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Subject: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player game rss

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Eric Brosius
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Background

I'd like to request comments on a possible variant for 5-player Princes of Florence. This variant is designed to address the perceived advantage held by the 2nd player. In most strategies, the opportunity to buy an additional Profession card for just 300 florins is a great deal, and it's Player 2 who is guaranteed to have that opportunity twice in the game. Of course, it's possible that one or more other players will get that opportunity as well if someone else passes up his or her chance, but in many games everyone buys a Profession card in Turn 1, so Player 2 as the first to take actions in Turn 2 gets the last one left.

Remember that there are 21 Profession cards in Princes of Florence, an average of 4.2 per player, and that each player starts the game with three of them, so there are 6 left to buy during the action phase. If Player 2 gets two of the 6, he or she has 5 Profession cards in total, compared with an average of 4 Profession cards for the other players. There are also 5 Recruiting cards in the deck, each of which can be used to recruit a Profession card and put on an additional work, but these are sold at auction and players must bid for them, paying what is presumably a fair price.

I serve as the GM for Princes of Florence at the World Boardgaming Championships, which were held last week in Lancaster PA. During the semifinal and final rounds, I used bidding for seats, and one player bid 300 florins to be the 2nd player in the finals (the semifinals were 4-player games, where this issue is not nearly as significant.) I do not use bidding in the heats, because many of the players are relatively new to the game and it can be confusing to bid when you don't know the game. During the heats, the average finish (where 1st place is 1.0 and 5th place is 5.0) was as follows:

Player 1: 3.6
Player 2: 2.2
Player 3: 2.9
Player 4: 3.0
Player 5: 3.3

Now, this is not a large enough sample to be statistically credible, and it's also true that in 2006 the random draw put strong players into Seat 2 more often than one would expect. Note that most people think the second best seat is Seat 1, and that seat did the worst in 2006. Nevertheless, whether it's perception or reality, I'd prefer to avoid a situation in which many people think the game is already half decided once the random draw for seating order has been completed.

For this reason, I'd like to request comments (and playtesting) for the following variant:


20-Card Variant for 5-Player Princes of Florence

When you are setting up the game, after you have dealt four cards to each player, turn the last card (the 21st Profession card) face up on the table. A player may look at this card when deciding which of the four cards dealt to him or her to discard. The 5 discards are placed face down into a Profession card deck which will contain 5 cards.

The 21st card remains face up on the table and may not be purchased by a player in the actions part of the turn. It does not belong to any player and does not add to any player's work value. However, a player who wishes to use a Recruiting card may take the face up 21st card into his or her hand, replacing it in the usual way with the Recruiting card. Thus, the 21st card may enter the game through recruitment, and once it has done so, it is treated just like any other Profession card.


Observations

The advantage of this variant is that each player has the opportunity in the normal course of play to buy exactly one Profession card during the action phase. I believe it would eliminate the complaints of imbalance. What I don't know is whether this change would affect the game in other ways---it's clear that reducing the maximum number of works that can be put on in a game from 26 to 25 must have some impact, for example, by reducing the average scores slightly.

Two or three people suggested this variant to me while I was at WBC, and if it improves the game, I'm prepared to use it in future WBC tournaments. I don't want to take such a step without getting as much information as I can from the gaming community, so please respond. I'd especially appreciate reports on games you play using this rule.
 
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Dave Eisen
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
The approach I would prefer to take is noticing that buying a profession card for 300 florins is a complete no brainer that is the correct action 95%+ of the time when available. That to me indicates that profession cards are priced too low. If nothing else, good games include tough decisions and to buy a profession card or not to buy one is not a tough decision. Unfortunate in a game that is otherwise so chock full of tough decisions.

How much change would it be to the game if profession cards were, say, 500 florins. It's probably still a good purchase a lot of the time, but maybe not always. This adds decisions to the game as well as fixing the player 2 problem. And maybe giving different avenues to victory.

Naturally, this changes what a recruitment card should go for in the auction. As well as making 3500 florins probably a little low for starting capital. But tweaking these things here and there seems to give basically the same game without an obvious flaw.

My group has been meaning to try this. And, of course, 500 florins was pulled out of nowhere. Maybe it's too high, maybe it's too low. But 300 is definitely too low.

