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Subject: Solitaire Variant: The PanaBot's Challenge rss

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Dale Buonocore
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What a truly marvelous game. I love Madeira, and was thus looking forward to this game with high expectations -- and I was not disappointed. The only thing missing from my vantage point as primarily a solitaire player is a viable solitaire mode/variant. So after taking the initial plunge, the basic features of such a possible variant began to appear and slowly come together, and after much play-testing and associated tweaking, this one finally crystallized. And so I offer it here for others who may be interested...

My goal was to come up with a simplified AI opponent (a “bot”) who could provide a good challenge and at the same time not be unwieldy to operate. Not an easy undertaking given the complexity and multiple interacting parts involved in this game, but this is the result of that effort. The AI opponent will be referred to henceforth as the “PanaBot.” Thematically, I envision it as a hungry corporation’s faceless hand-picked minion tasked with attempting to put you out of business to clear the way for it to monopolize the shipping business on the Panama Canal.

First, the overview. The game will essentially operate within the usual 2-player parameters, and you will start as the 1st player and play quite normally. You will start with the “Offshore Accounts” Financial Advisor card, and will still be able to use 2 additional ones. The PanaBot will need a D6 to help select “his” actions and to make a few other choices here and there. The PanaBot’s corporate backers will absorb all necessary costs and fees, and he will start with all of his ships already built and ready to be deployed. He will start with no money (but with 1 share, as per normal 2P set-up), and his final score will be determined purely by his profits plus any Managing Director Awards he earns.

NOTE: There is no separation between the PanaBot's money and his company's (they are merged into one joint pool), with all profits/shares coming from the bank -- so that starting share goes right into that pool during set-up.

Now for the specifics of how the PanaBot plays...

SET-UP: You won’t need to use a Clipboard for the PanaBot, unless you just wish to for organizational purposes. As noted previously, he starts with all of his ships built and ready to be deployed, and with no money. The stock value of his Company starts at 6, as usual.

Draw 2 Set-Up Contract cards -- choose one, a give him the other. Draw 3 Financial Advisor cards, and pick another one (remember: you will already have the "Offshore Accounts" one) for yourself -- the PanaBot doesn’t get any as his corporate backers insist on providing all advice to him given their huge investment and consequent controlling interests. You will both load your dice as usual, with the PanaBot’s loading priorities being as follows for this and all of his loading actions during the game:

LOADING PRIORITIES: Starting with the highest value die and working down from there, apply these priorities sequentially... [NOTE: The PanaBot can load more than one die on the same ship or the Rail Table in the same turn.]

1) to the 1st wagon of the Rail Table if indicated and possible

2) to a Cruise ship (die values of 1 or 2) able to take the die (smallest breaks a tie); if he cannot place this die on a Cruise ship as a Passenger, he will then place it as Cargo if possible

3) to one of his ships already out and able to take the die (smallest breaks a tie)

4) to one of your ships already out and able to take the die (smallest breaks a tie)

5) by deploying the smallest of his available un-deployed ships that can take the die and loading it there

6) if any ties remain after all priorities have been sequentially applied, use the D6 to choose among remaining options.


The PanaBot will use the D6 to choose among available actions -- do “adjust” the D6 roll to simplify things once you get down to 2 (123/456) or 3 (12/34/56) options, and re-roll as needed for 4 or more options. When he gets an Executive action, first roll the D6 to choose whether he goes with the Movement or Contract/Load Cargo option on the left, or the Market options on the right -- if the latter, roll again to choose whether he gets 1 share in his Company for free (kind of as a bonus for his efforts, and increasing its stock value by +1 as usual) OR increases his Company’s stock value by +2. The PanaBot will do as much of any selected action as he can -- e.g., if he selects the Contract/Load Cargo action but cannot take the contract, he will use as many of the available load actions as he can; if he can’t use any of them, he simply passes for that turn. NOTE: If he does not have enough available dice to take the normal contract, but does have enough for the generic side contract, he will take it on the generic contract side and proceed from there. And if he is loading from a generic contract container giving the option of loading on the Rail table or a ship, he will prioritize loading on the Rail table.

