Now, I know that truths hurt. And I am grateful for you trying to tell me one form of what a truth could be (after all, truth is highly subjective).

Now, let me get to the problem. And to what I meant.

BGG is not my Messiah. Nor do I want guarantees.
But every game has a certain flow, a certain way it should not be played, or should best be played. This, one can learn.
You said, then, that this has to be learnt by experience. Only by making your own mistakes, you can reach Enlightenment. Very Zen.

However, people who have already reached said enlightenment can either, help, hinder or ignore the novice on his way. And by helping to see the different aspects of the game, the yin/yang part of it all, how it fits together and interlocks, can I as the unlearned see how to guide my fellow players onto the right path.

Okay, enough with the metaphors.
The problem is - I just do not have a group. I don't.
It is hard enough to bring a game that has tanked to the gaming table once more.
But how do you bring a game to the table with completely new guys each time, knowing that it could tank if you don't tell them what to look out for?

A learning curve is not a problem for me. For ME. But when you don't have consistency in your gaming buddies, then learning curves are impossible to master...

Let me paint you a different picture, and skip (for a minute) to another game. Let's call it Panic Station. The game tanked heavily, despite me seeing the potential, and wanting to like it. And to top it off, I was told by the designer "play it more often - you will get there". Much like you were telling me in your last post.
Now, this is no help at all. If you need help, and someone who knows comes along and says "Grasshopper must fall before fly.", that is just very impolite, not very philosophical.
So I took the game to heart, and dissected it. Several days in a row.
And I found the crux. And I wrote the first, and up to date best (if I might say so myself) "How to teach" guide for the game right out of the box.

Now, Confucius is not Panic Station. It has similar problems (learning curve, initial failure leading to unwillingness to try again), but also different problems. And it is infinitely more complex. So I would need a lot more time to get to the bottom of it, to find out how to teach the game in a way to minimize potential to tank. Also, I am a logical thinker, but since there are so many complex parts in this game, it is very likely that I will never get there by myself.

That is precisely why I asked for help.
And I asked not because I wanted to give up on the game. I asked because I recognize potential, and I DONT want to give up on the game. Why else would I be here?

So, actually, you telling me to "let it go" puts insult to injury. No fair.

I want to learn. I want to learn how to navigate the shallows of the game without actually mastering the game. Because, then, other players (being the noobs that they will be at my table) will have no chance against me anymore. And, frankly, THAT is the point where I can give it up. Going into battle knowing what the result will be is very Sun Tsu. But it is no battle. And therefore no fun.

However, I talk so much (in the posts above - this one is a bit ranting, and a bit explanation, I guess) because I can get to a solution only if advice is based on as much information as possible. If I want help in what I can or can't eat in a garden, advice like "don't eat the soil" is not helpful if all I needed was a distinction between a few unknown plants. The parameters are important.
I also think that the best solutions are found by vivid dialogue, not monologue...
 
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Dumon wrote:
But every game has a certain flow, a certain way it should not be played, or should best be played.


Confucious doesn't flow. It really doesn't. Instead it lurches, painfully, haltingly along from detente to detente.

Quote:
...I as the unlearned see how to guide my fellow players onto the right path.


The game is all about tie-breakers and king-making. Really. That's the core of the game. Create ties which cost too much for other players to leave in place, but cost even more for them to break. Give great advantages to a second player so as to force a third player to intervene, and then step in and clean house in the third player's house. Setup the third and fourth players to fight using nothing but your moves on the board, and then clean the second player's clock when he moves in to pick up the pieces. Lather, rinse, repeat. Do all of this without negotiation, just your moves in the game. This is Confucious. It is a game not of getting points, but of ensuring that the other players don't qualify for winning.

Quote:
But how do you bring a game to the table with completely new guys each time, knowing that it could tank if you don't tell them what to look out for?


You let them learn.

Quote:
A learning curve is not a problem for me. For ME. But when you don't have consistency in your gaming buddies, then learning curves are impossible to master...


Then let even more people (lose and) learn. Lather, rinse, repeat.
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Dumon wrote:
So, actually, you telling me to "let it go" puts insult to injury. No fair.

