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Subject: This game could be great, but... rss

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Travis Bridges
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Before I get to some issues I have with Imperial Settlers, I want to say that there is a lot of good things in this game. I actually do like the asymmetrical nature of it. Being a mostly Euro-style gamer, I was worried that the razing of other people’s locations would make the game problematic for me (I don't mind conflict, but conflict shouldn't be used to cover up failed game mechanics...conflict should also be expensive and not an afterthought to make the game 'interactive'), but it is dealt with quite well in the game. First, the victim is nicely compensated. Second, only common locations (aside from the Japanese) are available to be razed. Third, it is a last resort for a specific resource, since razing your own locations from your hand is much more lucrative. For example, I might be low on cards, so I will spend 2 swords to raze your location to give me two cards, which gives you 1 wood and 1 foundation...not necessarily bad, and the conflict makes sense.

So far, so good…

However, aside from my minor gripe about the game being too long for as simple as it is, the main problem I have with the game is with some of the stronger faction cards. In fact, there are 4 of them I see as very problematic, and a few others which are fairly negative. If the game were shorter, it would not be a problem (and I really don't think the came could be or should be any shorter). With the game in the 30 minute per player regime, these cards make the game become a bash the leader/kingmaker issue. Keep in mind that these are faction action cards, so they can’t be targeted with basic raze actions, and they can be used once per round(!). The cards I see as a major problem are:

Egypt:
Temple of Ra – Choose an enemy location and mark it with an Egypt token. For the rest of the round, the marked location is treated as your own. (***Basically, steal an awesome faction location and all benefits every round after it is built…or copy it with another faction card and steal 2 locations! For no cost! Hey, why don’t you just drag the leader down to last place while you are at it?)

Chariot Builder – Spend 1 sword to raze one location. (***Cost is half to raze and can target faction locations with defense ignored.)

Romans:
Engineers – Spend 2 people to remove an enemy location from the game. Gain 1 point. (***This card serves no other purpose than to bash the leader. They lose 2 points and a benefit that would score them points, and the attacker loses 2 people to gain 1 point. Why is this necessary in this game? To fix a runaway leader?)

Japan:
Garrison – Spend two swords to immediately remove a location from the game. (***Normally you spend two swords to raze an undefended common location, but this card allows you to target any location for the same price, regardless of defense and not leave the player a wood and foundation as compensation…wow! Why is this necessary?)

I think the biggest issue with these cards is that, unlike razing an opponent’s location, the victim is not compensated. They can also target faction locations, so the victim is also losing 2 points and a strong ability with no compensation and little cost to the targeting player. This means that the point swings can be vast. For instance, the Barbarians have a card that allows them to turn resources into points at 2 for 2, twice, for a maximum of 4 points per round. Well, if the Egyptian player targets this card with Temples of Ra, they get 4 points, and the Barbarians lose 4 points per round the location is used in this fashion. Or worse, they could just destroy it so you lose the ability to create points, lose 2 points for the location, and have nothing to show for it, except for wasted resources to build the location. It also became a problem of timing. Do I spend the resources and foundation to play this great location into my tableau knowing that on their very next action, one of the other players could easily destroy it without having to spend anything critical? What is the point of playing the game if I can’t play my faction locations without fear? And I can’t do anything too well, because if I end up in first place, I will be targeted? Silly…

This is the essence of bash the leader/kingmaking. Since points are tallied, it is pretty easy to calculate who is winning and to bash that player back…how is this a good mechanic for a 90-120 minute, 3-4 player game? Our opinion after the game was that these cards detracted from the fun of playing the game as designed. In a matter of speaking, it seemed as if somebody took a well-designed game, then tried to figure out how to devolve the game into an overly confrontational mess. It is possible in play-testing that the main problem with the game was a runaway leader…Fine…but that doesn’t mean the only possible game mechanic outlet is to include random attacks against the leader.

In the rulebook, there is a peaceful variant, but it doesn’t have anything to say about the strength of faction cards…in fact, the only way to raze is to use a card, so it makes it worse, not better (especially for the Barbarians). Razing is not horrible. Spend 2 swords and get two other resources & take away a power, and give 2 resources to the other player, including a foundation for building a faction card (which is worth an extra point to build). It is the faction conflict that is the problem, not the direct razing conflict.

I have considered what it would take to make the game better for me. Here are some ideas:

1. Remove the offending cards, and the Japanese & Romans remove 1 at random, and the Barbarians remove 2 at random from the faction decks (to give them equal decks, even though no faction was able to draw all their cards). This would also help with the perceived feeling (our table had it also) that the Egyptians are stronger than the other factions. This may make the Barbarians too strong, so it could be argued that the 2 Dark Chapel cards should be removed to compensate.