Note that the PanaBot cannot buy any of your stocks -- nor can you buy any of his.

When the PanaBot moves, he will sequentially apply the following priorities...

MOVE PRIORITIES: These are determined primarily by the movement starting areas involved, moving ships able to be moved as follows:

1) from the area where he’d currently be paying the highest total Cargo Fee -- then, to break ties:
1a) from the area involving the largest number of his ships;
1b) from the area with the highest total value (# of pips) of his dice

NOTE: If there are 2 or more eligible ships which cannot all be grouped, choose the one(s) with the greatest number of his dice; if still tied, the one(s) with the highest total number of pips on his dice; if still tied, use the D6 as the tie-breaker...

2) from the area with the Military ship from which he would earn the most money, even if he won't actually get that money because he already did for the turn (the one closest to the end point if there’s a tie); otherwise, the smallest one

3) from the area where you would currently pay the lowest total Cargo Fee -- then, to break ties:
3a) from the area with the largest number of your ships;
3b) from the area with the lowest total dice value of your dice

4) if any ties remain after all priorities have been sequentially applied, use the D6 to choose among remaining options.

Note that the first priority will likely cover most situations, and that he will rigidly follow these priorities even when they are helpful to your efforts.

The PanaBot will group and un-group ships when possible so as to maximize benefits to his shipping efforts and minimize benefits to yours -- i.e., as much as possible, he will group all ships transporting his dice (highest total dice value to break ties) and/or any Military ships earning him money (highest value to break ties) when moving, and will cut loose any ships providing him no benefits at the first opportunity.

The PanaBot benefits from collecting “sets” of Flags -- i.e., 3 of the same ones, and/or 1 of each of the 4 different ones. Immediately upon completing such a set, he gets one free share in his Company (a bonus from his corporate backers), and the value of the stock increases +1 as usual. When eligible for a Flag from the Rail Table, he will use the D6 to randomly choose from those available.

The PanaBot always takes money (rather than any Bonus cards) when one of his ships reaches the end of the canal.

At the end of all rounds, the PanaBot’s corporate backers automatically absorb the costs of any required Cargo Fees. He will be paid dividends for any of his Company’s shares he holds, and he is eligible to win the Managing Director Award (and often will) at the end of each round. At the end of the game, all normal scoring procedures apply.

NOTE: Whenever any situations arise which are not clearly covered by these rules and priorities (and they surely will!), do whatever best serves the PanaBot’s efforts (i.e., what you would do if you were him) -- if this is not clearly evident, use the D6 to choose among the best/equal options.



That’s about it (whew!) -- I hope I explained it all in a sufficiently clear and coherent manner. Any feedback and/or suggestions for improvement will be most welcome.

If at some point you wish to strengthen the PanaBot and thus increase the difficulty level, you can choose among a variety of options, singly or in any combination:

1) limit yourself to using only your 2 best Financial Advisor cards for scoring purposes at the end of the game
2) when you get your 3-slot ship to the end of the canal and want to take a Financial Advisor card, draw only the top 3 from which to choose one
3) choose the Flag which best helps the PanaBot to complete any set(s) when he can choose one from the Rail Table (rather than choosing randomly)
4) if he cannot load any cargo from a chosen contract (even though he has enough dice to take it), he will flip it to the generic side
5) if he selects a totally useless contract card (i.e., not enough available dice to take it on either side, and no dice on other contract cards which can be loaded), he will shift that action die to the Movement side for free (highest open space > rightmost to break ties)
6) if an Executive action die is available, he will automatically take it.
7) when taking an Executive action die, he will always choose to take a Market action (using the D6 to randomly choose between the 2 options).

Or, if at some point you wish to weaken the PanaBot and thus lower the difficulty level, you can: 1) require him to pay his Cargo Fees at the end of Round 3; or 2) also require him to pay his Cargo Fees at the end of Round 2.

