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Subject: 2-player games unbalanced rss

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François Mahieu
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Well. It's a matter of fact, and almost written as such in the rulebook, but the 2-player game doesn't seem to work. Being the first player gives you almost the victory. The second player spends his time reacting to the first player's advance in military and/or to events. Hard to build any strategy other than reacting all along.

Though I love this game.

We might try some variants in our forthcoming games. Starting with different levels of difficulty, giving the second player more VPs, more resources... Maybe giving the second player the ability to choose a card first, then the first player plays two times, and the game keeps going on. I don't know, but the 2-player game needs some adjustment to be indeed enjoyable.
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Rafael Hannula
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Some extra gold for the 2nd player might be good.
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Ron
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I have only one 4 player game under my belt, but I achieved 2nd place without buying any military card (and therefore losing nearly every conflict). So while others built their military, I built my civil buildings and thought the disadvantages of losing wars and certain event cards are well balanced to my advantages of the better civilian buildings.

I'd have thought that this can be done also in a 2 player game, but I may be wrong here.

Another thought:
If the weakest player takes the war card for this round, everybody wins. The only danger you face then is the event card, which quite often demands a strong military.
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Tom Kassel
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I wonder if two player might work better if player order was high stability with war tie break rather than the other way round.
 
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Rafael Hannula
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Tom Kassel wrote:
I wonder if two player might work better if player order was high stability with war tie break rather than the other way round.


I don't think so. It would be very bad for the game balance
 
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Daniel Hammond
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I have played quite a few 2 player games and they didn't typically come down to a fight for highest military. If the guy with the highest military buys a good military unit the lowest guy buys the war, if he takes the war and you can get a much better military guy then great, otherwise focus on books and stability.
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Daniel Corban
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I'm going to treat two-player here as I do with Through the Ages, as a learning game. I imagine it will have the same zero-sum issues making it less interesting and unfair, especially if there is a significant disparity in experience.
 
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Rustan Håkansson
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To learn the game we really recommend playing with 3-4 players, or solo. 2-player is tough but I like it a lot and in my experience it works well for experience players. In many games it has felt decided after 3-4 rounds only to end with the "losing" player coming back and winning. Playing catch-up is often useless, especially in strength. Realizing this and seeing other options for useful things to do are key to winning, regardless of what you have a shortage in at the moment. I recommend playing the 2-player game with the B-sides, where the second player chooses the most suitable nation for the cards available first. But to play with the B-sides you should ideally have played a couple of games first...
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François Mahieu
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If you're highest in military, you're first to play. If you're first to play, you buy the wars. Easy as cake. And I don't even mention events rewarding the strongest in military. And most of all, the colonies you collect using your military power.

In a 2-player game, believe me it's tough.

B-sides makes it even harder. I was the second player, and started with B-side of Egypt (without any military card). During the first 2 turns, only 1 military card was drawn. My opponent took it immediately. Game over.

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Rustan Håkansson
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You have the whole round to prepare for the war if the opponent buys it as the first action. The opponent loses any chance of increasing or decreasing strength to affect the war after that, and is most probably not going to reduce below the war strength. Sounds like a perfect opportunity to ignore military, even if you have cards for it, and build something more constructive.

In my experience it is very seldom a good first move to buy a war. Yes, the colonies are needed to make a military-heavy strategy work at all, and if you keep buying them to deny your opponent you will get very small returns yourself.

Having no military card at all reduces your options a lot, but is in no way a deal-breaker. It is riskier on 2 players than on more, as your opponent will be able to buy a war at really minimum strength and get a lot of benefit.

If there were not at least 2 military cards in the initial draw then picking Egypt was immediately limiting (remember, player 2 picks before player 1). There were probably other interesting options that made you pick it, both those and the power of Egypt will only show up in the long run. Egypt, and even more so China, might feel far behind in a 2-player game after some rounds. If you lose to war every round and lose both VP and full resources then you will lose. But that means not building military or stability or buying preventive wars. Thats a lot of cards to have no chance of buying.

Your chance of coming out ahead in the end might still be very good after losing to some early wars and getting nothing from events. The total situation is hard to judge and many things can throw the leader off balance, especially on the B-sides with fewer building slots and also especially if the leader is military-heavy.
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François Mahieu
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RustanR wrote:

If there were not at least 2 military cards in the initial draw then picking Egypt was immediately limiting (remember, player 2 picks before player 1)


By picking first, you mean choose a nation to play with? Actually we drew our nation cards randomly.
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Christoph M.
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If you cannot catch up in military strength, go for stability. That will minimize your losses to war (and he still has to pay for the cards).
His workers are bound in military, yours on stability cards (which usually give another resource benefit).
Stability also helps with many events.

Regarding turn order, colonies and battles this still leaves the military player in front - but you can still employ some military yourself, e.g. a single lone unit with high battle strength (-> battles), some military strength for colonies etc.

