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Subject: Strengthening the non-expedition tracks. rss

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Alex Bove
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I may have reached the tipping point at which Goa (for me) has become a one strategy game. I'm convinced that with even average card draws, a player advancing very quickly down the spice and expedition tracks has a huge advantage over a player employing any other strategy (in a 4-player game). The main reason these tracks are so powerful is that their rewards for reaching level 3 are much greater than the other tracks' rewards for reaching the same level. Reaching level 3 on spices and expedition cards allows you to perform actions on those tracks at double their level 2 strengths (you go from a two to a four spice harvest and from a one to two card draw). Drawing two cards is like getting an extra (level 2) action. I've talked about this already in this thread:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/914133#914133

I wonder if altering the non-expedition tracks as follows would restore Goa's balance:

Ships and colonists - 1, 2, 4, 5, 6
Taxes - 4, 6, 10, 12, 14

Now every track gets a generous level 3 boost. Moreover, now the level 3 actions are (in every case except taxes) double the level 2 actions, just as they are on the spice/expedition tracks.

I can't see why these changes would be objectionable. If the expedition and spice tracks are inherently more powerful than the other tracks (just look at the math), why not balance the game? Also, while these changes might lead to slight score inflation, they would most likely inflate the scores of non-expedition/spice players, which is what we want to do.

Should I call Rudiger Dorn?
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Maarten D. de Jong
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You may call Rüdiger as soon as you release a thorough treatise on the importance of the auctions. There exist many discussions on the relative strenghts of the expedition tracks versus the others, but they always seem to presuppose that the proper spices are already in the possession of the the player utilising an expedition card strategy. How to obtain those in light of uncooperative players was never answered satisfactory, and I think it wasn't until the reprint appeared that I saw someone mention very carefully that perhaps colonies could be utilised to obtain the missing spices if the other players conspired to make the spices required for an expedition strategy hideously expensive.

So instead of changing numbers on other tracks, I'd like to see some discussion on how the auctions proceed in your games. Are these mean or easy? Are you allowed to obtain the expedition spices easily? What tracks do the others specialise in? What is the money flow like---does someone run out of cash at some point? How do you obtain the resources to utilise the expedition cards to their full extent? And so forth. I am not a Goa-newbie (about a 10 games played so far), but I have yet to see the infamous expedition card strategy used with devastating effectiveness.

In my opinion, Goa is treated far too much like an action game with a few auctions thrown in for good measure---but since the only way to annoy opponents is through the latter, it should be the other way around. If you can make a concinving case that despite nasty and very tense auctions you still manage to beat the others consistently with the expedition card strategy, then you should drop Rüdiger a line. He mentioned the expedition card strategy just once on Spielbox, claiming on the basis of his 40+ games experience that yes, it was a good one, but by no means invulnerable to a good ships/spices-strategy.
 
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Alex Bove
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I assume that everyone plays properly at auction. The flag goes for 6 or 7 in the first round and inflates from then on, players almost never buy their own auction tiles, etc.

I'd like to see how you're playing that you can avoid ever allowing double nutmeg or double clove tiles into the game. You must have some very strange starting tile distributions. You also must play against expedition card strategists who never win the flag so they can steer the flag toward plantations the following round. I guess your expedition-focused opponents also never win colonists that they can use to found the colonies that will give them the spices they need. I also have to assume that your opponents, whom you apparently so handily defeat, never get the most powerful expedition cards (like the one that coordinates perfectly with the spice track: harvest 8 of your choice of ships, colonists, and spices).

You see what it sounds like when I assume that you don't know what you're talking about?

Assuming strong auction play, the tracks are still out of balance. I was trying to address that problem.
 
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Maarten D. de Jong
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I find it somewhat annoying that critical questions apparently can only be answered with patronising counter-questions. My original comments remain unanswered: there are lots of suggestions in strengthening other tracks to be found here on the Geek, and all of them assume things I do not find that easy to assume based on how my own games of Goa have played out to date. I am not alone in that respect (once again referring to said discussions, which have plenty of other critical opinions). That is why I asked my questions to begin with, to get a better insight in how your games play out, to see if there are things which I have missed. But it appears that I won't get any straight answers, which is a shame. Obviously, I have worn out my welcome and therefore won't contribute to this thread any further. I wish you succes in contacting Rüdiger.
 