And, although I think this game works just fine for 2-player play, I can’t help but wonder if the PanaBot could perhaps be fairly easily utilized (with a few very minor adjustments) as a “3rd player” for those who prefer more interaction than that provided in the 2-player game...?

EDIT: Meant to include results of my last game -- I lost 92-86. Haven't beaten the PanaBot yet, but hope to soon...!

2nd EDIT: A couple of clarifications, and an expansion of options for strengthening the PanaBot (and thus increasing the difficulty level) if/as desired. Much credit and many thanks/kudos to Kurt R/enzo622 for his significant contributions culminating in this fine-tuning effort...!

3rd EDIT: One more clarification. 4th EDIT: A couple more...
5th EDIT: To add one more optional "tweak" for strengthening the PanaBot and thus increasing the difficulty level.
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Stephen Buonocore
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Nicely done, Dale!

Thanks,
Stephen M. Buonocore
Stronghold Games LLC


(*) Dale and I are not related...as far as we know...
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Kurt R
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Interesting! I will give this a try -- because God knows I need all the help I can getting better at this one (still love it though).
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Dale Buonocore
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Got thumped soundly by the PanaBot tonight, 120-65 -- ouch. Must do better in the 1st round, as I fell behind badly there (had to take a Bailout token to help my Company pay its Cargo Fees), and just couldn't recover enough. Plus he raked in major profits from his Shares, both in terms of dividends and then from having acquired all 5 and selling them at the end.

Looking like a tough and unforgiving Bot, indeed. I may also need to focus more on prioritizing beating him to Executive actions and taking better care of my Stock value...?! And just in improving my own overall play, as I'm still in the process of learning how to play this game well...

And I really enjoyed it (!), despite the thumping -- which is yet another sign of a great game. I like tough Bots who require me to probe them and gradually figure out their vulnerabilities and ways of effectively exploiting them -- and this one will clearly prove to be quite a challenge, making any progress/improvement (let alone a win) all the sweeter.

Of course, the PanaBot could be weakened a bit via noted adjustments -- but, no. He's clearly thrown down the gauntlet now -- so let the games begin...



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Dale Buonocore
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Lost tonight in a really good game -- 78-71. So close...

Never even built my 3-slot ship, but the downside of that was that I never got that 3rd Financial Advisor card -- not sure if the positives outweighed the negatives there. Grabbed more Executive actions before the PanaBot could, and did do better with my Company's stocks -- that seemed to pay off. Used more generic Cargo to fill up ships so I could get them moving out of high Cargo Fee areas before each round's end, and focused on getting 1 of each Flag as soon as possible in order to get that bonus where you can move Action dice from one side to the other for free -- the flexibility that brings seems quite helpful. Also moved smarter here and there so as to get some nice pushes from his moves.

Thus the PanaBot is proving to be a very good teacher, indeed. He still beat me -- but I'm definitely getting closer...
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Kurt R
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Giving it a go... I assume the PanaBot starts the game and receives no stock (as well as no money)?

Edit: And when breaking ties for Managing Director, it's how much my company has vs how much the PanaBot has (which is really his personal money)?
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Dale Buonocore
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Correct on both counts. Looking forward to hearing how it went...
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Kurt R
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Went great! That was a lot of fun to play this game solitaire. He started off uncannily taking action dice I was planning to use and surged ahead, winning the first two Managing Director awards, but towards the end of the game, he had dice wasting away on contracts in front of him (no available boats!) and ended up using movement actions inefficiently while I was able to get all the shares of my stock while pumping my value up. I won 143-116. I got my 3 boat across for an extra goal card which helped a lot.

One time he was to load dice but there were no boats available in the zone for loading. He had a 1 die and a 3 die with the 1 having to go to the rail, but I sent the 3 since you always start with the highest die. Other than that, no rules questions came up.

