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Subject: Where does your Allegiance lie? rss

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S. G.
United States
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MA - Massachusetts
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This past Saturday was International Tabletop Day. My friends and I talked about what we were going to do for the day, and then we decided: why dedicate just one day to this fun hobby when you could dedicate a whole weekend? We did and we brought a whole host of games, many that we had recently bought or made. One of the games that I brought was Allegiance. Earlier in the week, I printed up the game since it sounded like a fast, fun game that my friends and I would enjoy. I pitched it to the group, mentioning the fact that the game designer was still looking for playtesting data and they ate up the opportunity. We really enjoyed playing the game and found out how easily and quickly it could go from cooperative (when some were trying to give influence to the Temple whilst maintaining our allegiance) to cutthroat (when we all tried for a chance to become the King of Thieves).

We had two minor issues with the game, one was a question about a rule with the Cutpurse/Initiate and the other was balance between the sides. Although there is an equal amount of influence/allegiance points between the guilds, we found the game weighted heavily in favor of the Thieves' Guild mostly because of the actions they had versus the ones available to the Temple (perhaps the unbalancing of the sides was intention of the game designer). After noticing this, we tried the following two paths of house rules.

Favor for the Guild
Because of the sheer number of rounds we played, and because of the favor towards the Guild, we created the bonus of "King of Thieves". Whoever won with the allegiance to the Guild would receive a token (we used a black king from a defunct chess set). The following round, they would receive an additional 5 allegiance points to the Guild. This definitely upped the cutthroat factor as we found ourselves trying to screw over the current king to claim the throne for ourselves.

A Balancing Act
When people started to get a little too hot headed, we took a step back and tried to take a different approach, balancing out the actions better between the Temple and the Guild. We added the following actions to the characters:

Bandit: Protect
Priest: Prayer (same effect as Infiltrate)
Knight: Smite (same effect as Assassinate; protect was amended to say, "The Guard or Bandit and the card they protect cannot be assassinated or smited)

With these simple changes, we found it balanced the power between the Temple and the Guild more and made the Temple seem like a viable choice. We again included our "King of Thieves" bonus and we also added the "Prayer of the People" bonus, which gave the people with allegiance to the Temple a token (a white pawn from the previously mentioned defunct chess set). This token granted them 3 allegiance points to the Temple the following round. We went back and forth between 2 and 3 points for the bonus but felt 3 was the more successful of the two in terms of back-to-back rounds. We found that in multiple games, having that bonus made it easier for more people to attain allegiance with the Temple if they so chose. The bonuses were only awarded depending on which side had the most influence.

Final Thoughts
Overall, the game was very enjoyable. We all said we would love to play it again and look forward to checking out other games from this designer. I also look forward to seeing any future evolution of the game and will definitely increase my rating as well as more kinks are ironed out and as I get more plays in.

8/10 - Highly Recommended

Edited for spelling and phrasing and added a URL.
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David Thompson
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S. G.,

Thanks for the great recap. I really appreciate you taking the time to make the PnP version of the game, playtest it, and report back with your thoughts.

Your take on Allegiance has been shared with some other folks - that it seems that the game is favored toward the Thieves' Guild. That is true, and it is intentional, but the actual specifics may be a little less obvious. Allow me a moment to explain:

When I first developed the idea for Allegiance I wanted a mechanic that borrowed conceptually from the prisoner's dilemma. To that end, I wanted to create a game where the players could work together cooperatively and see face a difficult challenge, or they could start opting to go it alone for a solitary victory. With each player that decides to join the Thieves' Guild, the greater the likelihood the Thieves' Guild wins, but the lower the chance of a single player claiming victory.

In general, the Temple should win approximately 35-40% of the time, if a majority of the players have allegiance to the temple (the larger the majority, the more this percentage increases). So if you're a player who wants to maximize your chance of winning and don't mind a shared victory, the safest strategy is to go Temple and try to ensure everyone else does too. You can try to accomplish this through table talk, signaling intent, or even by making it so painful for someone who was planning to go Thieves' Guild that they change their mind.

Now, when players start to go Thieves' Guild, the likelihood of a Thieves' Guild victory increases. However, the the likelihood of any single Thieves' Guild player winning decreases. So you have to gamble on your ability to be the solo victor.