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Alex Bove
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cymric wrote:
You may call Rüdiger as soon as you release a thorough treatise on the importance of the auctions.


Did this comment not set the tone here? How is this not cynical? I apologize for being snippy, but my original suggestion was not discussed in either response to my post. Instead, it seemed I was being dismissed as an amateur. That is not the case.

Again, I reiterate that I'm assuming strong auction play by my opponents. The problem is that all four players can go for the expedition/spice combo. No amount of auction-denial can prevent this. Wouldn't the game be better if several paths were equally strong and the winner was the player who executed his particular plan most efficiently? My current interpretation of Goa is that the game, assuming strong play by all players, is largely in the hands of the cards, not the players. You disagree with my assumption, fine. But please don't assume I haven't considered the role auctions play in the game.
 
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Gerald Cameron
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montu wrote:
Again, I reiterate that I'm assuming strong auction play by my opponents. The problem is that all four players can go for the expedition/spice combo. No amount of auction-denial can prevent this.


Really? It seems to me that the tile mix and the way the auctions are structure means that, at the very least, some players have to at least defer pursuit of this strategy or pursue it via the (by your accounting) less efficient means of colonization.

This is doubly true since expedition + spices requires a significant amount of spice infrastructure to pursue (compared to expeditions alone). If everyone is bidding competently, the plantations required for this should be getting split evenly and at high prices, leaving an opportunity for someone to pursue a cheapass strategy of some sort.
 
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Alex Bove
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Linnaeus wrote:
Really? It seems to me that the tile mix and the way the auctions are structure means that, at the very least, some players have to at least defer pursuit of this strategy or pursue it via the (by your accounting) less efficient means of colonization.

This is doubly true since expedition + spices requires a significant amount of spice infrastructure to pursue (compared to expeditions alone). If everyone is bidding competently, the plantations required for this should be getting split evenly and at high prices, leaving an opportunity for someone to pursue a cheapass strategy of some sort.


This is true. I was thinking that by mid-game everyone should have a decent collection of plantations/colonies no matter how the auction goes. At that point, it should be a race to the bottom of expeditions and spices (even if one or two players have already earned the bonus cards for those advances) because the "harvest any combination" card is so powerful it is worth almost anything to increase your chances of drawing it, not to mention all the other very helpful cards.

So assuming that a variety of starting strategies are viable, by the mid-game I assert that (under the current rules) everyone should be going for the same strategy. That's the "problem" I'm attempting to fix.

BTW, the spice demands of these two tracks are not that high. In fact, they coordinate beautifully. With the capacity to make two red, two green, one black and one white you can get to the bottom of both. So all you need is a single or double clove, Madras (red/green), and Quillon (white/black) or Cochin. Granted, that's not a very efficient way to do it (you'll need to use more actions than if you got, say, double-nutmeg and double-pepper), but with the right cards it's possible to advance those two tracks very quickly with only a few plantations/colonies.
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Chris Trimmer
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There definitely are multiple viable strategies. My favorite is figuring out ways to make good use of whatever you can get your hands on at below market values. Other times you can just plan around a couple of good, but not great action expedition cards. You can get your set-up done cheaper and wind up with an equivalent benefit to the "uber-card".
 
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Or you could just play another game laugh

 
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Brian Bankler
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Montu,

I was just thinking this after my latest Goa game Monday. I like your idea, although I was thinking about reducing the card draws on the action track, or other tricks. [Actually, I rather like the idea that you can't play a card the turn you draw, but your idea is probably better].

cymric wrote:
You may call Rüdiger as soon as you release a thorough treatise on the importance of the auctions.


First of all, this comment did set the tone. I'm chalking that up to a non-native English speaker in a written medium.


In my last game, I raced up the money track, and won lots of auctions. Now, nobody got an early nutmeg, but the first colony had it (of course). And one player hit level three at the end of the 2nd round. I had gone up the money track and forced him to take money (at 4). But he drew some $5 cards and 'sell spice' cards to keep cash up.

