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Parthenon: Rise of the Aegean» Forums » Strategy

Subject: Risk Management Article rss

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Andrew Parks
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Shannon Appelcline has written a very insightful analysis of Parthenon's risk management strategies. You can read the article at the link below:

http://boredgamegeeks.blogspot.com/2006/03/problem-with-luck...

Nice work, Shannon!

Andrew

-----------------------------

Andrew Parks
Parthenon Co-Designer
Siren Bridge Publishing
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David desJardins
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Bleh.
 
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Curt Carpenter
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In real life, I can afford all of the following: [edit: fixed format]
Item.............. Mitigates against
------------------ --------------------
Food.............. Hunger
Health insurance.. Disease
Life insurance.... Leaving family poor
Home.............. Exposure to elements
Fire insurance.... Loss of home
Flood insurance... Loss of home
Dential insurance. Teeth problems
Car insurance..... Auto accidents
Education......... Unemployment
Exercise.......... Poor health


Etc. I pretty much have all major risks in my life mitigated. But I still have some money left over (amazingly) for other stuff.

But in Parthenon, the opportunity cost to mitigate all risks is too high, and yet the penalty for getting hit by an unmitigated risk can be devastating. Thus the winner is usually the player who happens to not get penalized by the risk(s) he didn't mitigate.
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Shannon Appelcline
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If you could mitigate all your risks and still have money left over, I don't think that'd be much of a game.

I also can't particularly agree with the statement that getting hit by penalties is "devastating".
 
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Curt Carpenter
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shannona wrote:
If you could mitigate all your risks and still have money left over, I don't think that'd be much of a game.

Ok. I disagree though (in general--you may be right in the context of this game). There are many great games that allow you to mitigate all risks (to the extent that a given risk is able to be mitigated at all). Or more specifically, there are many great games that don't have so many specific risks that each need separate mitigation with a high opportunity cost of doing so. What's makes them "much of a game" is what you do with your resources to try to get ahead, not just avoid all the bombs.

shannona wrote:
I also can't particularly agree with the statement that getting hit by penalties is "devastating".

We must be playing different games then, or have different ideas of what constitutes "devastating". I'm not the only one making these claims. I just checked session reports, and in the first one I looked at I see he chose the exact same word:
Greg Schloesser wrote:
...I lost all of my commodities due to a storm. I forced Jim to read the card twice since I was incredulous over the idea of losing ALL of my commodities. Again, this is just WAY too devastating [emphasis by Curt]. This cost me the ability to construct two buildings that turn, and even though I finished the year with 12 buildings, my hand of commodities had been depleted. I would not recover.

I was also stymied by the presence of some very tough harbor cards. For three turns in a row, I actually had enough commodities to construct my wonder, but storms or harbor cards prevented me from completing my task. Very, VERY frustrating.

Yup.
 
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Shannon Appelcline
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Honestly (and without having read the whole SR), it sounds like that player was playing badly (which I can totally understand if it was a first-time game).

He was being greedy by putting six resources on a boat with no protection. He chose to be the player with the most resources onboard(6) and he choose not to have an aegis to protect him. About 50% of the time you're going to take some loss from that maneuver, so I can't even say that his result was particularly unlucky. I'd say, "expected".

As for losing your whole boatload, yeah that's bad, but ultimately it was a result of the player's actions. I suppose that goes to the question of whether you *should* be able to make really bad decisions as a player.



 
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Greg Schloesser
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From my most recent Parthenon experience:

When I last played Parthenon, I was the victim of some harsh events and harbor cards, devastating my plans and dashing my hopes for victory. These adverse events were persistent and severe … FAR too severe and omnipotent for my tastes. It truly left the proverbial “bad taste” in my mouth, and ruined what I thought was a very interesting game, one which held such great promise.

Still, I wanted to play the game again. I read Shannon Applecline’s treatise on how proper planning and caution could overcome the luck, so was anxious to put his theories to the test. Our group of six players had mixed experience, with two having played twice previously, two once previously, and two brand new to the game. Sadly, experience was no match for the sadistic calamities and overpowering bad luck, which smashed most players turn after turn.

We had an intriguing exchange of emails following the game, wherein various topics concerning Parthenon were discussed. With the permission of the participants, I’m reprinting their comments here.