 
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Eric Brosius
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Thanks for the comment, Dave. I certainly see your point, and agree with the fundamental logic of your argument, but on the other hand, raising the price of Profession cards would be perceived by most players as a much more significant change than taking the 21st card out of the deck. With a classic like Princes of Florence, I want to make the minimum possible change to keep the game balanced.
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David desJardins
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
The 20-profession rule is still going to give a big advantage to player 2 if someone (perhaps a newbie) passes on buying a profession card in the first round.

I think I'd prefer a rule that no one can buy more than 1 profession card, or a rule that no one can buy a profession card after round 1, to your proposal.

(Personally, I avoid playing POF with 5 players. That would really be my first suggestion.)
 
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John Weber
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
Doug Smith, a veteran PoF player who has reached the WBC finals on multiple occasions, has suggested the following variant to me: simply switch the profession and recruiting cards around, i.e., the remaining profession cards take the spot of the recruiting cards as an auction item, with normal rules applying, the winner gets to draw five, take one, and reorder them at the bottom of the deck. Shifting the recruiting cards to the action phase means that everyone gets the opportunity to buy one for the fixed price of 300 florins, equalizing seat position. (Seems to me you could just give everyone a recruiting card at the start of the game, although that would seem to make money a bit less tight.)

I think going to 20 profession cards instead of the 21 is going to unbalance the ratio of landscapes and buildings needed to complete works, and thus I would be concerned about adding a luck element to the game.

Note I have never tried either of these variants, but I can tell you that Doug swears by the first one I mentioned.
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David desJardins
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
John Weber wrote:
Doug Smith, a veteran PoF player who has reached the WBC finals on multiple occasions, has suggested the following variant to me: simply switch the profession and recruiting cards around, i.e., the remaining profession cards take the spot of the recruiting cards as an auction item, with normal rules applying, the winner gets to draw five, take one, and reorder them at the bottom of the deck.


Like Dave Eisen's proposal, this seems too large a change to impose on a large tournament of players who are used to the standard game. Especially if you play this way with 5 players, and the standard way with 3 or 4 players, which will lead to two rather different games.
 
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Matthew M
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
Eric Brosius wrote:

20-Card Variant for 5-Player Princes of Florence

When you are setting up the game, after you have dealt four cards to each player, turn the last card (the 21st Profession card) face up on the table. A player may look at this card when deciding which of the four cards dealt to him or her to discard. The 5 discards are placed face down into a Profession card deck which will contain 5 cards.

The 21st card remains face up on the table and may not be purchased by a player in the actions part of the turn. It does not belong to any player and does not add to any player's work value. However, a player who wishes to use a Recruiting card may take the face up 21st card into his or her hand, replacing it in the usual way with the Recruiting card. Thus, the 21st card may enter the game through recruitment, and once it has done so, it is treated just like any other Profession card.




This is the preferred method of the group I play with and it works quite well. It is a minimal change without advantaging any player or throwing the values of any other in-game items off kilter.

-MMM
 
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David desJardins
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
Octavian wrote:
This is the preferred method of the group I play with and it works quite well. It is a minimal change without advantaging any player....


Except if one of the other four players doesn't buy a Profession card on turn 1, then it favors Player 2. Right?
 
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Rod Spade
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
DaviddesJ wrote:
... a rule that no one can buy a profession card after round 1


This would eliminate the tactic of doing building/work or freedom/work in round 1 in order to grab an early "best work" bonus, then buying the card in round 2 (which 2nd or 3rd seat could do).
 
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Matt Albritton
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
Eric, our group has always played the way you suggest ever since someone suggested it on the geek. It works just fine.

I don't understand the "induced randomness" comments. The 21st card is NOT removed from the game, it is face-up on the board and can be "drafted" by a recruit card in the normal way.
 
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David desJardins
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
rodspade wrote:
DaviddesJ wrote:
... a rule that no one can buy a profession card after round 1


This would eliminate the tactic of doing building/work or freedom/work in round 1 in order to grab an early "best work" bonus, then buying the card in round 2 (which 2nd or 3rd seat could do).