I look forward to playing again for sure in the next couple of days. Thanks for posting this variant!
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Dale Buonocore
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Thanks so much for reporting back on how it went. Glad it played smoothly for you, and... well done on your victory! I haven't beaten him yet, but plan to give it another try this evening...
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Kurt R
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Elad wrote:
Thanks so much for reporting back on how it went. Glad it played smoothly for you, and... well done on your victory! I haven't beaten him yet, but plan to give it another try this evening...

Look forward to hearing how you do. I'll report back after my next play (probably tomorrow).
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Dale Buonocore
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He beat me again, 107-78. And again, great fun -- even losing.

I'm definitely going to prioritize getting that 3-slot ship out (rather than the other 1-slot one) in the first round so I can get that final Financial Advisor card, and not worry so much about my Company's paying dividends that round -- just paying Cargo Fees. Might even hold off on buying shares until later (let prices drop a bit), and then pump up the stock value, which is a nice way of using those Executive action dice to keep him from using them to pump up his stock value. Another good way is to move those Executive action dice to the other side (when I've got that bonus that makes it free) and doing so is worthwhile.

What a delightful integration of multiple interacting parts to be considered with each choice, eh? And I love how challenging this PanaBot has turned out to be (at least for me! modest), thus serving as a good teacher -- forcing me to look more deeply into the game's dynamics, to more fully analyze his strengths and potential weaknesses, and to keep trying new tactics and strategies as a result...

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Kurt R
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Please clarify loading for me.

Does the PanaBot break the normal loading rules in any way?
a) Can he load multiple dice on the same boat/rail table on a turn?
b) Does the rail table icon apply to him?
c) If a contract has a rail table icon, do I load that die first or still always start with the highest die and work down?

I've had a situation where -- if I start at the top and work down for his dice -- he loads a die to the rail table but then the 1 that is supposed to go to the rail table gets stuck whereas if I did it the other way, he'd load both dice.
 
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Dale Buonocore
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The PanaBot essentially abides by all normal rules except where otherwise specified, and in this case (which is one of those "except where otherwise specified" instances) he must attempt to load his dice starting from the highest one and then work down. So, in response to your specific questions:

a) No.
b) Yes.
c) Start with the highest die and work down.

With regard to the situation you describe, I'm confused as I can see no possible way where he could load two dice to the Rail table on the same turn -- just as you could not. So it sounds like you did it correctly.

Does that clarify things OK?

And I just realized I've been unthinkingly paying my money to the bank rather than to my Company when I buy shares of my Company's stock -- aaargh! This silly error might have turned at least one of my 2 close losses into wins?! So it goes -- lesson learned. gulp
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Kurt R
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Thanks, Dale. So if he has a contract with 3 dice and one must go to the rail, how does that work? Start there or start at the highest die?
 
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Dale Buonocore
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Start at the highest.
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Kurt R
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Elad wrote:
Start at the highest.

Okiedoke. Sorry to be a pain about it, I just wanted to be 100% sure since I had a situation where if I put the 5 on the rail, by the time I got down to the 1 that has to go to the rail, it was now blocked (can't put 2 on the rail on same turn plus the rail was now full) and couldn't go on a boat (2-5) whereas had the 1 gone to the rail, the 5 could've gone to a boat.
 
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Dale Buonocore
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Just realized there's a point of uncertainty which needs clarification. I've been playing that you cannot place a die from a container without a Rail icon onto the Rail table -- i.e., that only dice from containers with Rail icons can (and must) go there, while all others must go on ships.

I think you've been playing that any die can go to the Rail table?

There's a thread asking that precise question in which responses indicate that the former is correct -- but other places seem to imply that the latter is possible.

I requested clarification on the FAQ thread in the Files section, and may also do so in the Rules forum.

Stay tuned...
 
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Kurt R
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Elad wrote:
Just realized there's a point of uncertainty which needs clarification. I've been playing that you cannot place a die from a container without a Rail icon onto the Rail table -- i.e., that only dice from containers with Rail icons can (and must) go there, while all others must go on ships.

