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Terra Mystica» Forums » General

Subject: Faction rebalancing seems pretty trivial in this game... rss

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So I just started playing this game the other day, and like often happens to me, once I find something I like I get a bit obsessive about it. So I've read a whole lot of faction strategy, including the fact that most people seem to agree that the factions are fairly imbalanced. Many people also seem to agree with at least general tier rankings for the different factions.

Now, I'm kind of amazed that I haven't seen what seems like a trivial solution to the problem. Rebalancing factions by changing their starting scores seems virtually baked into the game, because scoring starts at 20. There's a fairly large corpus of data over at Snellman, and the statistics include an average score stat. They range from Fakirs, with an average score of 108, to Darklings at 124. So, to me, the obvious thing would be to start Darklings at 12 points, and Fakirs at 28 points.

I'm not saying that this is precisely how you should design the system. For example, I'm trivializing the fact that score doesn't precisely predict victory. Dwarves, for instance, with the 4th lowest win % at 24, still have an average score of 116, right in the middle. But from what I've seen, there are plenty of strong statisticians on the TM forums, and I'm sure there's someone who could say what a better method of capturing that relationship would be. The point would be the goal - in an ideal game, each faction would have an equal chance of winning. Darklings might be more powerful, but you shouldn't have a huge advantage just because you had the opportunity to choose them. It's your job as a player to capitalize on that advantage in the game.

The best thing about a system like this would be that it would be easy to keep track of the stats to make sure the game stays in balance. +5 points making the Auren into a dominant faction? Ratchet it down a point. Darklings too weak at -8? Push them up a notch. This is - fundamentally - the videogamification of a board game. The best competitive video games right now (League of Legends being a great example) are constantly rebalancing to make sure that the assets they put time and effort into designing aren't wasted. Fakirs may suck as a faction, but it's not because their gameplay isn't interesting or that they don't have interesting strategic choices. It's because those choices lead to a significantly decreased chance of victory.

What are people's thoughts?

(PS yes, I am aware that "I haven't been playing very long, but here's how to fix this game" is such a common and dumb thing to say that it's practically a meme. I meant to make fun of myself for it at the beginning, but it looks like I forgot, so here it is at the end.)
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Andrew J
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Personally, I happen to like that all of the factions are not perfectly balanced, and that there are certain factions that are "easier" to play than other factions.

For my particular group of gamers, everyone is not necessarily at the same skill level in terms of critically analyzing every situation to maximize the value of every move. Some of the people in the group resent the fact that the individuals who excel in analyzing the games will always win whenever we play Agricola, for example. This has resulted in Agricola being "banned" for certain periods of time from the table. However, these same people tend to like playing Terra Mystica, even though the analysis can be, IMO, even more complicated than it is in Agricola, and that's because we can sort of rebalance the group by handicapping the better players with weaker factions. It makes it feel like everyone has a fair shake at winning.

Now, in terms of tournament play with other very sophisticated TM players, then perhaps some sort of rebalancing is in order. Personally, I like the idea that has been hinted at with respect to the upcoming expansion, which is the introduction of a VP bidding system at the beginning of the game for certain races. That mechanism really forces a player to confront just how confident they are with a particular race and is a little more fluid than the simple (well, not that it is THAT simple )mathematical balancing proposed above.
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Major Havok
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Is there a nice summary available somewhere on the factions and their balance/difficulty?
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Scott Burns
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In the upcoming expansion, there is a rule where players bid VP for races. Heck,the designers say they've already been doing it for a while now.
 
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Jason Kratz
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While this would be an interesting theoretical exercise, I would guess that there are a large number of confounding factors that would really screw up analysis. For example, scores on some of the "better" factions may be lower on average, as players who are less confident in their abilities will be more likely to gravitate to those factions, and the "worse" factions may only be played by experts, and have higher scores than one would expect on average. Also, there are some board setups that really favor one faction over another. A late shovel bonus helps the halflings more than other races for example.

