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Subject: Strategy vs. Card-Draw Luck rss

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David Kline
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I recently purchased this game and have been playing it as often as I can get three or four people to join me. I've been contemplating how much strategy the game offers- that is how much can "good play" win you the game vs how dependent is a win on what cards you draw.

My question is, what is your opinions on how much of Mottainai is strategy and how much is winning based on the cards you draw? Certainly there's a balance, but do you think once everyone draws their first hand there's still an equal chance of winning?

Here are my thoughts and observations up to this point: at first it appeared very random. Someone got a card like the go set (stone works count in both wings, including endgame points) and followed by completing every other stone work they drew, pulling ahead so far in points (and also gaining additional perks) that no one could catch up before 5 works were played. So it seemed dependent on whoever got "that card" first and invested. (Not necessarily Go Set, just good card for endgame points).

Then those of us who played regularly went through a phase where we frequently got "that card" but without the resources to quickly complete. So some stalled out while they waited for the right cards to match something in their hand and those who had available resources pulled ahead too far to catch up.

I developed a theory that most cards are powerful in their own right, some are just designed with more subtlety. So I endeavored to just go with whatever card combination was most immediately available in my hand and not be distracted to spend resources on or wait to play other "cool, interesting, or good" cards I came across.

In the first game I played with this theory I started out with the Tea Pot (most frequent card in crafting gives +3 each) and two other clay cards, which wasn't a good test of my theory in a sense because that was an amazing starting hand. But one of my opponents got a quilt/kite combo(all paper,stone,cloth sales covered/may play card from hand directly to crafting bench in morning) very quickly which made a close game. I ended up moving my two clay cards to crafting bench to support my Tea Pot (which required at least two additional potter actions beyond my starting hand) giving me a starting +9 (3 for Tea Pot, +3 for each clay in crafting). The first decision I made to streamline my strategy and focus on what I got from the beginning was to sell my clay. The temptation was to keep them in crafting in case I got another powerful clay card- because if I sold them I was, more or less, giving up the option to complete future clay cards. But, the logic in selling them was- the clay sales would be covered by the Tea Pot, then I could focus on getting a resource that's much easier to acquire like paper into my crafting table.

My opponent had a quick and consistent way of generating points, especially once Kite came out. And my strategy took many turns to get in place before I could even start "generating" points (A minimum of 6 "days" if everything worked perfectly and my opponents played helpful tasks, which they didn't always) so I was behind for more than half the game. But once I was up and running I jumped up to an incredible 36 points before the deck ran out, pulling ahead of my Quilt/Kite opponent in the last few turns (who ended with 25, which is still a very high score in my experience thus far).

There was one point in the game where I had another powerful point earning card (I forget which, it may have been Go Set) that I considered also trying to play. It was further tempting because I hadn't hit my stride with the initial strategy yet, so I was still hungry for points, but I choose to simply return it and not be distracted. And if I had tried to balance two strategies, it would have lengthened the time it took to get the pay off, and my opponent most likely would have won.

Additionally the third opponent had 4 works played in his gift shop very quickly and could have prematurely ended the game at any point. Thankfully Quilt/Kite's steady sales kept the third opponent just a few points behind every turn and stopped him from ended the game.

To Reiterate: my question is, what is your opinions on how much of Mottainai is strategy and how much is winning based on the cards you draw? Certainly there's a balance, but do you think once everyone draws their first hand there's still an equal chance of winning?

As a side observation I have yet to see investing in helpers/gallery pay off. So far every winner of my games has either no helpers, or minimally has invested only because someone else tasked as a monk. It may be I have yet to learn how to use this as an effective strategy.


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Patar Absurdus the Shananigator
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I believe that this is mostly skill but with enough luck that it can make the difference sometimes.

One thing I like about Chudyk designs is that it is often very difficult to tell how much a win or loss is due to luck/skill. I clearly get better over time and that speaks to skill but the games hold mystery and intrigue and "trap" like choices that may point to luck of the draw.