I think you've been playing that any die can go to the Rail table?

There's a thread asking that precise question in which responses indicate that the former is correct -- but other places seem to imply that the latter is possible.

I requested clarification on the FAQ thread in the Files section, and may also do so in the Rules forum.

Stay tuned...
Ah, therein lies the confusion on my end.

Yes, we play that any die CAN go to the rail table but the rail icon means it MUST -- as long as you don't do two in the same turn. I thought that was correct but it won't surprise me if I got that wrong.

Edit: Sorry for the confusion. Now I've got it straightened out.
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Dale Buonocore
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Woo-hoo! Finally got my first win against the PanaBot, 135-101.

Also looks like that rules question has been definitively answered: dice from containers without the Rail icon cannot be loaded on the Rail table. So the PanaBot's loading priorities remain unchanged...
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Kurt R
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Elad wrote:
Woo-hoo! Finally got my first win against the PanaBot, 135-101.

Also looks like that rules question has been definitively answered: dice from containers without the Rail icon cannot be loaded on the Rail table. So the PanaBot's loading priorities remain unchanged...

Nice!

I'm still beating him pretty easily. Sometimes the dice are uncanny and then sometimes they're ... stupid and he does inefficient things. I think I'm going to play that he always takes an executive action die if one is available and it's always for a stock option (roll to see of which kind) b/c he's not getting much stock in my games. He suffers dice sitting on contracts b/c he takes them and can't load all the dice (no boats). This means he's not getting enough flags and then not enough stock. The result is I fly by him on the stock chart and he doesn't get enough dice on the board and he wastes movement actions.

I'm still enjoying it, but I will play my next game with an eye towards what can make it tougher. I think there needs to be a tweak as regards contract loading, like maybe he breaks the rule about dice going to the rail table or something to allow him to get dice off contracts.

I beat him 128-77 this morning btw.

Edit: I'm thinking of maybe allowing his boats to move regardless of the usual pips requirements.
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Dale Buonocore
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Do keep in mind those 2 optional tweaks I mentioned which would strengthen the PanaBot. Not sure what you mean by "allowing his boats to move regardless of the usual pips requirements"?

Another possible tweak which comes to mind would be (in addition to or instead of letting him always choose an available Executive action die) to let him move a useless Contract/Load action which he has chosen to the Movement side for free -- perhaps to the highest (then furthest to the right to break ties) space...?

I'm still impressed you're beating him so regularly and easily, especially as I just got my first win after 6 losses (granted, 2 were close and might have been wins if I hadn't been paying for my shares to the bank rather than my Company!). In that game I was able to hold his access to his Company's shares down (as well as their value), while pumping mine up nicely and buying 4 shares by game end. I also got the 1st and 3rd Managing Director Awards, which was the equivalent of a 20 point swing right there...
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Kurt R
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Elad wrote:
Do keep in mind those 2 optional tweaks I mentioned which would strengthen the PanaBot. Not sure what you mean by "allowing his boats to move regardless of the usual pips requirements"?

Another possible tweak which comes to mind would be (in addition to or instead of letting him always choose an available Executive action die) to let him move a useless Contract/Load action which he has chosen to the Movement side for free -- perhaps to the highest (then furthest to the right to break ties) space...?

I'm still impressed you're beating him so regularly and easily, especially as I just got my first win after 6 losses (granted, 2 were close and might have been wins if I hadn't been paying for my shares to the bank rather than my Company!). In that game I was able to hold his access to his Company's shares down (as well as their value), while pumping mine up nicely and buying 4 shares by game end. I also got the 1st and 3rd Managing Director Awards, which was the equivalent of a 20 point swing right there...

Yeah, I keep checking to make sure I'm playing correctly, and I believe I am. I have the instructions next to me when I play.