The card track (well, the cards) duplicate all of the other tracks (with some degree of randomness) the converse is not true. He also used cards to walk the colonist track spending a single spice. The rest were done with the "No goods needed" cards (or pay money).

Let's talk about auctions. Often there isn't a nutmeg early. The fact that someone may have to take a few extra actions doesn't change the fact that two cards are two actions. It's a good shot to take an early colony attempt to get your choice (even if you won a planatation). Odds are with you, and you'll probably want to do it quickly anyway.

The lack of the right plantation just delays the expedition track (like it does any other track). It also turns Goa into a "Who gets the (un)lucky colonist draw" first, since only two colonies provide single nutmeg. [Many players are loathe to auction a great tile and earn 7 when they can auction a poor tile and earn 5]. Winning the flag and then losing the first colonist flip (if nobody get a nutmeg plantation) is brutal. And completely random. It's especially random in that there's no auction for second, the happy beneficiary.

From my reading of what you said, you thought we should avoid putting the critical tiles up for auction. If everyone avoids auctioning the necessary plantations, who raises the track becomes luck of the draw (via a colony race). Auctions don't enter into it. This doesn't seem like an improvement to me.

Auctions are based on tiles, so let's look at them. Lots of blue tiles that give ships and colonists. An orange tile for ship, colonists, spice and money. Almost no tiles (3) that give multiple expedition cards. And note the espionage specifically doesn't allow you to use the card track (but all others). And there is the blue resupply that refills three plantations.

All tiles that duplicate track effects reduce the need for advancing that track. If I'm on the card track but have ignored ships (say), then the 4 ship tile is golden for me. The players who can get three ships? It's slightly better than an action. If I bid a reasonable amount on it, I'm going to win it. It's worth more to me than others ... if they want to shoot themselves in the foot, fine.

Now that I'm thinking about it, don't you find it odd that there isn't an orange "Draw one card" tile? There's one for every other track. Perhaps it proved too powerful (even though it's an auction game). There is the possibility that it was removed because of endgame concerns with card VP, but if I won that puppy on the first turn, I'd be spending cards like mad. Given its absence, is it hard to believe that two cards are better than 8 gold?

In the endgame, cards provides instant VP by activating it (as well as actions). The spice track does that somewhat, but you have to win auctions for it. Extra ships (or colonists) are useless at the end of the game. Money is useful, but only if you have the most. $30 in second place is worthless. Even if taking a money action gives you first place, you can't spend another one at the endgame for any value. If you needed a tile to turn cards into VP, then that would make the card track equal to the spice track. Without that tile, its better (in this regard).

As for the "Ships/Spices" strategy, Let's say you race those up to 4th level. Now you can Take ships, Take Spices, raise two 2nds to a 3rd (or a 1st/4th). Rasing the cards to 4th level and take cards twice. One of those cards will almost certainly replace/ignore ships/spices/colonists and count towards raising a level (or getting a colony). Two such cards will pay for a level (if you get the two ships and two spice card). Then you have two extra cards left over. Yes, you need plantations to do this, but by the midgame everyone usually has two colonies and a plantation or two. The cards are random, but draw often enough you are almost surely ahead.

Unlike "Ship/Spices" you only raise a single track. In the endgame you can spend an extra action to grab VPs (or a shot at improving them) with no other requirements. This track does things no other tracks can.

Yes, the card track player sometimes has to take a crappy action. In our games, the card leader often has to take money once/twice early on, to keep up with the money player. But not often, a $5 card or two usually shows up. But players advancing other tracks usually take a crappy (level one) action now and again, unless they get perfect auctions as well.

I realize all of my arguements are specific to the card track, and not montu's card/spice listing, but when you consider the "Sell good for $3 each" card and "replenish ships, spices, etc with your spice skill" card, I think the point is well taken.
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Tom Lehmann
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Three general points:
* Texture and context often make a game interesting.
* Symmetry in games can be overrated.
* Auctions don't automatically balance a game.

Let me try to explain these points a bit, since they are often overlooked by many players.