Regardless, this is a factor in all his main designs: GTR, Innovation, Impulse, and this.
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Chris Cieslik
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I think that the strategy/tactics vs luck ratio depends on player count. 2p/3p are less luck-driven than 4/5p games, for me.

4/5p games get more strategic if you play with the rules requiring 6 works to end the game, and also as players realize that playing a task every single turn is not always the best choice.
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spaff_ wrote:
Someone got a card like the go set (stone works count in both wings, including endgame points) and followed by completing every other stone work they drew, pulling ahead so far in points (and also gaining additional perks) that no one could catch up before 5 works were played.

Go Set counts Stone works as being in both wings for cover and for ending the game. It does not cause Stone works to be counted doubly for points.

From another thread:
cchudyk wrote:
Quote:
When scoring works at the end of game, would stone works count twice if one of them was the go set, because the stone works exist in both the gallery and the gift shop?

Each stone work still counts once for scoring at the end of the game, even though it is in both the gallery and gift shop. You could think of it as being in some sort of entrance hall to both.
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Peter Rabinowitz
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I think when one is still unfamiliar with the different cards, it's more luck. Once you get a better sense of all the cards, it's more skill. Probably.
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David Kline
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That's good to know. The rules state:
Q: Do Stone works with Go Set count toward ending the game?
A: Yes. With Go Set, each stone work counts for cover, game end, and effects like Tapestry in both
wings. They do not count as multiple works for effects like Frog or Shuriken.

And I wrongly assumed that "game end" also included "game end points."

Thanks for the correction.
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Joel Oakley
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spaff_ wrote:
As a side observation I have yet to see investing in helpers/gallery pay off. So far every winner of my games has either no helpers, or minimally has invested only because someone else tasked as a monk. It may be I have yet to learn how to use this as an effective strategy.


There is the card that gives points for each helper of your most numerous helper type (one type only and +3 points per helper of that type I think) -- I think it is the clay work HANIWA. This certainly makes helpers a more interesting avenue to pursue.

One aspect of helpers that can be overlooked is the impact they have on other players' options. For example, if I see an opponent with a couple of covered potter helpers, I am definitely going to be very reserved in choosing to use the potter task since I know he will get to use that task 5 times (to my 1 use). Just one or two extra actions via the helpers can really affect how willing other players are to choose certain tasks.

Overall, I think a helper-heavy strategy is probably a little weaker than focusing on sales and back orders for more points, but it can be an effective way to get lots of card draws ("I'll just do 5 prayers for my actions."). Bringing the discussion back to the luck/strategy angle, having a lot of card draws available is a great way to "create" some luck for yourself.
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Joakley815 wrote:
There is the card that gives points for each helper of your most numerous helper type (one type only and +3 points per helper of that type I think) -- I think it is the clay work HANIWA. This certainly makes helpers a more interesting avenue to pursue.

In some ways, Haniwa (which rewards the most-frequent helpers) is more attractive than Teapot (which rewards the most-frequent materials).

Both are Clay works, and thus take a fair amount of Clay (Potter) cards. If you build Teapot, you may find it hard to get enough Potter actions to get a big score for Teapot.

But to make Haniwa pay off, you need lots of Monk actions - which come from Stone cards, which be around in greater abundance.
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Matthew Purcell
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i think the benefit of having helpers, especially covered ones, is huge. you rarely want to (or are able to) do a specific role 3 or more times in a turn, but using those extra actions to draw cards can give you a significant tactical advantage.
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Patar Absurdus the Shananigator
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TheP wrote:
i think the benefit of having helpers, especially covered ones, is huge. you rarely want to (or are able to) do a specific role 3 or more times in a turn, but using those extra actions to draw cards can give you a significant tactical advantage.


That is freakin' huge!
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Mike Bialecki
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spaff_ wrote:

As a side observation I have yet to see investing in helpers/gallery pay off. So far every winner of my games has either no helpers, or minimally has invested only because someone else tasked as a monk. It may be I have yet to learn how to use this as an effective strategy.