So, for independent variables on expected score for a given factions, you would need to take into account the round bonuses available, the bonus tiles available, the order in which the round bonuses occur, possibly the relative experience and aggressiveness of the players in the game, the other factions in the game, and possibly the kitchen sink. An model that matches the existing data would probably be too complex to have any predictive value whatsoever, and would likely just be an exercise in curve fitting. Because every game is different, my feel is that it would be impossible to come up with a truly fair method of assigning bonus points based on faction (other than a bidding mechanism, which is self regulating)
 
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Rhett Morgan
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aeroguru1978 wrote:
Personally, I happen to like that all of the factions are not perfectly balanced, and that there are certain factions that are "easier" to play than other factions.

For my particular group of gamers, everyone is not necessarily at the same skill level in terms of critically analyzing every situation to maximize the value of every move. Some of the people in the group resent the fact that the individuals who excel in analyzing the games will always win whenever we play Agricola, for example. This has resulted in Agricola being "banned" for certain periods of time from the table. However, these same people tend to like playing Terra Mystica, even though the analysis can be, IMO, even more complicated than it is in Agricola, and that's because we can sort of rebalance the group by handicapping the better players with weaker factions. It makes it feel like everyone has a fair shake at winning.

Now, in terms of tournament play with other very sophisticated TM players, then perhaps some sort of rebalancing is in order. Personally, I like the idea that has been hinted at with respect to the upcoming expansion, which is the introduction of a VP bidding system at the beginning of the game for certain races. That mechanism really forces a player to confront just how confident they are with a particular race and is a little more fluid than the simple (well, not that it is THAT simple )mathematical balancing proposed above.


I find that the rebalancing becomes necessary after a certain number of plays - not even necessarily tournament play. And really the rebalance only impacts giants and fakirs. Darklings do well in 3p but balance nicely at 4 and 5. This you'll notice in the statistical breakdown by player number on Snellman. Fakirs simply aren't playable in a real sense. Using them as a "play with new players" race is fine but it changes the colorwheel balance for all of the other games. Results in a larger number of Nomad games than I'd care to play.
 
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Fredrik A
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Personally I like the balance.
Fakirs are FUN to play. The costs are fine but hexlayout make them hard. They are close to being a juggernaut. I bet fakirs as grey would have a HEAVY win percentage.
I do not like the idea of looking purely at end game scores. Tm is a game of relativety. Giants is the faction I am probably most competitive with on snellman but my average with them is stuck pretty low. Use them to be a nuisance to others is good for winning but bad for highscores.
I am bad playing darklings and nomads as well though according to average scores these should be "easy" to win with.
We tried the vp bidding thing but I am not sure I am that much of a fan. It takes some skill to know what to bid and overpaying is seldom worth it given that score is highly dependant on colours of factions in the game.
I never feel I lost the game just because someone took the darklings first - I lost many games but unbalanced to me is being out of the running due to your faction a problem I almost never felt in tm (picking 4th sometimes lends this feeling but this has little to do with specific factions available and alot with a vision of being colour squeezed).
You all make it seem fakirs need massive screw ups by ops to have the slightest sliver of a chance of winning. This is simply not true even if the avenues having them excel is few and farer between than for other factions.
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A reasonable amount of evidence shows that you are wrong, Fredrik. And I think you might have missed my main point - this method of rebalancing retains the fun of the faction, because it doesn't impact their fundamental gameplay style. What it does is make them more competitive.
 
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Bart de Vos
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I thought the general consensus was that the factions are in fact quite well balanced. 12 out of the 14 factions are most likely statistically non-signifcantly different from each other both in averages and win percentages. The only 2 factions that pose a problem are the Darklings (too strong, in win percentage and in average) and the Fakirs (too weak, mostly in win percentage).
I don't see the point in trying to balance all the factions.

Plus, like has been said before, there are so many different factors that influence each race's average score that it's ludicrous to try to get an overall/general kind of system.

- Number of players
Darklings are amazing with 3, but competitive with 4 and 5. In fact, with 4 they're not even the most succesful race! Another example: Cultists are 13th in win percentage with 3 players, but 1st with 4 players.
So divising a starting point total would have to take into account the number of players (one division for each player total)

- Round tiles (and their order as well to some extent).
Think about a 1st round SA/SH>>5 (for nomads, auren, giants, etc.), or a 1st round D>>2 (for mermaids, witches, etc.), or a SPADE bonus for the Halflings.