As I said, the first round is close but then he ends up getting dice stuck on contracts. I'm playing that if he takes a new contract, he loads that one first and then if there are leftover loading actions, he'll use those to get dice off other contracts of his, but I may try having him first use loading actions to clear off any "stuck" dice he already has. Or he always gets +1 when loading his dice.

****

Just played and ... success! Me 152, PanaBot 148! Wow, he made me work for that one. I really didn't think I was going to pull it out. I got my 3 boat out and took a contract that gave me 16 endgame points FTW.

I played with these changes:

1. I only got the Offshore Accounts card at game start

2. He automatically takes an available EA die and rolls to see what he does with it

3. I applied intelligence when took contracts. If it made "more sense" for him to flip it to the other side, I did that. I generally did whatever would get him the most dice out onto the board.*

4. He takes a flag from the rail table that will complete a set if possible, otherwise roll

That was a lot more fun; he won the last two Managing Director awards and generally had a lot more going on since he had more dice on the board.

He lost a couple turns this game with nothing to do but that only evened out how effective he was, so I'm OK with that. It feels like One Quiet Night in Pandemic. And having him automatically take an EA die really puts the squeeze on your choices; I quite like that idea.

*I'll play it again and see if I can specify the rule (my rule) for taking contracts. For me, that's the part that the AI needed to do a better job of; your movement rules seem to work just fine.

But, damn, that was a lot of fun. Still can't believe I pulled it out.
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Kurt R
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Another balancing thought I had is this: that FA card I took ($2 for every flag) is probably going to always be better than other others b/c you get a LOT of flags in the 2P game b/c you have more actions. Perhaps when you get your 3 boat through you flip over 3 FAs and choose 1 instead of getting your choice.
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Dale Buonocore
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All excellent ideas for strengthening the PanaBot. If you can specify precisely how to apply #3, that would be a good one -- I was flipping to the generic side only if he didn't have enough dice for the front contract, but did have enough for that. Your idea of choosing whichever one would have him get the most dice loaded might work, but would potentially penalize him in terms of getting flags > shares? Trade-offs to be play-tested and assessed...

I agree that the FA card giving you $2 per flag is the best in a 2P game -- I always take that one when I can.

I applaud your efforts here -- very well done. Please continue to keep me posted, and I'll provide whatever feedback/suggestions I can...
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Kurt R
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Elad wrote:
All excellent ideas for strengthening the PanaBot. If you can specify precisely how to apply #3, that would be a good one -- I was flipping to the generic side only if he didn't have enough dice for the front contract, but did have enough for that. Your idea of choosing whichever one would have him get the most dice loaded might work, but would potentially penalize him in terms of getting flags > shares? Trade-offs to be play-tested and assessed...

I agree that the FA card giving you $2 per flag is the best in a 2P game -- I always take that one when I can.

I applaud your efforts here -- very well done. Please continue to keep me posted, and I'll provide whatever feedback/suggestions I can...

Thanks, Dale. I appreciate your feedback. As you can see, this variant inspires my thoughts. And now that I have the rules down, I can whip through a game pretty quickly.

I nipped him again, 132 to 128! Very close game. In fact, I only won b/c I got lucky. I played with my last suggestion that when my 3 boat comes in, I flip over 3 FA cards and choose one (as opposed to choosing from all) and I got the $2 per flag one again. Had I not, I wouldn't have beat him.

As to loading, if he could not load at least one die to the zone (due to no boats being available), I flipped the contract to the back side and sent a die to the rail if allowed, otherwise I used common sense as to where to put the die(ce). He had two flipped over contracts at game end, but he did end with 4 of his stock shares thanks to the rule where he automatically takes an EA die. I snatched up most of them, but some I had to let him have (and he rolled to purchase stock). I won the first two MD awards, but he took the last one. Having him take flags from the rail table intelligently helps him a lot too.

All in all, I enjoy the variant. I do hope to see him beat me though. meeple

PS I'm quite impressed with how well this works, especially the movement priority rules. I hope others try it out and provide feedback.

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