Kevin Bender:

All of us felt like we had been subjected to the proverbial 'boot to the head' by the end of the game, thanks to all the terrible things that can happen to your fleets and your commodities from bad events or hazard cards.

Rhonda compared it to having all the evil events of Shadows Over Camelot
without any of the fun.

I still like the game and enjoy the theme and construction of buildings and voyages to foreign ports to trade goods. The first player to construct the 14 buildings on his island and 2 wonders wins the game.
However, there is a great deal of luck in this game, and sometimes it's good, and sometimes it's bad. Really bad.

Or is there?

Certain buildings players construct on their islands allow the building of armies, warships, or Gifts of Poseidon. Each of these 'Aegis' cards protects against a certain type of bad event. (Armies protect from Harbor Tribute, Warships protect from Pirates, and Gift of Poseidon protects from the first storm card hazard that fleet encounters).
But to build those protections a player must expend resources that would otherwise be used to build one of the buildings on his island. Therefore, building the Aegis cards slows your progress toward victory.

Or does it?

I have yet to play a game where more then one or 2 aegis cards are built during the entire game. This is probably the wrong way to play.

(It is also possible to buy warships at a certain port or buy armies at a certain other port, which again would be a cautious and useful move to protect against hidden danger, but I've yet to see a player buy these resources).

It is certainly true that the cautious player who builds Aegis cards at the expense of direct progress could still be beaten by the lucky player that builds none.

In the end, The Cautious player should win more often then the Reckless player.

However, losing all your ship's cargo 2 or 3 turns in a row due to pirates or storms can be devastating, and can really sour a player's experience on the game as they feel they have no control over the game outcome. The end result of this is not a player that comes back to the game again and again, ready to revise their strategy, but instead creates a player who simply never wants to play this game again due to the overwhelming nature of the random badness that can destroy their well laid plans.

Me:

I'm not sure I agree with your opinion or Shannon's. Yes, there are things you can do to TRY to protect yourself against disasters, but there are SO many possible disasters and adverse cards that it is quite impossible to protect yourself against most of them, let alone all of them. You would spend all of your resources and time trying to build the buildings necessary to protect you, and then using the resources needed to secure the cards needed to protect you. I postulate that you would fall SO far behind the other players, there would be no catching-up.

Decisions must be made as to how best to use your resources and time. One must make those decisions based on probabilities, and the progress being made by your opponents. It is impossible to protect yourself against everything from the start, so you remain vulnerable to other hazards and disasters until you are able to build those protections.
As an example, in order to protect oneself against pirates, a player must first build the harbor, which requires some difficult-to-obtain resources. In order to obtain those resources, a player must sail abroad and take some risks. He is immediately at risk from storms and pirates, not to mention the four season cards, which can be devastating. Once he acquires those resources, he builds the harbor and on a future turn spends more resources to acquire a warship. He is now protected against pirates. This probably took 4 or 5 turns to complete this process. However, the player is still at risk against storms and those dastardly seasonal cards. Acquiring protection against each of these perils requires a similar process that can take numerous turns.

No, I'm not in the camp that says that a player can properly plan to protect himself against all of the risks that this game tosses at the players. I think you have to get lucky. Yes, be prudent, but you cannot play a highly cautious game and expect to win. You must take risks and hope to get lucky. I won last night primarily because I got lucky and my opponents did not.

Rhonda Bender:

I agree with the general point of risk vs. reward and making your own luck. I don’t agree that this particular game illustrates that point. Yes, there are items that can be acquired in the game to mitigate most/all of the negative events that can happen. The problem I see is that there are other game mechanisms that make it pretty much impossible to plan to have more than a couple of protections. I lean to being a slow, cautious player, but the game did not allow me to do that.

Thinking about it today, the big problem I see isn’t so much the variety of awful that can happen but your virtual powerlessness in planning for it. A player can be producing half the basic resources and one of four rare ones within a few rounds, and can trade with fellow players for the other basics and most of the other rares, although these are indeed rare and not everyone will have some to spare every round. Other than negotiation with the player Archon and a few cheesy Wonders of the World (discussed later), ALL of the other protections require resources that can ONLY be acquired by travel. Some of them can be acquired through local travel, which still carries 50% chance of risk and usually has a wildly inefficient resource exchange rate. Many of them require travel to foreign lands which is even riskier. So you can play it ‘safe’ by taking several turns to acquire gold and rare resources at huge cost (and with resource carryover problems discussed below), and still with 50% risk. Or you can travel farther at much greater risk for greater payoffs, either getting lucky or still taking several turns
to potentially gain the resources to build the protections. The philosophy protections require the long distance risk, as papyrus can only be purchased in Egypt. Assuming Egypt doesn’t have a blockade on or isn’t selling papyrus at the time, which was the case in two of three turns for our recent game.