- Bonus tiles
Think about the presence of the shipping bonus for the mermaids, or the p for darklings/fakirs, etc.

- The adding of the extra town tiles
The +ship tile is pretty vital for the Fakirs

- What other races are in the game.
If the first player picks the Darklings and places on the east continent, avoiding placing next to them there can seriously hurt them.

- Style of play for each of the races.
Giants benefit from aggressive play and stand a fair chance if they aggressively keep others' scores low.


And even then you run into additional problems
- Weighing the importance of average vs. win percentage.
4p cultists have 6 points lower average than darklings, but 1% higher win percentage. Why just look at average to balance?

- Who picks what race?
Now with the new TM league that just started I've kept track of what race was chosen to see if stronger players are likely to choose some races over other ones (especially when trying to play competitively). Not all (admittedly limited) data is in yet (in some divisions, like in the highest one, not all races have been picked yet), but here's some preliminary results:

Most popular in div 2-3 vs. 4-5:
Darklings chosen in 67% vs. 62% of the games
Nomads 55% vs. 50%
Chaos Magicians 43% vs. 44%
Engineers 36% vs. 8%
Mermaids 33% vs. 23%
Witches 33% vs. 48%
Alchemists 24% vs. 20%
Swarmlings 29% vs. 34%
Halflings 21% vs. 39%
Giants 19% vs. 13%
Cultists 14% vs. 20%
Auren 12% vs. 9%
Dwarves 10% vs. 27%
Fakirs 5% vs. 3%

Biggest differences?
Stronger players are more likely to choose Engineers and Mermaids, whereas weaker players are much more likely to choose Witches, Halflings and Dwarves.

Of course this should effect averages so that those of Engineers and Mermaids might be higher than expected if all were of the same skill, and the reverse is true for Witches, Halflings and Dwarves. (yet this does not take into account the fact that strong players on average play more games, thus dominate the ratings more). This also doesn't mean that this is the way they usually choose their races. Just trying to give an indication of how difficult it is to know who picks what (and why).


So what might be the effect of your attempt to balance the score?
- Weaker players will start picking weaker races (creating a new imbalance requiring a new balancing act)
- People picking races on the basis of their starting point (+player count) total, rather than their suitability for a certain setup.
- Setups that suit certain races better than others will create imbalances in the opposite direction.



Seriously, the game is fine as it is. The most important decision in the game is figuring out what races fit which setup (round tiles, bonus tiles, races), where to start and then developing a plan to build up and spread out. You cannot take all of that out of the equation.
Really, if you want to make it more fair, just agree that people don't pick Darklings and you should be totally fine. And even including them doesn't create much of a problem, especially in 4p games.
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Georg D.
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robertopellizini wrote:

- The adding of the extra town tiles
The +ship tile is pretty vital for the Fakirs


Unfortunately the new town tile are not part of the core game and will not be part of the expansion...
 
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robertopellizini wrote:
Seriously, the game is fine as it is.


Sure it's "fine." Admittedly it isn't broken (except for the terrible Fakirs). But it's healthy to discuss balance issues and I do think a Fakir fix would be much appreciated. You can't currently consider Fakirs competitive in a serious game.

My least favorite part of Terra Mystica, Fakirs aside, is the odd presence of the point favors and the point passing tiles. FAV10 and FAV11 (earth 1 or water 1 favors) are way too powerful and in a 4 or 5 player game going last means you are automatically about 20 points behind. Then the importance of the point banners in the last rounds becomes over-important. Not to mention that shipping-based banners make certain races unplayable and so the variety in race selection overall becomes much much smaller.
 
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SpaceLordOO wrote:
In the upcoming expansion, there is a rule where players bid VP for races. Heck,the designers say they've already been doing it for a while now.


That actually made me think...

How will this bidding system improve weak factions?

The bidding system will allow multiple players to bid for something awesome like the halflings or so. But it still won't prevent nobody from bothering to even suggest the Fakirs or Giants. Because there are enough factions that are better and will also not be bid on, because the amount of factions is greater than the amount of players.

