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Subject: Deck Building and Randomness Discussion rss

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Ryan Finley
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Please forgive me, as I haven't played as many games as others, but I wanted to talk a little about the way randomness works in deck builders.

It seems to me that Dominion is in some ways the "least" random deck builder. What I mean by that is that you can use randomness to establish the set of action cards, but once it's past initial setup the randomness fades. But then when you look at games like Ascension and Legendary, for instance, randomness of the cards persists throughout.

What I've found is that I enjoy Dominion MORE because it is less about what card or cards happen to be available to you on a given turn. In games like Ascension and Legendary the outcome can hinge much more greatly on randomness.

What do you think about the way randomness works in these games? Do you prefer the Dominion style which equates to an even playing field, or do you prefer later incarnations that make luck more of a factor?

Also, what are some Deck Builders that follow the Dominion model more closely? (I know Thunderstone is one, but frankly my group has found that game lacking every time we've tried it.)
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Bruce Gazdecki
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Well, in Eminent Domain the building of your "deck" is from only 5 stacks of actions. The planets are random, but that can be mitigated by game play actions.
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Benj Davis
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The main advantages of a game that's based on a randomised, flowing lineup (like Ascension or DC Deckbuilding) are a reduction in setup and breakdown time, plus it requires a constantly adapting strategy, whereas a game based on static sets (like Dominion, Rune Age or Eaten by Zombies!) can be, to a greater or lesser extent, "solved" for a given set and require more time and effort to put out piles and break them back down at the end of the game.

In general, I've been finding that I prefer lineup-based games more, as they have more of a sense of discovery and dealing with what's available. While different sets can be interesting in something like Dominion, the sense of "aha, I can combine x with y and it will do z!" doesn't last beyond the game setup.
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Benj Davis
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Tanto Cuore is the main one I can think of that follows the Dominion style most closely.
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Ryan Finley
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Maybe that's why Dominion almost HAS to churn out expansions one after another. (Though they sell, so I can't blame them!) You could most certainly solve the game if it had few randomized layouts.
 
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Ryan Finley
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Is there a game that mixes those two styles effectively? Say 50% of the game is in a randomized setup, while the other 50% is more of the "random line" of cards? The ones I have experience with do have a tiny mix (ie the "base" money/attack cards of ascension) but usually are heavily skewed to one side of that equation.

 
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David Gregg
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*cough* Nightfall *cough*

/shameless plug

In all seriousness though, Nightfall follows Dominion in having a set lineup, but due to the way cards combo on both yours and others' turns you have to constantly adapt to maximize your card play.

It's also important to have a way to consistently trim your deck so it isn't just getting fatter all the time, which helps to decrease the randomness on each draw. Eminent Domain has research cards that do this well and Nightfall's starter cards all remove themselves after their first play, achieving that same effect rather nicely.

Another thing that always bugs me in setup lineup deckbuilders is that everyone has access to the same lineup, so if something is working for someone else, you can just copy them. In Nightfall each player has 1/5 of the lineup that's unique to them, so you can't be copied (accomplished via a draft at the start of the game).

Hope that helps without being too obviously biased, lol
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Nathan Woll
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Jlerpy wrote:

In general, I've been finding that I prefer lineup-based games more, as they have more of a sense of discovery and dealing with what's available. While different sets can be interesting in something like Dominion, the sense of "aha, I can combine x with y and it will do z!" doesn't last beyond the game setup.


Yeah, I much prefer the "lineup based" type of deck-builder. I don't like to play the same game every time. I don't find it really that random either if the game is balanced well.

I have no interest in playing the other type of deck-builder.
 
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David Sevier
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I've found that I really like the Core Worlds mix of set options and randomness.

While not all cards will show up in the game, and there are a limited number of each card in any case, there are very consistent themes of cards throughout the decks. This lets you follow a set strategy (something very hard to do in Ascension once you get past 2 players) while having a much higher degree of randomness and player interaction than Dominion typically does.

Coupled with the optional initial draft that helps differentiate each player's deck at the start and I've yet to have any games that really feel the same even when I tried to follow the same strategy.
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Benj Davis
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splendorlex wrote:
Maybe that's why Dominion almost HAS to churn out expansions one after another. (Though they sell, so I can't blame them!) You could most certainly solve the game if it had few randomized layouts.


Even with the base game, there are a LOT of possible kingdom sets (about 11 trillion, from a rough calculation).
 
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Andrés Santiago Pérez-Bergquist
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nswoll wrote:
Jlerpy wrote:

In general, I've been finding that I prefer lineup-based games more, as they have more of a sense of discovery and dealing with what's available. While different sets can be interesting in something like Dominion, the sense of "aha, I can combine x with y and it will do z!" doesn't last beyond the game setup.


Yeah, I much prefer the "lineup based" type of deck-builder. I don't like to play the same game every time. I don't find it really that random either if the game is balanced well.

I have no interest in playing the other type of deck-builder.