After 4 plays - 1 solo, 3 2pl - I cannot say going first is decisive or going military is game-breaking. Absolutely not.
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Rustan Håkansson
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poifpoif wrote:
RustanR wrote:

If there were not at least 2 military cards in the initial draw then picking Egypt was immediately limiting (remember, player 2 picks before player 1)


By picking first, you mean choose a nation to play with? Actually we drew our nation cards randomly.


Yes, please see page 21, where the rules for B-sides are. Without this rule the B-sides are unbalanced.
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François Mahieu
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Chris Coyote wrote:

After 4 plays - 1 solo, 3 2pl - I cannot say going first is decisive or going military is game-breaking. Absolutely not.


I would say the opposite, and also played 3 2-player games with experienced gamers. It's not so much about launching wars, but more about controlling the military, the events, going first until the end and buying colonies. Anyway I love this game and gave it a 9. But as such, I think the 2-player game is definitely unbalanced. I don't say the first player will always win, but 8 times out of 10 most probably.

Now maybe using the b-sides of the nation cards and letting the second player choose his nation first, after the progress cards have been revelaed, might improve things. We'll give it a try.
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Daniel Hammond
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poifpoif wrote:
I don't say the first player will always win, but 9 times out of 10 most probably.


I didn't have B sides to play with, but even so I don't see how you can possibly say that, as WAY TOO much happens in a game for that to be true. Each person is only taking one action before the next person goes right?

edit: 8 or 9 out of 10: my friend Lewis and I played at least 6 2 player games at various difficulty levels and it was always tight and who went first was an insignificant advantage.
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François Mahieu
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As I just wrote it:
Quote:
It's not so much about launching wars, but more about controlling the military, and so the events, keeping on going first until the end and buying colonies.


If the first player is smart, he'll try to "control" the military until the 3rd or the last Era. Colonies are quite powerfull, and in a 2-player game, it seems it'll always be the first player who'll get them during the first rounds.

I'll keep on playing 2-player games with Rustan Håkansson's recommandations until we reach 10 games. Then I should have something statistically relevant.
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Daniel Hammond
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poifpoif wrote:
As I just wrote it:
Quote:
It's not so much about launching wars, but more about controlling the military, and so the events, keeping on going first until the end and buying colonies.


If the first player is smart, he'll try to "control" the military until the 3rd or the last Era. Colonies are quite powerfull, and in a 2-player game, it seems it'll always be the first player who'll get them during the first rounds.

I'll keep on playing 2-player games with Rustan Håkansson's recommandations until we reach 10 games. Then I should have something statistically relevant.


He can only buy 1 at a time, if you have not kept your military high enough to get a colony then you have no one to blame but yourself. I will often increase my military at a specific point in the game just to upgrade my colonies. If I have high enough military to acquire new colonies then it means my opponent can't just dink me on military that turn and if typically he has been spending on military and then spending to upgrade military that is a lot of wasted resources. Also some events preempt highest military from going first.
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Thanee
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Chris Coyote wrote:
If you cannot catch up in military strength, go for stability.


This is my feeling as well (only played one 3-player game so far, mind you).

Decent Stability makes War almost a non-issue.

Best coupled with good Food production, so you can take your extra workers from the left side (the -3 food ones) until your Stability is high enough.

I would generally try to get at least some military (a single unit at least) to be able to grab some of the Battles and early Colonies (filling those card slots is quite good, even if you never upgrade them).

Bye
Thanee
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Richard Ham
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We just had our first 2p game, and didn't see the problems that the OP is talking about at all. I went heavy into military early, and my wife almost completely ignored it the whole game. I was able to repeatedly buy wars cheap, but since she didn't care about military, she had her nation's stability so high she never lost a single resource to war. So basically, throughout the game, I was spending 1 gold (sometimes 2) to earn one point by starting a war. That's a great return, but hardly game breaking. On a few turns where I didn't buy a war immediately, she bought it, so that she was effectively paying 1 (or 2) gold to not lose a point (so net benefit of having 1 more point at the end of the game effectively).

Plus, I got hit by events just as often as her, since there were plenty that rewarded more stability, more food, more stuff other than military. And her stability meant she won almost every end of age bonus point to be had.

Overall, we were really really pleased with how military was handled in the game - very well balanced it seemed. In the end, I won by one point(33 to 32) - I had benefited from colonies and battles, but she had generated SOOOO many more goods than me (went round the book track 1.5 times) that it was a real squeaker.

GREAT STUFF! We both LOVED it!
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François Mahieu
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We don't have the same experience here. Colonies are actually our main concern. They are the main benefit of a high military level early in the game. They really make the difference. I played the game 6 times so far, 2 5-player games, 1 4-player game, 1 3-player game, and 2 2-player games. The first player won 5 games out of 6. In the last game, the second player won because the first player didn't go for military and didn't get the colonies... Weird.
 