Suppose you had a game, with some luck involved (card draws, dice, whatever), in which all strategy paths were equally available and balanced. Does it then matter which path is taken? The answer to this is often, "Sure! Winning is about skill of execution." But, is this really true? Suppose two equally skilled players each pick different balanced paths, A and B. The A path player has bad luck while the B path player has good luck. Since both paths were balanced and both players skilled, the B path player wins. Was this game truly about skill or was it just about who got lucky?

Now, suppose you had an unbalanced game where one path X is much better than path Y and being the first down path X is better than being the second down path X. Before the game is well understood, players may try path Y (and lose). But, once the game is well understood, winning the game becomes one of jumping down path X as fast as possible. Players then get bored with this game ("It's broken -- it's all about 'foo'!") and move on to other games.

Context, such as different starting positions, can bias players down different paths in a balanced game by making one path more attractive for a particular player to pursue. Context can also be provided by how different player choices interact and from the luck within a game, altering path values during the game. If it is possible to switch from one path to another or to combine paths (at some cost), then the skill, I would argue, comes from managing this changing context over the course of the game.

Balanced games with luck but no changing context become, essentially, games of luck.

But, another important source of context, especially in bidding games, is to have paths that are not perfectly balanced, so that considerations such as making sure the buyer pays enough for a "good" item (and having the cash reserves to do this) come into play. The resulting tradeoffs then make the auctions far more interesting.

Of course, if the paths are too unbalanced, it can be difficult to play the game with both beginners and experienced players (the Jesters in Princes of Florence are running right at the ragged edge here, IMO) or, in the extreme despite the balancing factor of auctions, the game may end up being broken.

Goa, to me, is a game all about context: what is up for auction?, who has how much money (we play open money)?, which paths are players competing in?, who is where in the card/resource paths?, what expedition cards did I draw?

Yes, the paths are unbalanced. To me, that's mostly just more context.

Given that players start in identical positions (except for the player with flag), I think the paths need to be unbalanced.

Suppose the paths were completely balanced? Why wouldn't players each grab one item at essentially the same price during the first auction and proceed down the appropriate path given what they bought. Iterate in future turns (since rewards exist for being first down each path) until it is time for players to start choosing their second path. Only then would context (the expedition cards drawn and so on) matter as players began to conflict. Is this truly a better game?

Knowing that a given plantation or extra colonists will give a player a head start down the resource or card paths is what makes the opening auctions interesting, IMO.

Now, this argument is a bit of a strawman -- I don't believe that the proposed tracks would "completely" balance Goa -- but I am trying to make the point that I don't think this should be the goal.

A better question, in my opinion, is whether the game is unbalanced to the point of being broken? I think it's close, but not quite there.

It is rare for a player to win who didn't push either the resource or card tracks at all (except, maybe at the end to gain an action), but it does happen. I've certainly won with ships/colonists and ships/money. More common are wins with one of these tracks, usually: ships/resources, cards/colonists, or cards/ships/money.

Whether you need to push both resources and cards is an open question. If two other players are fighting over one of these tracks (and bidding up the relevant plantations and flags/extra action goodies to get down the track first), then you're often best off avoiding that track.

Even if you believe that pushing both resources and cards is needed, I fail to see how that's "one strategy". I think that a player who went to third level in one and then switched to the other to get it to third level will often lose to a player who goes all the way in one before working on the other. So, that's at least three strategies!

Maybe this distinction is just tactics, but I do find it hard to get the efficiency of having third level in both tracks while still getting to the bottom first in one of them (to get the expedition cards).

I also disagree with the premise that there is no "knee" in the colonist track. I think the current colonist track [0, 2, 3, 4, 6] has two knees, at second and fifth level. Going to second level on the first turn decreases your chance of failure to find a distance 6 colony from 1/3 to 0 (given the two colonists you start with). That's pretty darn significant in my book.

Changing this track to 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 gives everyone a 8/9 chance of success right off the bat which tends to accentuate the power of buying the flag on the first turn (to get first choice of a distance 6 colony) and decreases the value of buying the 1/turn colonist, 3 colonists, or an early pepper plantation. How does this better balance the game? To me, this seems a bit like being hung up on an artifical symmetry (every track should have a knee at third level), instead of paying attention to how the game works in practice.