Actually, it doesn't. I'm telling you the harsh truth, remember? The only thing I misunderstood is that you do not have a fixed group to play with, and that made my remarks more scathing than they should have been. For that, I apologise. Unfortunately for both of us this knowledge does nothing to assuage my 110% suggestion/tip; if anything it makes my point even more... well, poignant.

The harsh, objective truth is that Confucius is a difficult game to play, especially for first timers. Its core mechanism is so unique that previous gaming experience counts for very little here. Telling the players about the weird consequences of gift obligations in no way prepares them for the actual experience: Confucius is simply not a game you can immediately play in an interesting fashion from the start; and so, by extension, it will come to little avail to ask for more insights and tips 'to navigate the shallows without mastering the game'. Perhaps with a divine prodigy it might work that way; it sure as heck doesn't with mere mortals. Wishing it were otherwise is just that: a wish.

If I understood your gaming position correctly, that puts you in the little enviable position that most of the time you are the sole player with more experience than the rest. You indicate that you don't find that palatable—well, then the harsh and inescapable conclusion is that Confucius is not for you. With that I don't mean that you won't like it (because you do), but in the sense that you have no opponents to share your enthusiasm with, and thus that the game experience remains permanently lackluster, if you get to experience the game at all. It might be for you once you manage to secure a few people who are willing to play Confucius more often with you.

Sometimes games are like that, and I have found that in these cases the best thing to do is to sigh deeply, pack up the box, and move on.
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Hmm.
Disappointing as it is, thank you for your honesty. So let me just recap a little bit.

1. Confucius is better with 4 players
2. It is a game that has to be played several times, as it can only be learned this way - otherwise it crashes
3. There is always kingmaking

Two questions I have still. And, to clarify what I mean, let me first say that I define "kingmaking" as the process of freely deciding whom to support. Gift obligations are not kingmaker situations, they are preset mechanisms of the game...

1. Are there kingmaking situations even in games of experienced players?
Meaning - will there be situations where one person's move that is NOT dictated by obligation will swing the game this way or that?
I'm not asking about possibility - I am asking you, the experienced players: does this happen in your plays? Has this happened, and if, how often?

2. Is the game, as clearclaw points out, really a struggle through frustration to greatness? I will here compare it to Tammany Hall, as that game has several problems that can only be tackled by continuous play. Unfortunately, that game left us with the impression that you would have to play a lot of frustrating games for everyone, until you will reach a level where everyone "knows what to do", or "knows HOW to play the game". Together with the dichotomy of vicious backstabbery and complex calculations, that game was not for any group I would have brought to the table, anywhere. Confucious does not have that so much. Or rather, it does so differently - more accessibly for the Eurogamer...


The thing is, if you have to work through very painful games to reach the prize - if you spend copious hours NOT enjoying the game, only with the thought of one day reaching enjoyment...
...then it is not a game, then it is Chatholicism.

Okay, it is a game, of course. But it would be hard to teach any recurring group here the benefits of it. One bad game (for all) - yes. Two bad games, no. And basically it all hinges on question one - the kingmaking. Because that was, in essence, what made us not enjoy the last round...
 
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Dumon wrote:
1. Confucius is better with 4 players

'Easier to grok for newcomers' would be the better term here because overall the timing is somewhat slower and the n-way interactions are obviously less. With of course 'easier' being a relative term.

Quote:
2. It is a game that has to be played several times, as it can only be learned this way - otherwise it crashes

'Yields an unsatisfactory game experience' would be the better term; 'crashing' is part of that, but that needn't happen.

Quote:
3. There is always kingmaking

In the way you defined it, yes. The trick is in attempting to neutralise its influence so that people always choose in your favour, or that the choice doesn't influence you (much). This is not always possible. In the way that there is one big kingmaking showdown, no.

Quote:
1. Are there kingmaking situations even in games of experienced players?

See above. How often? In my experience to date—and I'm not claiming to be a savvy player of this title simply because it is difficult to grasp, and my opponents struggle too—at about 75% of all examinations. This is simply due to the fact that everyone can chip in, and that not all gifts which can be exchanged have been exchanged. It turns kingmaking into a calculated risk. However, you should not confuse this percentage with the amount of effective kingmaking because a free choice means exactly squat if you don't have the funds to back it up. And effective kingmaking is a lot less frequent here... I estimate in about one third of all examinations.