Unless 5 random factions are chosen first from which the bidding has to be done of course, now that would be interesting!
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Georg D.
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AFAIK they haven't announced any details about the bidding System. I can think about a system which solves the problem. Perhap you can use a system where all points you bid have to be assigned to another race as bonus. So if a player pays 5vp for the darklings he can assign 2 to the giants and 3 to the fakirs. If another player chooses one of these races he will get those points as a bonus.
 
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Brian Jurney
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I downloaded the JSON data from snellman and did an analysis on the races. Fakirs are a less chosen faction and they don't win as often as the other factions but they can still win. Every faction has beat every other eligible faction multiple times(mermaids and swarmlings will never be in the same game for example, so they don't have wins against each other).

After looking through the data, I was satisfied with the results and I don't think there needs to be a "fix" regarding faction balance. If you feel that you wont do well with the Fakirs, don't choose them, but they can still beat any other faction, including the Darklings.
 
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The odd quirk of Terra Mystica is how much front loaded decision making is required to play well. The game is balanced, because everyone starts the game with _no_ faction. You have complete control of what faction to play within the limits of turn order. If you think the Fakirs are under powered, don't pick them.

Better players get better results from 'weaker' factions because they pick them when the conditions are favorable for them. Knowing when to do this is an important part of the game.

I know there are folks that like to chose factions randomly before the game starts. For them, faction balance may be a legitimate concern, but I feel that playing this way removes a really interesting aspect of game play.
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jurney85 wrote:
Fakirs are a less chosen faction and they don't win as often as the other factions but they can still win. Every faction has beat every other eligible faction multiple times(mermaids and swarmlings will never be in the same game for example, so they don't have wins against each other).

If you feel that you wont do well with the Fakirs, don't choose them, but they can still beat any other faction, including the Darklings.


ErnestBORG9 wrote:
If you think the Fakirs are under powered, don't pick them.
Better players get better results from 'weaker' factions because they pick them when the conditions are favorable for them. Knowing when to do this is an important part of the game.


Of course people have won with Fakirs before. I believe I have even won with them before. For them to be playable there needs to be a drastic difference in skill level between players. No one could look at their statistics and say "hey, those guys look well balanced with consideration for the rest of the game." And they play out that way.

Of course you should never choose the fakirs but with some balancing in effect perhaps we'll see greater diversity in race selection overall which would improve the game.
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Ben Master
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I think each race has a particular board start (And number of players) that is optimal for it. Some have bigger niches than others.

So balancing purely through some arbitrary VP start shift wouldn't really be helpful.

On the other hand, balancing through some kind of bidding system could make some sense. Except I have no clever ideas on how to actually operationalize that in this kind of game :)

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Tomas Hejna
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Or, you can alter starting condition for your race through a different setup (variant): Reversed setup?
 
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Hey all. I was reading this and it sounded interesting. I feel there are two categories of players... Those who know wtf theyre doing and and those who SUCK! I am in the latter unfortunately

From day one i have been hearing that the fakirs are terrible but i dont think it was explained exactly why this is so. Personally i have only played with 4 or 5 factions. I like darklings. My best game was wjth Nomads so i would like to use them more bug all factions interest me. When people aay the fakirs are bad it makds me want to play them more.

I plan on teaching this game to people in the next week or so and i would like to be able to provide some general tips and strategy so people get an idea of what theyre doing. I imagine the game will end without anyone dominating seeing as how they will be new and im not very good. Are there any races that i should warn are not very noob-friendly or should i just explain how to score and just see what everyone comes up with?
 
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shooshoo wrote:
When people aay the fakirs are bad it makds me want to play them more.

Are there any races that i should warn are not very noob-friendly or should i just explain how to score and just see what everyone comes up with?


I think you're probably just new to the game. Experience will show you, over time, what you need to know. Hopefully someone else here with a better handle on words will summarize new player hints.

As to Fakirs, there are several reasons Fakirs are weak. First and foremost, yellow spaces are poorly located on the map. This means that there are fewer one and two-step terraform spaces around them. Nomads have their Stronghold's ability to overcome that fact but Fakirs can only hope to "escape" their current location for another similar poorly situated location. Because towns can provide so much economic benefit and so many games provide bonuses for towns this puts them at a great disadvantage.