Good. That's the point, to eliminate the positional advantage of seat 2. Right?
 
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Luca Iennaco
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
We tried (a lot of time ago) something similar, but rather than revealing the 21st Profession after setup, we revealed it after it was the only card left in the deck (i.e. when the fifth Profession was bought, thus usually at the end of the first round).
But we didn't tried it often enough to express a comment on it.
 
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Rod Spade
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
DaviddesJ wrote:
rodspade wrote:
DaviddesJ wrote:
... a rule that no one can buy a profession card after round 1


This would eliminate the tactic of doing building/work or freedom/work in round 1 in order to grab an early "best work" bonus, then buying the card in round 2 (which 2nd or 3rd seat could do).


Good. That's the point, to eliminate the positional advantage of seat 2. Right?


Yes, but it would be preferable to do so without reducing the number of strategic options in the game.
 
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David desJardins
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
rodspade wrote:
Yes, but it would be preferable to do so without reducing the number of strategic options in the game.


OK, how about a rule in a 5-player game that each player can buy at most 1 profession card over the course of the game, but they can do so whenever they want? That gives everyone the same opportunity to do a work on turn 1, if they want; not just the player in position 2.
 
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Eddie the Cranky Gamer
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
DaviddesJ wrote:
rodspade wrote:
Yes, but it would be preferable to do so without reducing the number of strategic options in the game.


OK, how about a rule in a 5-player game that each player can buy at most 1 profession card over the course of the game, but they can do so whenever they want? That gives everyone the same opportunity to do a work on turn 1, if they want; not just the player in position 2.


I'm not sure what I think of holding peoples hands like this. If someone really doesn't want to buy a profession card their hands shouldn't be held and a card reserved for them.
 
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Eric Brosius
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The goal here is not to hold peoples' hands. If someone plays poorly and loses, that's the appropriate result, especially in a tournament. The concern that has been expressed is that one person may have an unfair advantage.
 
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David desJardins
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
apotheos wrote:
I'm not sure what I think of holding peoples hands like this. If someone really doesn't want to buy a profession card their hands shouldn't be held and a card reserved for them.


The problem isn't protecting the player who doesn't want to buy a profession card on turn 1. The problem is not giving a big advantage to player 2 because a newbie didn't buy his profession card on turn 1.

I would be fine with a rule that profession cards can only be bought on turn 1. But some people don't like that, because it eliminates the option to do a work on turn 1, so I'm equally fine with a rule of one profession card at any time. Either of these approaches prevents someone from getting a big advantage just from their seat position, unlike the original variant proposed above.
 
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
If the decision to buy a profession card whenever one is available is obvious, then the game should have been designed such that all cards were drafted before the beginning of the game, thus eliminating aspects of actual gameplay where no real decision-making was involved. But is it always an obvious decision?

I don't think so- even in a 5 player game where they are most scarce. And so as long as it is possible that a player would NOT buy a profession card the first round as part of a viable strategy, it is impossible to insure that each player has an equal opportunity to buy prof. cards, and the imbalance just has to be left the way it is.

I personally think that there are alot more imbalances due to seating position in this game and that targeting one of them that appears to have such an immense effect but in actuality does not is rather arbitrary and is a detriment to the purity of the designer's vision.
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
If anything, I think the only feasible variant is auctioning the seating positions. That way each player can decide for themselves if they buy into whatever imbalances they think are going on and value them accordingly, without actually changing any aspect of the game itself. Players who are indifferent can just end up with one of the unwanted seats and just as well conclude they ended up there randomly and thus there was no difference.
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David desJardins
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
verandi wrote:
And so as long as it is possible that a player would NOT buy a profession card the first round as part of a viable strategy, it is impossible to insure that each player has an equal opportunity to buy prof. cards, and the imbalance just has to be left the way it is.


Nonsense. Four different ways to ensure precisely that, have already been posted in this thread.

Quote:
I personally think that there are alot more imbalances due to seating position in this game and that targeting one of them that appears to have such an immense effect but in actuality does not is rather arbitrary and is a detriment to the purity of the designer's vision.


I personally think that the designer and developer screwed up by not making the game work properly with 5 players.