Acquiring the resources is only the first half of the difficulty. The other half is keeping them, and I’m wondering if this is the biggest problem mechanic in the game. At the end of a season, you can hold over either 3 or less identical resources, or a hand of unique resources (which would usually be 5-6, but could possibly be as many as 11 cards late in the game). That means at most carrying over one ‘plan’ you might have. I might have 2/3 of the resources I need to buy an Aegis card, ½ of what I need for a building that offers protection, and ½ what I need for a Wonder that offers other protections, but the chance of my being able to keep all of those resources into the next turn when I might acquire the missing ingredients is practically nil, and the trading with other players phase is long over. So I build whatever my hand of resources fits, discard a few and start over again on all of those plans the next turn. And that’s just hurdle one on keeping the resources, the second hurdle is navigating the seasonal events, many of which strip one or more players of one or more resources. I’m wondering if even just allowing carry over of resources would be enough to reduce the sense of powerlessness.

Those two factors (you have to take risks to get protections from future risks and you can’t save enough resources to plan ahead to get protections from future risks) seem like a one-two punch that takes away any real control I have over my fate in the game. I don’t mind luck in games, and I don’t mind risk it all activities in games where that fits. Parthenon _seems_ like it should be a highly strategic Euro where it’s your decisions that ultimately shape your fate, but it sure didn’t feel like it while I was playing. I don’t like judging a game on only one play. I certainly could have played tighter, and there were a few areas of bad luck that probably wouldn’t be repeated in every game. But given that more experienced players than I had similar issues, I don’t feel as reluctant to make a judgment.

Cheesy Wonders of the World. Another factor is that the Wonders of the World seem poorly balanced, both in terms of costs and effects. There are several that cost only basic resources. These might be produced by the player drawing that Wonder, or easily traded for. Those in the mid level of difficulty cost you some resources donated to opponents, and the loss of ability to trade with them for a time. Others require going to particular places with particular items, opening yourself up to all the risks of travel to even get the Wonder started. For effects, most of them let you avoid negative events, but some of them were much more powerful than others in that regard. Byron was protected from Famine, which happened not to come up once in our game, while Jim used his Wonder’s ability on virtually every turn after it was built.

**

My overall conclusion is that Parthenon, while intriguing, is simply too harsh too often. You cannot protect yourself against the overwhelming amount of perils that can potentially devastate you. Spending time trying to do so sidetracks you from the steady progression that is needed to compete for victory. In order to secure the resources needed, players are forced to sail overseas, which entails great risk. So, the game forces you to consistently take risks, and the methods provided to protect oneself against these risk are either too costly or too time consuming, and would take too long to acquire. So, risks must be taken, with fingers crossed hoping for luck. Get lucky, and you’ll likely win. Get smacked by a few bad events, and you’ll likely lose.

While there is much to like here, the game is simply too brutally relentless. One feels as though he is being pounded from all angles by a bevy of boxers. The blows strike over and over again with devastating effect. One’s feeble attempts at defense cannot adequately protect against every angle, and blows continue to strike. As the game draws to a conclusion, like a battered and weary boxer, one is punch-drunk, staggering from repeated blows. It is frustrating and disillusioning, forcing one to utter those immortal words of Roberto Duran, “No mas!”
 
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jbrier
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Amen brother.

To those defending the merits of the game:

The fact that you even have to write an article on how the game should be played such that you don't have an abysmal experience illustrates that it is poorly designed. There are just way too many games out there that are actually well designed that I can't see an incentive to put effort into giving this another chance.
 
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Paul Sauberer
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I haven't played the game, but from reading the posts here and Shannon's article, it seems like the best strategy for the game boils down to

Arbitrarily guess where you are going to get whacked and defend against that. If you guess right you do well, if you guess wrong you are hosed.

Is this an accurate assessment?
 