As for kingmaking in ministry resolutions... I don't really have data at my fingertips here. I don't play this game often, and a resolution is still opaque to me. That said, the last game I was able to twist the resolution in my favour (a Good Thing) but this didn't happen through kingmaking, but through carefully ontrolled obligations which, as JC put it, would cost more to the other player to break. I am nowhere near the level of play in which I can look at the ministries and decide in the blink of an eye what needs to be done, kingmaking situation and all.

Despite all that, the Big Last Stand you reported is something I have not seen to date, and there is usually a lot of bickering going on in the ministries.

Quote:
2. Is the game, as clearclaw points out, really a struggle through frustration to greatness? I will here compare it to Tammany Hall, [...] Confucious does not have that so much. Or rather, it does so differently - more accessibly for the Eurogamer...

In my opinion it is definitely a struggle. Whether it leads to greatness... I'm still not sure meeple. I experience the fact that you cannot carry over money from round to round as very restrictive which sees at least one and often two actions go to waste every turn. Coupled with the random draw... no. Even if you are fine with the obligations you are under, you still need money or licences for other tasks. In any case the gift obligation mechanism is unique, and that is what makes me return to the game from time to time. Even if it doesn't turn out to be great for me and my groups, it will have been an interesting voyage of discovery.

That said, personally I'd rather play Tammany Hall with newcomers than Confucius. This is because despite the nasty dealmaking in Tammany Hall the other core is straightforward majorities: you immediately see what happens in a region. In Confucius this is a lot less clear. And, also important, Tammany Hall is over in half the time it takes Confucius to play.
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Thank you again.
Although I hope that other readers might chip in with their experiences, here...


However, briefly back to kingmaking.
To further enhance my definition up above - I deem "kingmaking" as a process only active in one of two situations:
1. If the board situation cannot be completely calculated until the end of the game, kingmaking only happens at the instant where specific actions will decide the ultimate end (and winner) of the game. Usually happens in the last round.
2. When the board situation can absolutely (within reason, of course - if every player plays as effective and "correctly" as possible) lead to the possibility to calculate the irrefutable end situation(s), kingmaking happens when one specific action will already decide the end (and winner).

The second aspect only happens if one or more players are really really good at preplanning and calculating. If one player does so, it does not really throw the game for others, I have experienced. So this is not a problem. Of course, if several people are that good that they, at one point of the game, can stop and just state who the winner will be, then it is probably best to stop there, or not play the game (or with the people) again...


Also, in most games with at least a minuscule amount of luck, this is nigh impossible.


Therefore I am only asking for situation #1.


[Edit]
Seeing how this seems to turn out in the end (argument-kingmaking?), I might take you, mimi2 and chris1nd, up on your offers regarding slothninja...
 
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Dumon wrote:
Are there kingmaking situations even in games of experienced players? Meaning - will there be situations where one person's move that is NOT dictated by obligation will swing the game this way or that?


Frequently, which is part of what makes the game so interesting. The challenge is to understand and predict those events and to then manipulate them to fall to your favour.

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The thing is, if you have to work through very painful games to reach the prize - if you spend copious hours NOT enjoying the game, only with the thought of one day reaching enjoyment...
...then it is not a game, then it is Chatholicism.


Then it is a game with a learning curve. Such things can be attractive and interesting in their own right.
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No on both accounts, clearclaw.
A genuine kingmaking situation, as defined above, is a situation you CANNOT manipulate beforehand. It is precisely a situation where it befalls only the player to swing this way or that, thereby making one or the other player the winner.
The game is about creating obligations. That I know. But that is not what I asked.

The second part - learning curve - is not generally the same as tedious struggle. A game can have a learning curve and still be fun. Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game has a learning curve, albeit a shorter one. Antiquity has a learning curve, and a longer one. Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization has a significant learning curve. These games are still fun, even if you make mistakes. Even if all of you make mistakes, they do not have final rounds where the game just drudges on. Granted, Antiquity can have that. That is why you should start without pollution (and hunger?).

However, there are games that are drudgingly tedious, and just boring or a pain, to learn. Yes, that is a learning curve, too. But it is not a fun one. Tammany Hall is such a game to me, albeit opinions will vary on that one...
To put it bluntly - yes, what you said is true, it is a learning curve. But whereas a learning curve can be tedious, it does not have to be. So generalizing here does not help.
 