2. Fix the glitch with the expansion. Replace the cards with a better version that compensates the victimized player or make them less strong versions of their current selves. If a player really wants to bash the leader, in concert with the other players, make them pay for it.

3. Use the expansion to create a better defense mechanic. Allow defense to be a resource that can be created at the expense of the main engine of the game. Allow faction locations to be defended and make these offensive cards more expensive to use against defended locations. As it is now, defense is kind of silly…you can only use it during a turn, so if you are last in turn order, you may not even get to protect the location you want. It also only raises the cost of razing, and then you can’t move it to another location after that location is razed. It is an unrealized mechanic that could use some improvement.

Or I could just trade the game. I would hate to do this, because the game does have some good things going on (it rarely happens that I am this indecisive about trading a game)…it is just flabby in its execution…it just needs to be tightened up a bit. Please post your thoughts about my issues and these cards. I would like to hear about other’s experiences with this game.
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James Mathias
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Out of curiosity how many times have you played the game? And of those times, how many times have any of the cards you listed affected the game in a dramatic way?

I'm asking sincerely, as out of five games (just got it on Friday evening), I've never seen those cards become a problem, nor have I noticed Egyptians as being overpowered compared to the other factions. I too am primarily a mellow Euro style player, I prefer low conflict games, and this game doesn't feel high conflict to me, and our play times have been right around 30 to 40 minutes total.
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Curtis Harrelson
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I completely agree with this review. The game is so close to being great, but after the build up stage seems to devolve into chaos.

Another possible fix would be to make the super power cards much more expensive and target all players instead of just one. For example 'cost to play cards is increased for all player this round'. This would at least help with the kingmaking issue.
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Johnpatrick Marr
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Agreed, the buildings mentioned and point-and-shoot attacks in general are blunt instruments to prevent a runaway leader problem. It seems like proper play requires you to bash the leader (and the Japanese appear designed to lead all else being equal), so either one or more players feel overly picked on during the game and then end up losing, vindicating their feeling of being picked on needlessly or one of those players wins after probably having a somewhat miserable time (another outcome I've seen). Putting so much responsibility on the players to balance the game through direct conflict hasn't made the design very fun for my group. And yes, I do think it's different than other direct conflict games of the guys on a map variety, for instance, since those designs could funnel you in a certain direction or limit interactions between certain players in some way.
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Aditya C
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Just a note. Chariot cannot target faction locations unless they are Japanese and can be razed. It just makes razing significantly cheaper.

I've not heard of anyone having an issue with the cards being broken. They are mean, no doubt, but I like mean. Anyway, I'll aggressively use these cards to see if I'm getting the same issues.

Otherwise just removing the troublesome cards should work.
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David desJardins
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Caibre wrote:
I've not heard of anyone having an issue with the cards being broken. They are mean, no doubt, but I like mean. Anyway, I'll aggressively use these cards to see if I'm getting the same issues.


Perhaps, as an experiment, you could play a few games where you all agree beforehand to target just one player. And report back to us on whether that player wins and whether he enjoys the game.
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Russell Lee
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Chariot Builder -- one possible way to nerf/fix this card is to say that it only reduces the 2 raze token cost to 1 token.

In other words, it still costs more with a Samurai and/or a Defense token.
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-=::) Dante (::=-
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DaviddesJ wrote:
Perhaps, as an experiment, you could play a few games where you all agree beforehand to target just one player. And report back to us on whether that player wins and whether he enjoys the game.


The vast majority of multiplayer games centrally featuring direct conflict (including many in the top 100) wouldn't fare well in such an experiment. If that's how games are playing out it's speaks to a social issue or poor game choice for the group not a flawed design.
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Andy Andersen
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What's wrong with a game being very good but not great?
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Mike Bialecki
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DaviddesJ wrote:
Caibre wrote:
I've not heard of anyone having an issue with the cards being broken. They are mean, no doubt, but I like mean. Anyway, I'll aggressively use these cards to see if I'm getting the same issues.


Perhaps, as an experiment, you could play a few games where you all agree beforehand to target just one player. And report back to us on whether that player wins and whether he enjoys the game.


51st State and New Era always felt like they were designed to be 2-player games and I have played them that way 90% of the time. These conflict-oriented cards seem less painful in a two player game and you never feel unfairly "targeted" because there is only one person for your opponent to target. And because you only have one opponent targeting you, you will never get completely crushed by effects in the next 2 or 3 turns after your own.