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Greg Schloesser
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Psauberer wrote:
I haven't played the game, but from reading the posts here and Shannon's article, it seems like the best strategy for the game boils down to

Arbitrarily guess where you are going to get whacked and defend against that. If you guess right you do well, if you guess wrong you are hosed.

Is this an accurate assessment?


To a large extent, yes. You can play the odds regarding the seasonal event cards, but only if everyone is allowed to know the events that can possibly surface. Even then, though, trying to protect yourself against all of them is futile.

So, I'd say your assessment is pretty much accurate.
 
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David desJardins
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Psauberer wrote:
I haven't played the game, but from reading the posts here and Shannon's article, it seems like the best strategy for the game boils down to

Arbitrarily guess where you are going to get whacked and defend against that. If you guess right you do well, if you guess wrong you are hosed.

Is this an accurate assessment?


Not really. There's an important diplomatic layer where the players vote for the Archon and the Archon then gets to decide who suffers. This can have a big equalizing effect because the player who avoids other calamities is more likely to be a target. Of course, that may or may not be a type of mechanism that you like (I don't).
 
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David desJardins
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verandi wrote:
The fact that you even have to write an article on how the game should be played such that you don't have an abysmal experience illustrates that it is poorly designed. There are just way too many games out there that are actually well designed that I can't see an incentive to put effort into giving this another chance.


I don't like Parthenon, but I also think there's way too much emphasis on ease of play in modern boardgame publishing. It's gotten to the point where a game with any significant learning curve at all is hard to publish, because people are expecting a game that they can set up and play and will work well the very first time even before they have learned how the game works. And that severely restricts the variety of games. There are lots of older games that I enjoy that seem like they would never have a chance today.
 
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jbrier
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DaviddesJ wrote:
verandi wrote:
The fact that you even have to write an article on how the game should be played such that you don't have an abysmal experience illustrates that it is poorly designed. There are just way too many games out there that are actually well designed that I can't see an incentive to put effort into giving this another chance.


I don't like Parthenon, but I also think there's way too much emphasis on ease of play in modern boardgame publishing. It's gotten to the point where a game with any significant learning curve at all is hard to publish, because people are expecting a game that they can set up and play and will work well the very first time even before they have learned how the game works. And that severely restricts the variety of games. There are lots of older games that I enjoy that seem like they would never have a chance today.


Although I agree that there are some negative side effects that can potentially occur with this "emphasis" you are referring to in contemporary game gulture, overall it is a positive thing and in any event it's part of the evolution of games... better games will rise to the challenge of being easy to assimilate yet engaging with interesting decisions and flavor. If a game like Caylus can make it then I'm not too worried about games not being able to have learning curves. I think there's a difference between learning curve and a game having a bad ratio of complexity to depth.
 
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David desJardins
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verandi wrote:
Although I agree that there are some negative side effects that can potentially occur with this "emphasis" you are referring to in contemporary game gulture, overall it is a positive thing and in any event it's part of the evolution of games...


Of course it's part of the "evolution" of games. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good thing. There's a homogenization of board gaming which means that some subgroups of gamers are better served and others less well served.

Caylus has a minimal learning curve---there's no hidden information, no random events, basically everything that can happen will happen in the first time through the game, and at that point everyone should pretty well understand how to play. That's quite different from a game like Parthenon (or even San Juan) which has lots of different random things that can happen, and until you've experienced all of those different things (or, alternatively, studied or read about them) you can't really hope to play the game well.
 
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Michael Longdin
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Aegis cards are not the only way to reduce the risk involved with the hazards. If you don't overload your ship or send the biggest cargo load out then this reduces the chance of you getting hit.

This was not obvious to me until I realised that the first couple of games we played we'd got a rule wrong. In those first games we were drawing hazard cards for every different land visited (i.e. one each for Atehns, Sparta & Ionia and two each for Italy, Carthage and Egypt). The rules actually state that only one is drawn for all neigbouring lands and two for all foreign lands. Thus a maximum of 3 hazard cards per season. As a lot of these hazards focus on the ship with the most cargo or ships that have above 3 cargo you can avoid many of them by being prudent on what you send out. It also means that the draw each time is the same for everyone (if you take into account the difference between neigbouring and foreign lands) so you can't always say you had more bad draws than someone else (although the timing of the bad draw may hit you)
 
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