I have played close to 20 2-player games and have made the same observations. Helpers and Gallery buildings never seem worth it. Our games end fairly quickly and there's just not enough time to get a gallery/helper machine going that is strong enough to outscore a sales/giftshop engine. I like the game in genera, but this aspect has been disappointing. Are we simply suffering from group think? Maybe.
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Peter Rabinowitz
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I would think helpers would be more useful with more players.
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Marc Maier
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My take on the "luck vs. strategy" question is formed by many plays of Glory to Rome and Innovation. Both of these games are actually highly tactical; success comes to the player who is able to make the most of the cards in hand at a given moment. Chudyk's designs tend to mitigate against having an overarching plan. Player skill is demonstrated by flexibility and finding the best option of an ever-changing set.

The cards in these games are generally very powerful, but situationally so. That card that won you the game in your last session might turn up again, but not in a useful way for the current position. And even if you do get your favorite power combo going, the opponent may well find a counter to shut it down that they didn't manage to execute the last time you ran away to victory.

Card flow is thus an important, but often overlooked aspect of succeeding with Chudyk's designs. Drawing more cards gives more options, allowing players flexibility to respond to changes in the position, or alternatively, the ability to find and implement that killer combo.

I have found that, as the OP notes above, it is better to be doing something positive to advance your position each turn rather than spend lots of actions trying to find an optimal combination. Players who get a suboptimal engine rolling early on, making the best use of the cards they have, will usually beat a player waiting around to execute a particular plan they've fixated on even if it is a more powerful one in theory.

The sheer variety of cards and powers which are a hallmark of Chudyk's designs mean that there is usually a path to victory for any given set of cards, although some might be more difficult to spot than others. I tend to think of each turn in any of these designs as a discrete puzzle to be solved. One must play very much "in the moment" without focusing too much on some ideal, imagined end game. This is where I disagree with some of the reviews out there which say that Mottainai is not very thematic; on the contrary, I think the theme of buddhist monks is exceptionally thematic because success in the game will come from thinking like a buddhist, i.e., taking what the game gives you without trying to force a particular outcome. It is not the destination, but the journey that counts the most.
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ben small
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I find the luck factor of Mottainai disappointingly high. Played again last night went 4th. Everyone else got a nice setup from the floor, leaving me with nothing, plus an awful hand, and I knew I had already lost.

This doesn't happen in GTR which is the most strategic of the 3 by far. The decisions you make in Mottainai are more strategic than innovation, but I much prefer innovation due to Mottainai high luck factor.
 
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Jason Rohrer
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Aren't some types of helpers more valuable than others? Obviously, all can be replaced with PRAY (always valuable), and also CRAFT (though you're unlikely to want to CRAFT more than one or two times per turn).

But POTTER helpers are always valuable (there were times when the craft floor was littered with stuff.... if I can POTTER 4 times, I can scoop that into my craft bench, achieving full crafting support for every material type, and also loads of sales in waiting beyond crafting support). Sweep the floor, and your opponent will have nothing for their craft bench.

CLERK helpers might also be valuable, assuming you also have POTTER helpers (if I can then CLERK 4 times, suddenly, I have loads of sales).

And, of course MONK helpers can help get all of this going. They're the meta helpers. But anyway, MONK and POTTER helpers together can sweep the whole floor constantly, preventing your opponent from ever having much on their craft bench, thus limiting what they can CRAFT.


You'd certainly not want to TAILOR more than once for it's primary TAILOR function (the second TAILOR would have no effect---so that's kindof a weak mechanic). And maybe you'd want to SMITH more than once (probably to make a bunch of PAPER works, because any other type simply wouldn't have enough material support in your small hand size).

So, those two seem more weak in terms of what helpers can do for you. Of course, these two helpers can buy you extra CRAFT actions for metal and cloth. I think the game would be better if at least TAILOR actions could compound (like if it was just a DRAW 5 each time). Then at least you'd have a 3-way-choice when facing a second TAILOR action on the same turn (well, I'm obviously not going to TAILOR again). Well, except then TAILOR would always be better than PRAY.... hmm. I know there are some cards that improve TAILOR.