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Dumon wrote:
A genuine kingmaking situation, as defined above, is a situation you CANNOT manipulate beforehand.


Bollocks. They can be predicted long before they occur, and thus can be setup and thus manipulated. Doing so requires deep reads of the game of course, but then that's the point of the game eh?

Quote:
It is precisely a situation where it befalls only the player to swing this way or that, thereby making one or the other player the winner.
The game is about creating obligations. That I know. But that is not what I asked.


The game is also one of deliberately putting another player in the position of getting a huge game swinging advantage, effectively pre-electing them as winner, unless a third player does something they don't want to do about it.

Quote:
The second part - learning curve - is not generally the same as tedious struggle. A game can have a learning curve and still be fun.


It took me ~50 plays and abject losses at the 18xx before I ever won one, and we're fairly sure that was a banking error. Whether that is fun or not is up to you.

Quote:
These games are still fun, even if you make mistakes. Even if all of you make mistakes, they do not have final rounds where the game just drudges on.


Again, whether that is fun or not is up to you. I found it fascinating.

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Granted, Antiquity can have that. That is why you should start without pollution (and hunger?).


Aww, that's wimping out.

Quote:
However, there are games that are drudgingly tedious, and just boring or a pain, to learn. Yes, that is a learning curve, too. But it is not a fun one.


I accept that there must be, but I've not found any -- then again the learning curve is why I play games in the first place.

Quote:
But whereas a learning curve can be tedious, it does not have to be. So generalizing here does not help.


I see that as an entirely subjective choice. You get to make a choice as to how interesting and/or fun it is for you.
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clearclaw wrote:

Bollocks. They can be predicted long before they occur, and thus can be setup and thus manipulated. Doing so requires deep reads of the game of course, but then that's the point of the game eh?


Okay.
I grant you that they can be predicted if you are good at the game.

However, that still does not change the situation:
If one player is under no obligation to two players, but has to give his influence in a ministry to one of the two, and if both players will win the game if they get the bigger amount of points in the ministry, then this possibly is a situation that could have been predicted.
Nevertheless, it does not change the fact that the player giving up his influence is the one who is kingmaking. And that is, in this situation, not manipulated.

I grant you that prediction can help to set up the game in a way that occurrence of situations like this is minimized. I would wager, though, that it can never be fully prevented. Especially if not all players are good at the game, and thus will make mistakes leading to these situations.

That is, "especially those".
My question therefore was: "Does this also happen in a game with experienced players (and no noobs)?"
...or can that be prevented, and will rarely occur...

clearclaw wrote:

It took me ~50 plays and abject losses at the 18xx before I ever won one, and we're fairly sure that was a banking error. Whether that is fun or not is up to you.

It is not the winning that counts. I rarely win with my regular crowd. Even if I play games more often, I don't. Because I am not really the calculating type. But I still have tremendous fun with such games.

But if most of the people are not enjoying the game, then that is, in my opinion, not a learning curve it is worth going through.

Of course, as you said, what someone enjoys and what he does not enjoy is very different for different people.
For us, playing a lot of games where above-mentioned situations of true king-making occur, until the game works like it should (with no such situations), would not be enjoyable...
...I guess...

clearclaw wrote:

Quote:
Granted, Antiquity can have that. That is why you should start without pollution (and hunger?).


Aww, that's wimping out.

True.
But not everyone I play games with is a logical thinker, or a calculatory gamer. I myself am not.
Still, the first time we played it in full, and it was fantastic. I was on the winning streak, and got overtaken by another player with victory so close I could taste it. It was fantastic!

clearclaw wrote:

I see that as an entirely subjective choice. You get to make a choice as to how interesting and/or fun it is for you.


True.
That is why I ask so many questions...
 
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Dumon wrote:
However, that still does not change the situation:
If one player is under no obligation to two players, but has to give his influence in a ministry to one of the two, and if both players will win the game if they get the bigger amount of points in the ministry, then this possibly is a situation that could have been predicted.
Nevertheless, it does not change the fact that the player giving up his influence is the one who is kingmaking. And that is, in this situation, not manipulated.