Whereas I much prefer the different-stacks-every-game type of deckbuilder, because I don't like to play the same game every time. The lineup based ones are very random in what you can get for your deck and make it very hard to specialize, leading to every game feeling the same as you just take the good stuff and your deck plays one one of maybe two ways. (e.g. in Ascension, did you focus on military or whatever the mana/coins card-buying triangles are called?) The ones with different stacks play out very differently each time, because some abilities simply aren't in some of the games, and you can play out totally different strategies the depend on the existence of wacky cards that, as a singleton, wouldn't let you build your deck around them. The lineup ones play out like sealed-deck Magic. The pile-based ones play out like draft or even constructed.
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Ryan Finley
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s3rvant wrote:
*cough* Nightfall *cough*

/shameless plug

In all seriousness though, Nightfall follows Dominion in having a set lineup, but due to the way cards combo on both yours and others' turns you have to constantly adapt to maximize your card play.

It's also important to have a way to consistently trim your deck so it isn't just getting fatter all the time, which helps to decrease the randomness on each draw. Eminent Domain has research cards that do this well and Nightfall's starter cards all remove themselves after their first play, achieving that same effect rather nicely.

Another thing that always bugs me in setup lineup deckbuilders is that everyone has access to the same lineup, so if something is working for someone else, you can just copy them. In Nightfall each player has 1/5 of the lineup that's unique to them, so you can't be copied (accomplished via a draft at the start of the game).

Hope that helps without being too obviously biased, lol


My apologies for not having played Nightfall yet. I'll see about getting a copy and trying it out in the group!

You've hit on one of the issues that I have had with Dominion. In a given game, I rarely see vastly different strategies. There are often a few "best" cards that everyone jumps on ASAP.

However, I'm not so sure that the "lineup" based deck builders alleviate that problem. In those cases it's often all reaction. Can you follow a particular strategy in Ascension that is inherently different? Beyond concentrate on money vs concentrate on attack?
 
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Daniel Blumentritt
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Quote:
What I've found is that I enjoy Dominion MORE because it is less about what card or cards happen to be available to you on a given turn


How so?
 
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Benj Davis
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Santiago wrote:
nswoll wrote:
Jlerpy wrote:

In general, I've been finding that I prefer lineup-based games more, as they have more of a sense of discovery and dealing with what's available. While different sets can be interesting in something like Dominion, the sense of "aha, I can combine x with y and it will do z!" doesn't last beyond the game setup.


Yeah, I much prefer the "lineup based" type of deck-builder. I don't like to play the same game every time. I don't find it really that random either if the game is balanced well.

I have no interest in playing the other type of deck-builder.

e.g. in Ascension, did you focus on military or whatever the mana/coins card-buying triangles are called?


Runes. Runes and Punch Dollars I mean Power.
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Jeremy Lennert
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splendorlex wrote:
It seems to me that Dominion is in some ways the "least" random deck builder. What I mean by that is that you can use randomness to establish the set of action cards, but once it's past initial setup the randomness fades.

That may be true, but it's worth keeping in mind that Dominion is still pretty luck-dependent compared to most (non-deck-building) board games. There are definitely more- and less-skilled players, but the less-skilled players can win a significant fraction of the time due to luck of the shuffle.

Any game that starts with that formula and then adds more luck-dependent mechanics is going to have an uphill battle convincing me it's worth my time. (Of course, different players have different tolerances for luck-dependence...)


As long as we're making shameless plugs, my game For the Crown has deck-building with a supply determined at setup (like Dominion) but mixes it with Chess-style tactical maneuvering. (Take one game with a lot of luck and runaway escalation, one game with no luck and an emphasis on attrition, mix vigorously...)
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Russ Williams
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splendorlex wrote:
Maybe that's why Dominion almost HAS to churn out expansions one after another. (Though they sell, so I can't blame them!) You could most certainly solve the game if it had few randomized layouts.

"Solve" it in what sense? The "few" randomized possible setup combinations of the Dominion base set are C(25,10) = 25!/(10!*15!) = 3268760, if I am not mistaken.
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Rob Harper
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russ wrote:
"Solve" it in what sense? The "few" randomized possible setup combinations of the Dominion base set are C(25,10) = 25!/(10!*15!) = 3268760, if I am not mistaken.


You beat me to this point, Russ!

Dominion is an enormous game even just in its base game so no mere mortal could really "solve" it, even without expansions.

That said, good players learn to spot combinations, and that is the main skill in playing the game. And while you can usually discount half of the kingdom cards pretty quickly as being pretty much irrelevant to the game, there is always the chance that someone will discover some killer combo based on an oft-overlooked card.

I'm enjoying this discussion, though. I hadn't really thought about categorising deck builders into the static display ones and the changing display ones. It seems obvious in hindsight, so thanks all for helping me think about it.
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Jon Moffat
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I think that's a fair assessment, Dominion isn't so much 'solved' as more practical to optimize than more random games (depending on which expansions are used).

Honestly, my bigger critisizm with Dominion, expansions aside, isn't the lack of randomness but the very limited interaction between players.
 
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Daniel Blumentritt
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Multiplayer Solitaire is all the rage these days...
 