Second, the cost of their Stronghold is outrageous as compared to the average race (4/6 and 4/8 are usual). It is confusing because the benefit of the SH does not match up to the expense. It provides one priest per turn (you could get this for the same cost of a Temple, 2/5) and it lets you reach further with your priest/jump ability. Your priest jump ability is your only true strength but it doesn't help you create towns (as you can see in reason one).

Third, the starting power situation of 7 in pool one and 5 in pool two is terrible and uniquely so. The only race in the entire game to receive such a disadvantage. This means that while you're trying to get your setup running you're two steps behind everyone else.

Playing the underdog may sound fun and you may think they can be "solved." My experience says this is not likely and better players than you or I agree. Hundreds of games agree on Snellman.
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Well going by what you are saying then is it possible the developers created this disadvantaged group for the sake of allowing more experienced players to be handicapped when playing with newcomers?

It sounds like fakirs is not the preferred choice for veterans of this game.
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shooshoo wrote:
Well going by what you are saying then is it possible the developers created this disadvantaged group for the sake of allowing more experienced players to be handicapped when playing with newcomers?

It sounds like fakirs is not the preferred choice for veterans of this game.


That is one of the possibilities. It really cuts down on the variety in games. After about 60ish games I've gotten a little sick of not having a second yellow choice. You can only play with new players for so long before they aren't new players anymore.
 
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If you want to provide a handicap, that is also easy to do through the same system I propose. Again, the game is practically DESIGNED for it. Handicapping the races by making some of them really crappy seems like a waste of design resources - and as other people have said, if that was their intention it makes sense to announce it in the rulebook. In fact, it ONLY makes sense if you announce it in the rulebook. Which they didn't do, ergo...

I don't think a bidding system makes much sense to me. From what I've seen, the tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3 races are all pretty much balanced with each other, with a possible outlier at the top of tier one at at the bottom of tier 3. A bidding system will help balance the fact that different tier 1 races will be better suited to any particular setup, but it won't do anything to help people play the tier 3 races. Bidding is a great mechanic in a system with a small number of races. When there are 4 mostly-equivalent races in a 4 player game, bidding is not a particularly useful mechanic.

Let me walk that back a step - bidding DOES make sense. As I said, it will essentially function (among high-level players) to balance out which of the tier-1 races functions best in a particular setup, and that's very valuable. It just doesn't touch the inherent balance problem that I'm pointing out in this thread.
 
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I don't think bidding makes sense at all, unless you are already an expert. OR i am mistaken about what bidding implies. The 3 most important decisions in the game are the 3 first, your race and placing the first 2 dwellings. They are also where the difference between a newbie and an expert shows. A bidding system is NOT balancing difference in experience and skill. It will not level out, but more likely punish the inexperienced, as they are more likely to estimate a wrong price, and then what is gained in term of balance?
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Georg D.
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Prodigaldax wrote:

As to Fakirs, there are several reasons Fakirs are weak.

First and foremost, yellow spaces are poorly located on the map. This means that there are fewer one and two-step terraform spaces around them. Nomads have their Stronghold's ability to overcome that fact but Fakirs can only hope to "escape" their current location for another similar poorly situated location. Because towns can provide so much economic benefit and so many games provide bonuses for towns this puts them at a great disadvantage.

Second, the cost of their Stronghold is outrageous as compared to the average race (4/6 and 4/8 are usual). It is confusing because the benefit of the SH does not match up to the expense. It provides one priest per turn (you could get this for the same cost of a Temple, 2/5) and it lets you reach further with your priest/jump ability. Your priest jump ability is your only true strength but it doesn't help you create towns (as you can see in reason one).

Third, the starting power situation of 7 in pool one and 5 in pool two is terrible and uniquely so. The only race in the entire game to receive such a disadvantage. This means that while you're trying to get your setup running you're two steps behind everyone else.


Fourth, the Fakirs can't reach a 1:1 worker-dig ratio.
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