I wonder if Imperial Settlers is better or at least has fewer of these issues with just two players.
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David desJardins
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NuMystic wrote:
The vast majority of multiplayer games centrally featuring direct conflict (including many in the top 100) wouldn't fare well in such an experiment. If that's how games are playing out it's speaks to a social issue or poor game choice for the group not a flawed design.


Most "multiplayer games with direct conflict" have factors built into the game system to guide players to act against one player or another. E.g., geographical restrictions that cause players to come into conflict with players next to them. Or features like the Cosmic Encounter destiny cone that limit whom you can target. "Anyone arbitrarily targeting anyone" games tend not to be very successful.
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Anthony Harlan
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Bert, what utter nonsense!
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Orangemoose wrote:
What's wrong with a game being very good but not great?

Nothing's wrong with it. Thankfully we are in a golden age right now where I don't even have enough time and money for all the GREAT games coming out. It's a good problem to have and I rely on good BGG reviewers to help me spend my money wisely.
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Aditya C
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DaviddesJ wrote:
NuMystic wrote:
The vast majority of multiplayer games centrally featuring direct conflict (including many in the top 100) wouldn't fare well in such an experiment. If that's how games are playing out it's speaks to a social issue or poor game choice for the group not a flawed design.


Most "multiplayer games with direct conflict" have factors built into the game system to guide players to act against one player or another. E.g., geographical restrictions that cause players to come into conflict with players next to them. Or features like the Cosmic Encounter destiny cone that limit whom you can target. "Anyone arbitrarily targeting anyone" games tend not to be very successful.


I don't think there is anything wrong with the free for all concept. If everyone just gangs up and takes out one guy, that's just suboptimal playing. You are wasting resources by trying to eliminate weaker enemies when you should be trying to take the leader down a peg.

Besides, the entire concept of negotiation and retribution are being ignored here. If the Egyptian player is bullying everyone, he is likely to see hugely adverse effects as a result. And no good strategy should be relying on one card exclusively anyway.
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David desJardins
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Caibre wrote:
I don't think there is anything wrong with the free for all concept.


Games can't be "right" or "wrong", different people just like different things.

Free for all games where anyone can attack anyone, and the game only works if everyone calculates who is ahead and only attacks the leader until they aren't the leader any more, just don't tend to be very popular. For reasons that happen to align with my own preferences.
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-=::) Dante (::=-
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DaviddesJ wrote:
"Anyone arbitrarily targeting anyone" games tend not to be very successful.


Like the bullying-as-fatal-flaw in co-ops argument, the number of popular games that people regularly complain of kingmaking being a problem clearly suggests otherwise. Obviously games of this nature are not suited to certain sensibilities but I said as much already.

There are those who avoid interactive 3p titles (weren't you one of them David? If not, sorry if I've confused you with someone else here. ) because they believe that king-making is an inevitable problem in this scenario, yet there are still plenty of successful interactive games that are "best/recommended with 3" despite this bias.

Not to mention the endless array of free for all multiplayer skirmish games widely played in every imaginable genre.

Again, it's an issue of social dynamics and picking the wrong game for a group's particular temperaments not an inherent flaw by design. It's fine if you don't personally care for games that don't mitigate such behavior, but that's a matter of taste not a design flaw.

If a group of people are ganging up and ruthlessly grinding a single player into the dust just for the sake of it, that's a group I wouldn't want to play with ever again, not a title I feel the need to avoid. I don't need rules to discourage assholery at the game table, I do that by self-selecting who I choose to play games with.
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David desJardins
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NuMystic wrote:
There are those who avoid interactive 3p titles (weren't you one of them David? If not, sorry if I've confused you with someone else here. )


No. It just depends on the game. There are lots of 3p games that avoid the "balance of power/target the leader" problem/issue/feature/pattern. There are lots and lots of ways for designers to mitigate this. It just seems like this particular designer was happy to have this particular feature in this particular game. Which means I probably won't like the game much, even though I like his other game that I've played. That's ok, there are lots of games out there to try.
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Jason Reid
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DaviddesJ wrote:
NuMystic wrote:
The vast majority of multiplayer games centrally featuring direct conflict (including many in the top 100) wouldn't fare well in such an experiment. If that's how games are playing out it's speaks to a social issue or poor game choice for the group not a flawed design.


Most "multiplayer games with direct conflict" have factors built into the game system to guide players to act against one player or another. E.g., geographical restrictions that cause players to come into conflict with players next to them. Or features like the Cosmic Encounter destiny cone that limit whom you can target. "Anyone arbitrarily targeting anyone" games tend not to be very successful.