I grant you that prediction can help to set up the game in a way that occurrence of situations like this is minimized. I would wager, though, that it can never be fully prevented. Especially if not all players are good at the game, and thus will make mistakes leading to these situations.

That is, "especially those".
My question therefore was: "Does this also happen in a game with experienced players (and no noobs)?"


I would expect those situations to happen regularly throughout the game, and for a smaller fraction (20%?) of games to be decided that way. Struggling with setting up, preventing or colouring those situations is much of the game. Much like König von Siam, to which Confucius is oddly dissimilarly similar, has a similar focus on tiebreakers, managed king-making, and constantly forking the other players into lose-lose situations.

We run about 35% admiral wins, with the rest run by straight points.

Quote:
For us, playing a lot of games where above-mentioned situations of true king-making occur, until the game works like it should (with no such situations), would not be enjoyable...


Kingmaking will occur even when the game is played skilfully. Predictively managing that is part of the game.
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I was a playtester on Confucius and I still like it although rarely play it these days (so many other games).

I think in the end this is possibly not the right game for you, and definitely not the right game for your situation.

It's a game that needs repeat plays to grasp it's nuances, and if you play with different first time players each time no-one but you will ever get that experience. Also, it needs to be played by players who enjoy the learning curve, not find it tedious, as you do.

That's all fine, no game is for everyone, and Confucius is very specific in it's appeal. Unless your situation and possible tastes change, I don't see you forming a different opinion in another half dozen games say...

Your bugs are other people's features. I can understand why you don't want them in the game, but that means you don't want this game.
 
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Oh.

Interesting.
Reading and rereading your post, Kelanen, I think I get it now. I think I get what the game is about...
...and correct me, if I'm wrong, or at least correct my direction...

So, as I (now) understand it...

...the game is about trying to manage other players into situations where they actually have to give YOU the victory, or are unable to do anything to prevent it. And, in turn, finding out how far you get on this way of making other players do what you want...

Basically, it is a game of direct (through gifts) and indirect (through impossible choices) manipulation...

Is that it?

Because then the goal of the game is not winning - the goal of the game is to see how far you can get to victory. The true goal is the path to victory, and how far you progress on it...

Is that it?

Because if it is, and I got it now, then that changes the whole approach. Then that literally changes everything!
And the learning curve (i.e. the path) really becomes the only reason for playing this game.

Thank you all.
This discussion has been an eye-opener.
Interestingly, that is exactly how I think you should approach other players, regarding this game. Tell them that the game is not about winning, but about the way there. And make them understand that their own progress, and to watch how their own plans come to fruition (or not), is the thing that should be at the heart of the game...

If I can teach other players to see this, too, I think that they will be able to enjoy it, too.

Also, this means that kingmaker situations in a game mean that you have failed in your goal to progress on your path as far as possible, and must try again. And kingmaking becomes the enemy, not your fellow player. You actually play against the mechanisms of the game. Or at least in addition to your fellow gamers...
 
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Dumon wrote:
Because then the goal of the game is not winning - the goal of the game is to see how far you can get to victory. The true goal is the path to victory, and how far you progress on it.. Is that it?

No, because the goal of the game is still to win. That is why you are playing the game, that is what drives the struggle, of setting up obligations that are exceedingly painful to break, and so forth. If there is no reason to do those things (i.e., winning), why are you doing that? Confucius is, exxagerating a little, emphatically not about role playing in which the players imagine entire back stories for their actions and give up influence because gramps suddenly died of a foul disease which yaddayaddayadda.

However, Confucius belongs to a rare class of games where the path to winning is far more interesting than who eventually won. Normally you would expect this to be true for all games you play (think of Knizia's tenet The goal of a game is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning here). But in practice many games are not like that: player interaction is minimal, it is 'just' a matter of exploiting a growth engine more efficiently, or being able to push the game's buttons a little better, etcetera. The 'average gamer' likes those 'button pushers', and abhorrs 'freestyle' titles like Confucius, which is why you will find this title languishing around rank #1000 or thereabouts. But I daresay that from a game theoretical point of view, it blows most of the top-1000 titles away.