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Ryan Finley
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"Solved" probably isn't the best description. It's more that players can solve an individual set up. Recognizing the highest value cards and stockpiling them, while ignoring others. I'd say one of its main weaknesses is how often entire stacks of cards are ignored in a given session.
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Jeremy Lennert
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splendorlex wrote:
"Solved" probably isn't the best description. It's more that players can solve an individual set up. Recognizing the highest value cards and stockpiling them, while ignoring others. I'd say one of its main weaknesses is how often entire stacks of cards are ignored in a given session.

If the best strategy reliably involved using every card, that would be just as tyrannical as any other dominant strategy. If you aren't choosing some cards to not use, then you're not really choosing any cards to use, either.

One could perhaps argue that experienced players settle on the same strategy for a given set of cards more often than would be ideal, but even if everyone were using different strategies one would still expect to see untouched stacks of cards at the end of the game fairly often, especially in 2-player games.

Which highlights one of the problems with the most obvious random-lineup mechanic: if cards stay in the lineup until someone buys them, then cards that no one wants stay there forever. To ensure that every card is always wanted would be both unrealistic and undesirable. That's why drafting games usually include some sort of "reset" condition that wipes and refreshes the entire pool of options, rather than only replenishing the options that people actually take.
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Benj Davis
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Antistone wrote:
splendorlex wrote:
"Solved" probably isn't the best description. It's more that players can solve an individual set up. Recognizing the highest value cards and stockpiling them, while ignoring others. I'd say one of its main weaknesses is how often entire stacks of cards are ignored in a given session.

If the best strategy reliably involved using every card, that would be just as tyrannical as any other dominant strategy. If you aren't choosing some cards to not use, then you're not really choosing any cards to use, either.

One could perhaps argue that experienced players settle on the same strategy for a given set of cards more often than would be ideal, but even if everyone were using different strategies one would still expect to see untouched stacks of cards at the end of the game fairly often, especially in 2-player games.

Which highlights one of the problems with the most obvious random-lineup mechanic: if cards stay in the lineup until someone buys them, then cards that no one wants stay there forever. To ensure that every card is always wanted would be both unrealistic and undesirable. That's why drafting games usually include some sort of "reset" condition that wipes and refreshes the entire pool of options, rather than only replenishing the options that people actually take.


Then there are mechanisms like that in Core Worlds, where untouched cards are given tokens to make them more appealing.
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Rob Harper
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Antistone wrote:
Which highlights one of the problems with the most obvious random-lineup mechanic: if cards stay in the lineup until someone buys them, then cards that no one wants stay there forever. To ensure that every card is always wanted would be both unrealistic and undesirable. That's why drafting games usually include some sort of "reset" condition that wipes and refreshes the entire pool of options, rather than only replenishing the options that people actually take.


It strikes me that another possible solution to this could be to take the mechanic that I have seen in Eight Minute Empire -- though it has probably been used elsewhere.

Essentially, replacement cards appear at the right of the lineup and everything shuffles left to fill gaps. The card at the extreme left is free to take, whereas the buying price increases as you move right. So players have a choice of taking a cheap card that has been in the line for a while, or pay over the odds to get something that has just appeared.

In our hypothetical deckbuilding game, maybe you also want to remove the "free" card every now and then if nobody takes it.
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Steve Zagieboylo
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To the original question, I prefer less luck, because my luck seems always to be bad. So, even in Dominion I try to reduce my variance. I'd prefer a deck with Nobles (choose +3 card or +2 actions) rather than Festivals (+2 Actions and other benefit) and Margraves or Rabble (+3 cards and other benefits), because they always seem to cluster poorly for me. However, from a game design point of view, I like having the choice of higher variance with greater overall potential, or lower variance. It allows me to adjust my strategy in realtime, going for the higher variance if I am behind.

s3rvant wrote:
It's also important to have a way to consistently trim your deck so it isn't just getting fatter all the time, which helps to decrease the randomness on each draw. Eminent Domain has research cards that do this well and Nightfall's starter cards all remove themselves after their first play, achieving that same effect rather nicely.

I think that the fact you have to work to trim your deck is a valuable game characteristic, causing the player to make strategic decisions; its value has to be weighed against the other actions you might take. On the other hand, it so often seems to screw me over, only being available when I have some important action I can not afford to wait for. :-) I'm going to check out Nightfall.
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Chad Ackerman
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I prefer the constantly shifting randomness of Ascension and Legendary over the randomly assigned set of stacked cards in Dominion and Nightfall. I even enjoy how Quarriors! plays with the similar Dominion-style setup more (and I've grown to hate dice, but LOVE them in Quarriors).

However, I think all of these designs could use some improvement, or at least require some other mechanics. Something to provide players with a little more control to manipulate the randomness of it all. Come to think of it, The Castles of Burgundy might actually be my favorite "drafting" design. Could that be turned into an ultimate deck-building experience??! Maybe something out there already exists?

Another big problem with deck-building as a whole is the constant shuffling of small piles of cards. Bad shufflers can easily end up stacking their decks in a favorably way. And the constant shuffling in general just gets tiresome (probably why many people prefer the online versions of these games). I think part of this is why some gamers herald Mage Knight Board Game as a great deck-building game, but it's also why people argue it's NOT a deck-building game at all.
 
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