The "designer's vision" is usually faulty, to some extent; that's why games have developers. Here, the developer fell down on the job, so that leaves it up to us.

Quote:
If anything, I think the only feasible variant is auctioning the seating positions.


You should look up what the word "feasible" actually means. Several feasible suggestions have already been posted. If you don't like them, that doesn't make them infeasible.
 
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Lance Hudson
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
The varient that we play is we place the 21st card into the recruitment deck. So that when somebody wins the recruitment card auction they can choose the 21st card instead of the recruitment card. It seems to work ok for us in 5 player games.
 
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Eric Brosius
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lhudson wrote:
The varient that we play is we place the 21st card into the recruitment deck. So that when somebody wins the recruitment card auction they can choose the 21st card instead of the recruitment card. It seems to work ok for us in 5 player games.


Or, as a slight change to what you've suggested, one could use the approach I outlined in my initial post and then add a 6th Recruiter card to the recruitment deck. This would take the asymmetry out of the recruitment deck and still make that 21st card available to anyone who buys one of the (now six) Recruiter cards.
 
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Eric Brosius
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DaviddesJ wrote:
[...]

(Personally, I avoid playing POF with 5 players. That would really be my first suggestion.)


David, the thing that makes POF most interesting to me is the fact that players interfere with each other in unexpected ways, bidding high prices for things that would appear to be of lesser value. For example, in last year's WBC semis, two players went into Turn 7 each needing a Forest for both works and a Prestige Card. For this reason, I prefer POF with 5 players.

This is a different type of contention than the contention for high-valued items. If everyone knows that Jesters are valuable, bids for Jesters will be high. This doesn't introduce uncertainty, because if you know prices will be high, you will plan for it.

Of course, it's a matter of taste, and I recognize that other people (like you) may find unexpected contention to be a flaw in the design of the 5-player game. It's like the difference between running races on a track and running cross-country races.

As the GM for POF at WBC, I want to continue running 5-player games where possible. Within that constraint, I'm trying to make the game as enjoyable as I can for the players.
 
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Eric Brosius
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verandi wrote:
If anything, I think the only feasible variant is auctioning the seating positions. That way each player can decide for themselves if they buy into whatever imbalances they think are going on and value them accordingly, without actually changing any aspect of the game itself. Players who are indifferent can just end up with one of the unwanted seats and just as well conclude they ended up there randomly and thus there was no difference.


Auctions for seating position are in fact my current approach to balancing the seating positions at WBC. However, I only use the auctions in the semis and the finals. Bidding for position at WBC seems to work only when the majority of players are familiar enough with the game to bid with confidence; when there are a lot of relatively new players, bidding seems to detract from the experience.

I'm looking for a fix that changes the game as little as possible, that's clearly understandable even to new players (and that can thus be used in the heats,) and that eliminates the perception of inequality.
 
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Brian Bankler
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Re: Solving the Player 2 advantage problem in a 5-player gam
Eric, when I saw the first paragraph I had the same idea ... reduce the professions to 20. On reading the thread, I find David desJardins' arguement compelling. Even if you reduced a card, one player may find it worthwhile to building/work for 10 (cutting out the profession/work people at 7. Then player 2 gets a 300 Fl card. (Or player 2 can do that and then grab the profession on T2).

Both of his ideas seem reasonable (buy one round 1, or once/game).

All of the ideas have some changes to the game, but that's the point.

I think your current approach is probably fine -- random seating for the prelims, auction seating for the semis & finals.

My completely untested idea (off the top of my head) is to make the cost equal to 2/3rds of the last jester bid (rounded up, min 300). This values it better (since the are worth 1 Work Pt, + a potential work, 2/3rds seems reasonable. [But the fact that it costs an action, instead of an auction does strange things to that]. That means that 1st turn professions will cost ~800 (maybe 1,000). I suspect everyone who hated David's ideas will hate mine more. The reason I think this may be better than an auction (or the arbitrary 1/limit) is that it will tighten up money all around. If Player 2 grabs the last profession on T2, then he's effectively bid an extra 500.

But that needs testing. I'd go with one of the aforementioned ideas. I think the once/game idea is probably best. That way there's no seating order implications of anyone passing, and makes the fight for T1 work interesting.
 
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