Pointing out that the way to winning is what makes Confucius fairly unique and that players should actively pursue their theories on how to make that happen given the nature of obligations is a Good Thing; telling that it's not about winning is emphatically not.
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cymric wrote:

No, because the goal of the game is still to win. That is why you are playing the game, that is what drives the struggle, of setting up obligations that are exceedingly painful to break, and so forth. If there is no reason to do those things (i.e., winning), why are you doing that? [...]

However, Confucius belongs to a rare class of games where the path to winning is far more interesting than who eventually won. Normally you would expect this to be true for all games you play (think of Knizia's tenet The goal of a game is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning here). But in practice many games are not like that: player interaction is minimal, it is 'just' a matter of exploiting a growth engine more efficiently, or being able to push the game's buttons a little better, etcetera.


Now, that is interesting.
I find a way to make the game enticing to me, and also a way to make the struggle worthwile, and you shoot it down by giving the most bland explanation ever.

First, I know what RPGs are. I am an avid player (mostly GMing), and also a contributor to one. That this is not such a game, is a given.

Second, not all games are about winning.
Some games are about not losing (like Aye, Dark Overlord! The Red Box).
Some games are even (mostly) about the experience itself (like Panic Station).
And then there are games that are more about the story than the game (like Once Upon a Time: The Storytelling Card Game).

A game is a game is a game is a game...
...is completely false.

Thirdly, if a game is about winning, winning due to either sheer chance or due to the (unmitigated) whim of a fellow player is not enticing. If it is always about the competition, and about the struggle for the win (keeping Knizia's theorem in mind, which is one of the most important ideas in gaming for me), then games where you cannot completely influence if you win or not are not worthwile. Because they are not competitions that you win based on your own abilities and achievements.

That is, of course, what you would say about a generic Euro game. Mostly. If you generalize unfairly.

Fourthly, games with high player interaction can be structured in a way that you are (almost) completely in control of your own fate. Look at Cité. It does not come any more interactive than this. And you win ONLY due to your own conduct in the game. Being better, faster and more successful than your fellow players in negotiation is key.

Fifthly, a game that has, at its core, the path to victory, not the victory itself, is still a struggle. Still a competition. But a competition against the game itself, against yourself, AND against your fellow players. Whereas victory is the end of said path, and you can reach it if you master the path, it is the path that is most interesting.

It is, in other words, the learning curve that is most interesting.
And while I figured that that is what you have been telling me all the time ("this game is all about learning to play it"), you are now doing a 180°, telling me it's not.

So, basically, I not only found a way to make it interesting to me, and make the struggle to learn the game worthwile and interesting for me.
And what you do is say:
"You have no idea, pal. Just give up."

Every game has, at its core, a little thing called "what it is about". While this might change a little due to your point of view, most factors stay the same.

If you play "Panic Station" only to win, you will fail. If you teach the game with victory as the highest regard, you will fail.

If you play "Aye, Dark Overlord" to win, you miss out on the fun, and miss the point of the game entirely.

If you play Confucius to win, your game can tank, if you realize that there are situations that you cannot control, no matter what you do, and you will lose despite having done everything right (you think).
However, if you play Confucius to learn to play Confucius, than you still strive for victory within the confines of the game universe, but the Metagame goal becomes something more. Something more rewarding, and something a lot less frustrating.

You could almost say, something more zen, something Confucian...

And I really wonder why you shoot me down. If I don't win, but cherish what I learn, I am the best opponent you will ever have in a game. Because I still will do everything I can to win, but I will evolve, and will enjoy evolving tremendously more than securing victory over you. That makes me the best possible loser - the loser that will always come back for more, and will always give it his all.


However, ultimately we differ greatly.
Because, based on your statement, you will cherish a game that you will always win because you have found the best way to do so. Learning the best way to win, and securing to win as often as possible (and, if possible, always) is what you strive for.

For me, a game where I know I will win because I am that good, or where I have the best possible chance of winning (because I reached this level of knowledge) is a broken game. I have no reason to play with my fellow gamers, anymore. Because there will be no competition.
 
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Dumon wrote:

I find a way to make the game enticing to me, and also a way to make the struggle worthwile, and you shoot it down by giving the most bland explanation ever.


If that thought process makes the game interesting to you, then good on you - go with it. BUT... that is not what the game is designed to be, and you shouldn't propose that it is.