I've found that playtest groups figure this calculus out after the first five or six plays. In almost every test case, players react by thinking the Thieves' Guild is disproportionately powerful - that's true only if a bunch of players ally with the Thieves' Guild, so it becomes sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Winning with the Temple also requires a lot of teamwork and very careful card allocation. The Temple's benefit is that all they have to do is maintain allegiance to the Temple - they don't need to have a large difference between their Temple and Thieves' Guild allegiance. In contrast, the Thieves' Guild players need to have a LOT of Thieves' Guild cards if they want a chance to beat out potential Thieves' Guild opponents. Placing these valuable cards in their hand often means not placing them on the Guild, which can be costly. In fact, it is possible for a single Temple player to defeat two Thieves' Guild players in just that scenario.

Whew.

Ok, with all that having been said, I think what your group experienced is the same psychological effect I've seen other groups experience - they feel the Thieves' Guild is "better," so a majority of players go a Thieves' Guild victory, and end up with a disproportionate number of Thieves' Guild victories, which they feel substantiates their beliefs. This cycle can be difficult to break because of the pseudo "prisoner's dilemma" effect I mentioned before. Even if every single player knew their chances of winning (even if it's a shared victory) is better if they go Temple, they still would possibly be tempted to go Thieves' Guild because they're afraid a majority of the other players will go Thieves' Guild.

Now..let's talk about actions. Regardless of everything I laid out above, it doesn't change the fact that some of the "cool" actions are reserved for cards with higher Thieves' Guild values than Temple values. This was also intentional. For example, the Assassin is undoubtedly the most powerful card in the game, but by using it you make yourself a HUGE target and you can often change a Thieves' Guild player into go for the Temple (which can have a long term negative effect depending on where you are in the game). Also, note that Temple players can use the Assassin in very creative ways. They can use it to remove very high Thieves' Guild cards from another Temple player's hand, for example.

So, that's all a way of saying that maybe you could take this info back to the group, along with the clarification of the Initiates and Cutpurses, and see what the group thinks. However, it doesn't change the fact that your initial impression has been shared by other playtest groups and could represent a potential issue with some players in the future...so it's something I need to be sensitive of and consider changing.

One major problem with shifting the game in favor of the Temple, whether through actions or card value, is that it would only take a slight, razor's edge shift in balance to make the game a complete cake-walk for a group of Temple players working cooperatively to beat the game.

Thanks again for taking the time to test the game. I'd love to hear more thoughts on optional actions to give the Temple in case I need to shift the game in that direction. I would say that if I do add actions to the cards with higher Temple values than Theives' Guild values, I'd want them to be new actions. I like the idea of having powerful actions (such as assassinate) reserved for cards that force players to make difficult decisions about their use. In the case of a player who is going for a Temple victory, using the Knight would be an easy decision that wouldn't carry the same potential repercussions as the assassin, for example.
 
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S. G.
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Definitely missed the concept of the prisoner's dilemma when playing but in retrospect I can see your allusion to it clear as day...beyond the actual play, you even hinted at it in the micro story at the beginning of the rules and your encouragement of table talk.

I will definitely bring all of this info back to the group. We're not playing again for a couple weeks but they will be eager to hear all of this info. It will put a different perspective on things and I think will change some strategies.

I would not shift the card values: while at times, it might seem like there is not enough but it just requires a ton of careful planning on the part of the Temple players. We had a hard time with that one...then again I also suspect one of the players was on the fence about switching allegiance and wasn't giving the Temple their all.

The added actions we gave were a down-and-dirty copies of current ones just to see how gameplay would change. The Guild still won the bulk of the games but I think it was because a few wanted their solo victory. If we were to play again with added actions, they would be unique ones and probably with different cards (we tried to pick ones with values close to or equal to their Guild counterparts).

One action idea I had was for the noble was "tax" (needs a better name): choose a card from a player's hand and place it face down on either the Temple or the Guild. Her 2T, 1G values puts her mostly in favor of the Temple but I could see many a Guild player using it to remove a powerful Guild card from another Guild player, lessening their foes allegiance and pushing the influence towards the Guild (or removing a really good action card from them, like that Assassin). I'm sure there are other ways she could be abused by either side. I'll check with the other people I played with and see if they had any other ideas floating around.

You are very welcome! It was a fun game and the artwork is simple but gorgeous. I look forward to playing it again with the Cutpurse/Initiate rule cleared up and having a better understanding of the mechanic behind the game.
 
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