Where I think colonists are a bit broken is that they are worth nothing in the end game. Suppose you get lucky on your final colonization and end up with some spare colonists. Your reward: nothing. Suppose you get lucky on your final card draw and end up with several matching symbols, your reward: typically +1 to +3 VPs. What's up with this in a game typically won by less than five VPs?

If you think Goa is a bit too unbalanced in favor of resources and cards, a simple fix is to make every two ship or colonist cards (round down after adding them together) worth 1 VP. Make most money worth 3/2 VPs (in 3 or 4 player games), so that second place in money is worth something. This helps balance the tracks in the end game (the Duty chits already help the resource track there) which, IMO, is where the major problem actually lies. The imbalance during the game, with the possible exception of the money track, provides context and tension to this auction game.

The money track isproblematic, due to the nature of auctions in Goa. Gaining more money, if it used to overbid someone else's auction does give you an item of your choice, but mostly just adds inflation to the game. If you instead use money to overbid on something you're auctioning, again you get something of your choice, but you're removing money from the game, making other players' money worth more. The truly effective use of the money track is to generate cash to advance using the money only advancement cards, but there are only two of them which is why the money track works best with a cards/ships/money strategy. I don't believe that a knee at the third level for this track would do much to change this...

Personally, I haven't quite felt the need to go to house rules in Goa, though I wouldn't be adverse to playing with the two minor changes above if other players wanted to.

Mostly, I view Goa as a very interesting, but funky, exercise in reacting to context within a game, which I enjoy playing.
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Ralph H. Anderson
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Tom,

Thanks for one of the most fascinating and well informed comments I've read in a long time on the Geek. I got smarter just reading it! cool

(PS - Looking forward to Race for the Galaxy!)
 
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Tom Lehmann
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Thanks! (And so am I... )
 
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Bob Shaw
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Bingo Tom. I was thinking along the same track when reading along(about unbalanced is best in an auction game) and then I get to your comments and you explained it perfectly. Thanks.
 
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John Richert
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Something else players forget, is that if a strategy is too powerful in an auction game, the simple answer is to make that strategy too costly to be effective.

In Princes of Florence, people will say that jesters are too powerful. They are powerful, but how many jesters are people going to get if they are paying 1600 d. per jester?

In Goa, there are two ways to deny people the expedition track. The first is to make sure that nutmeg does not come up in an auction. If someone put it up for auction, make sure you have enough money to deny it to that person. If the cost is too high, the person that gets it is going to have cash problems which means he won't win many auctions.

The alternative of avoiding nutmeg in auctions leaves the player that wants to pursue the expedition strategy with having to successfully get some colonies down. It is a distinct possibility that he will not be successful with his colony attempts, and each unsuccessful attempt puts him farther and farther behind the other players.

As it is, Goa is a very subtle game, that I don't even consider an action game, but rather an efficiency game. Its not about how many actions you have, but how efficient you are in maximizing effect of those actions.
 
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Chris Shaffer
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The problem with this is the assumption that the item can be made too costly. In Goa, I often spend every coin to buy an item -- knowing that I'll make money when I sell my own item. There's an opportunity cost in spending your last coin, but it often isn't insurmountable.

I don't think the Princes of Florence example applies, since the income source in PoF is building works, where the primary income source in Goa is selling items at auction. Thus, in Goa, every turn you will make money. It's impossible to spend "too much" since you'll turn around and make more money each turn, bringing you back into the bidding.
 
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Peter Stein
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Every single turn you wind up with more money than you started with? I'd say that virtually impossible against competent players, even when you factor in expedition cards and the collect money action.
 
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Chris Shaffer
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Bordgamer wrote:
Every single turn you wind up with more money than you started with? I'd say that virtually impossible against competent players, even when you factor in expedition cards and the collect money action.


That's not what I said at all. What I said was that the primary source of income in Goa is the auction itself. That's totally different from your interpretation of my words.

I don't need to end up with more money than I started with every turn - I merely need to earn enough money to ensure that I can buy something in the following auctions.
 
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