Dumon wrote:

Second, not all games are about winning.


Of course they are!

At least, all boardgames are about winning (lets exclude RPG's). I don't see a point to play any game if I am not trying to win. I also don't see a point in playing a game where I can't win more than the other players (I can't stand true co-ops).

I play games to try and understand their internal systems better than the other players, and thus beat them. It's a purely competitive thing.

Dumon wrote:

(keeping Knizia's theorem in mind, which is one of the most important ideas in gaming for me)


This may be the difference - I disagree greatly with Knizia's theorem. And whilst Knizia is a very commercially successful designer with a handful of titles that I respect, more than 95% of his designs are to my mind complete crap.

Dumon wrote:

If you play "Panic Station" only to win, you will fail. If you teach the game with victory as the highest regard, you will fail.


A classic example of a game I wouldn't play - it's no game at all to me.

Dumon wrote:

If you play Confucius to win, your game can tank, if you realize that there are situations that you cannot control, no matter what you do, and you will lose despite having done everything right (you think).


It tanks for YOU (and surely some others). On the other hand just playing it to win works fine for many people, just not you.
 
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I agree on your opinion about Knizia's designs, as I also dislike most of those I got to know. For several reasons, possibly different ones from yours.
However, for me, I am in it to win it, in every game this fits. But when the game ends, and I did not win, then that is absolutely fine. I think that is what Knizia's theorem is about...

I also agree that it tanks for me due to undesirable effects. That is greatly personal - as opinions go, it always is. But I was not the only one at the table. Nor will I be, when I look at possible gaming buddies over here.

So, why should I not propose my way of judging the game as a possible way? Okay, it might not be the way for everybody, but why shouldn't I teach it this way? If I think it is worth it, and it gets mor favor this way? Your way of viewing the game does not win everyone over. So why favor it above my way?

Also, what the game is designed to be is fun. Nothing more, nothing less. The minute something is designed, and published, it is not the designer's own anymore (paraphrasing Gaiman) - it becomes a thing of the audience. Therefore, trying to establish what it IS or ISN'T can only be done in view of the user. Of course, there are aspects of common ground, but the details vary. And have to.

"Panic Station" is not a "game" to me, in the literal sense, as it does not work when you go in purely to win. But it is something very close to a game, and something very enjoyable, I have come to feel. That is, again, another personal opinion.

Two additional things.

First, RPG. Why the heck does that keep popping up? It has nothing to do here. Between most board games and RPG, there is a huge distance.

Second, the whole "only to play for the win".
Many games have metagame aspects. Or, rather, many people play games due to their own personal metagame aspect or approach. This can vary from person to person, and this can also vary from game to game. Umpteen permutations possible.

That said, metagame not often is designed to be covered by the game ab initio. But that does not mean that metagame changes, diminishes or completely replaces the original idea of the game.
My idea of playing the game for the learning curve does NOTHING, I repeat, LITERALLY NOTHING, to change the idea of playing for the win.
If you do not understand that, you might not understand what metagame is.

So if I propose, or suggest, that the idea of the game can be to play it to see how far you get on your personal victory track, this is the same as playing for the win, only with an additional layer on top.

And I can understand that you do not like coops. Or would never play Panic Station. You don't play to play. You play to dominate people, to be better than them in a very defined way.
...at least, that is what your statements reflect...

Frankly, I don't have to be better than others.

[Edit]
Rethinking and rereading my post, and the previous one or two, I have come to a conclusion. While the thread here has been a real eye-opener, and a tremendous help to me (and I thank ALL of you deeply for that), I think we have reached the point where it has exceeded its usefulness for me. What we do here is only bickering over details, and nitpicking. We have said all there is to say. At least to me, there is nothing else I can take with me that would help me any further.
So before this thread runs out of hand (for me - personal interpretation, see?), I think I will pack it in, and head for greener shores.

Thank you once again for all of your help, which provided me with tremendous insight, and made me find a way to enjoy the game, and to teach the game to newcomers that will minimize frustration, here (again, personal opinion).

Mimi2, and chris1nd, if you are still interested (who knows, after my argumentation, you might not be), drop me a line, and we'll set something up on slothninja.
 
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