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Daniel Hammond
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poifpoif wrote:
We don't have the same experience here. Colonies are actually our main concern. They are the main benefit of a high military level early in the game. They really make the difference. I played the game 6 times so far, 2 5-player games, 1 4-player game, 1 3-player game, and 2 2-player games. The first player won 5 games out of 6. In the last game, the second player won because the first player didn't go for military and didn't get the colonies... Weird.


Just to be clear, the first person takes a single action and then the second person and the third person, etc.

In the earliest age if player 1 grabs an improved military unit then my first action could be to increase my military (2), then his next turn he could be at military strength (3), then I could be at 4 which means I would be able to get a ST4 colony on my 3rd turn (I could also beat him to a ST2 or 6 colony, if I thought it would decide the game).

I have well over 12 plays of Nations as a playtester and have never seen what you are describing, which doesn't mean it isn't happening but it seems like something is going very wrong if that simple dynamic changes the game for you every time. If your opponent grabs military grab a leader or a wonder or a stability building... Many ways to win, and while the resource bonuses are nice Colonies can only give you 4VPs.
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François Mahieu
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It clearly depends on the cards available at the start of the game though. If we didn't have colonies and/or if we had plently of military cards, we would probably play it differently. But so far we almost always drew 2 colonies and 0 or 1 military card... Maybe it is just (bad) luck then. I don't know.

Another consideration: going into stability (only) when you can't follow the military isn't enough to compensate. Soon or later you'll pay the price as the military gives you much more advantages (player order, battles, wars, events and colonies). I think.

Don't misunderstand me. We trully love this game and can't help playing it again and again. But at this stage, we have a few concerns about how the military is balanced. Maybe it'll change once we'll know the cards better.
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Richard Ham
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poifpoif wrote:
Another consideration: going into stability (only) when you can't follow the military isn't enough to compensate. Soon or later you'll pay the price as the military gives you much more advantages (player order, battles, wars, events and colonies). I think.

Hmm, player order, yes, you lose that, no doubt. It hurts, but there's a lot of cards out there, it seems far from game breaking.

Battles - these are great, and become the main way for a military player to make up for the fact that he's constantly draining resources where non-military players aren't. But, battles are a place where having a ton of military doesn't help... one single unit gives you all the raid power you're going to get, raid doesn't stack. So it's perfectly reasonable for a non-military player to keep 1 single unit around, solely so he can soak up some of those battles and deny the heavy military player.

Wars - again, with enough stability, wars become a way for either player (military or stability focused) to spend 1 gold to net 1 point. Equally available to either player, that is, IF war cards come up at all, so it's not a guaranteed point every round for the military player unless he uses his first turn advantage for it. But the stability player does gets a *much* better chance to earn a point every other turn at the end of ages. So seems fairly balanced.

Events - I just did a quick count, and the number of "pure benefit to military player" event cards is outnumbered almost 2:1 by "no benefit to military player" cards. The vast majority of cards have 1 benefit to military, and 1 benefit for something else (mostly stability). So these seem very evenly balanced to spread the event love (or ruin).

Colonies - these are awesome, no doubt. But again, you can grab some early colonies with just a couple of units, and then "fire" the units, and hold on to the colonies for the rest of the game getting close to the same rewards as the heavily military player.

Quote:
Don't misunderstand me. We trully love this game and can't help playing it again and again. But at this stage, we have a few concerns about how the military is balanced. Maybe it'll change once we'll know the cards better.


I think you might want to try the heavy military vs heavy stability showdown with this one thing in mind: just because you're heavy in stability doesn't mean you can't afford to hire an occasional military unit to grab a colony or battle here and there.
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Andre Bronswijk
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Player order is less important in a 2-player-game. And the military strategy is not an auto-win in a 2-player-game.

In my last 2-player-game I ignored military for most rounds. There was only 1 round (number 5) where I picked up one military card of the third age and went to 21 military for grabbing 2 colonies. But next round I returned all military workers to other buildings. I won the game. Military is not that important.

It seems that the OP did not understand how to play other strategy options.
 
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François Mahieu
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Actually, it is not only the 2-player game that is unbalanced by the randomly drawn player order at the beginning of the game, but all the other configurations as well. I played the game 12 times so far. The randomly drawn first player at the beginning won 8 times, the second player 3 times, and the third player (in a 5p game) only once. The last player never won. This randomly drawn player order, combined with the randomly drawn progress cards at the beginning can have devastating effects, with the 3rd or 4th player in turn order having no other choice than waiting for better days, without having any other opportunity to raise their military or stability than using the base cards printed on their boards, sometimes for a couple of turns, sometimes until the end of the second era. Being the last on the military track forces you to be the last in player order, and the last to choose the newcoming progress cards. You're stuck in a vicious circle that can only be broken by getting a card that will raise either your military or your stability. When you play with "heavy" experienced gamers, that can take up to 4 turns in a row.

We all agree (a group of 10 different experienced gamers) with what seems to be some balance issue. From now on we'll be working on variants to maintain our enjoyment with the game. We're going to use the difficulty level as the turn order track, the first player being emperor, and the fourth chieftain. Wait and see.
 
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