Through the Ages being a notable exception; free-for-all direct conflict, encouraged from the very beginning of a long game, and enjoying immense popularity by many people's standards.
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Adam Kazimierczak
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Life is too short to play merely "good" games. If I had unlimited time and unlimited funds I would still probably limit my collection to great games. And with the number of games released a year this is not an unreasonable limitation.

That said, perhaps the kingmaker critiques are a bit harsh considering the checkered past of asymmetrical games. Then again poorly balanced take that mechanics rankle most in otherwise balanced euros. From the mandatory quests in Lords of Waterdeep to the bombing runs in Manhattan Project, nothing is more upsetting than targeted VP disruption in an optimization exercise.

"Mommy! Somebody put AT in my euro!"
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Duncan Idaho
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kaziam wrote:
Life is too short to play merely "good" games.


Agreed. I don't keep anything I'd rate under a 7 unless my wife likes it.
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Alex Ansari
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We haven't played with all of the factions, but have had no trouble with the Romans' Engineers building. If you spend all of your time and resources destroying other people's buildings, you're hurting yourself. They are situational attacks, to stop a certain combo from continually racking up victory points for one side. In the handful of games we've played, if the person playing the Romans built the Engineers, it's basically a 50/50 win rate. I haven't tried the others, but I don't see it as game-breaking unless you're playing with someone who just wants to be a jerk.
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David desJardins
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jasonwocky wrote:
Through the Ages being a notable exception; free-for-all direct conflict


It's exactly the opposite. The conflict in TTA is very limited: you have to have the right card, you have to have military strength, your selection of a target is dictated by their own military strength and position, not just whom you think is winning.
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Daniel Honig
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Rather than punch the leader, Through the Ages has "punch whoever is behind until they collapse". The game is (intentionally) balanced around seeing how far you can bleed someone before they ragequit.

The conflict in this game is different - it's surgical effects, meant to either hurt another player at modest cost to yourself or to get resources at modest harm to another player. If your group's goal is to constantly gang up on someone (you?), there's nothing wrong with disliking open combat in general. The first time we played this game, everyone commented (happily, mind you) on how spiteful / aggressive it could be - it's refreshing to have euros that make you watch out for what people can stab you with.

At the same time, last time I built a Garrison it got deleted ASAP even though it wasn't particularly helping me - if they had razed my Geisha School instead I would have been put way behind, but they hit the Garrison. Attacking people is a feature, and it's handled very well - you need to build a building that does nothing but attack people, usually at significant cost to build + activate, that only works a few times, and that needs to target carefully. Worse, you need to do it early in a round, before you know what people are going to do (or the building probably will have been activated already). This means you need to look way into the future and figure out who will be the leader several go-rounds ahead.
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Jason Reid
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DaviddesJ wrote:
jasonwocky wrote:
Through the Ages being a notable exception; free-for-all direct conflict


It's exactly the opposite. The conflict in TTA is very limited: you have to have the right card, you have to have military strength, your selection of a target is dictated by their own military strength and position, not just whom you think is winning.


I think it's less constraining than Cosmic Encounter or a Dudes on a Map game. If you're keeping pace in military, then ultimately you can Agress anybody as long as you have the right cards (and IS has that same constraint). Whether or not it's "good play" to do so is besides the point, I think.

I've never conducted the experiment where 3 good players conspired to prevent a 4th good player from winning in TTA, but I imagine I wouldn't have a good time being that 4th. I'm sure you've played TTA more than I have, though; perhaps you disagree with that.
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Chase Williams
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Sorry, I've only played this once. What "Expansion" are you referring to?
 
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Jason Rupp
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DaviddesJ wrote:
NuMystic wrote:
The vast majority of multiplayer games centrally featuring direct conflict (including many in the top 100) wouldn't fare well in such an experiment. If that's how games are playing out it's speaks to a social issue or poor game choice for the group not a flawed design.


Most "multiplayer games with direct conflict" have factors built into the game system to guide players to act against one player or another. E.g., geographical restrictions that cause players to come into conflict with players next to them. Or features like the Cosmic Encounter destiny cone that limit whom you can target. "Anyone arbitrarily targeting anyone" games tend not to be very successful.


Chaos in the old world didn't and it was very successful.

Now on to the OP.... It's fine to dislike this game because of the conflict but please don't call it flawed design just because you don't like conflict. Those cards you mention are there to react to someone that built an extremely powerful engine. If you don't like the thought of someone being able to destroy your engine (which seems to be a large part of this game) then maybe this game isn't for you. I enjoy the fact that it's in the game because i have a million multiplayer solitaire games and it can get annoying when you can't stop an engine.

//edit: I know you don't go out and call it flawed directly but many things you said and solutions to the "problem" indirectly do so Just adding this edit because I don't want to start an argument about that line, heh.
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