SMITH is usually self-limiting, but at least there are some situations where you could imagine SMITH-ing several times in one turn.
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David Kline
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jcr13 wrote:
Aren't some types of helpers more valuable than others? Obviously, all can be replaced with PRAY (always valuable), and also CRAFT (though you're unlikely to want to CRAFT more than one or two times per turn).


I'll first link to Viable Helper Strategy which discusses helpers.

It's certainly true that some helpers are more valuable. However all helpers *can* be very valuable, it just depends on what the game state is and what's in your hand. No game will be the same, you must be flexible and perceptive to figure out which helpers will be best for your current game.

As a general rule, praying is crucial and will win or lose you the game. I've seen myself and others win (both 2 player and 3+ player) by primarily not playing a task and praying. Replenishing your hand and being able to choose from multiple cards is essential, therefore multiple helpers of *any* type can be very powerful since they can afford you many prayer actions.

There are the situations I've found certain helpers beneficial in:
I've had a "power move" turn that ended the game where I either focused on clerk, monk, or smith helpers (based on what was played and what was in my hand).

With clerk helpers, if say you have at least three actions, you can build three paper works in one turn and rush the end (which synergizes amazingly with the Poem!) (I've won with as little as 7 points this way), or in one turn end the game with paper works, but not before selling materials that will give you significant backorders or sales your opponent hadn't counted on (again, a game winning move I've seen). Or, at a very minimum, paper is the most plentiful in the deck, and therefore can be played more often, so having paper helpers gives frequent prayer options.

With monk helpers, all you need is one stone in crafting to craft stone works, and I've seen many games won with a stone work focus. Having monk helpers allows to crank out multiple stone works per turn, or synergizes well with a card like Hanawai (I think... the one that gives +3 for most frequent helper). Again, I've seen people win with no contest with this kind of set up.

Smith helpers, in nearly every situation, are helpful(baha). I've seen so many games won when someone had just one smith helper and crafted the two works they needed to win. Or, as another example, in the most recent game I played, one player with a smith helper crafted two works in a turn that stopped another player from building his 5th work in a wing and winning on his next turn, and with the extra time he bought, he went on to win on his next turn with... a smith task. Basically any set up that allows you to craft 2 or more works on one turn is incredible and game changing, and the smith helpers are the most versatile to this end. I will always always always take a smith helper in the beginning of the game if at all possible as most of the time that helper is what allows me to make the winning play at the end of the game.

I find that potter and tailor helpers are more midgame type helpers, as in they help set you up, but most likely won't be a helper that you make a great point gaining play with. Tailors are always helpful in getting more cards- even than extra prayer to give 5+1 is huge. And in certain situations, multiple tailor helpers can give huge backorder potential (talked about in the other thread). Potters I'm actually least likely to take as a helper, all things being equal.

The other subtle benefit of which helper you play is how it influences others turn. For instance if my opponent has 3 tailor helpers, it will be very unlikely I'll play a tailor as a task unless I have a very specific reason to, because I know that while I'll only get up to 5 cards in my hand, my opponent on their turn could get up to 8! I can't make a play that so clearly benefits them more than me, especially if it's a close game. Likewise, if I have a smith helper, especially towards the end of the game, my play group will not play a smith card unless absolutely necessary because they've seen someone win too often with multiple smith crafts (like our most recent game). So monopolizing a certain helper type can stunt another player and make them play in ways that isn't optimal for their own hand simply because it would give you too many actions/prayers (because, like I said, it's a card game, so the more you're able to get in your hand, the more playing potential you have, and the greater winning chance you have)

EDIT:
as an additional thought- the more I've played, the more quickly I've found the game can be won, therefore there are fewer turns per game, therefore "tighter" play and strategy is necessary, especially in two player. So any helper you gain you may only use twice (maybe more, but you can't really bank on it), which is why I find potter helpers less helpful. Because generally speaking, I'll only be able to complete one, maybe two work *types* by crafting (vs smithing), So at maximum I'll only need 3 potter actions, but most likely only one or two. So investing actions to get potter helpers is usually unnecessary unless you're trying to stop an opponent from getting clay or you have a card that gives an added bonus to cards in crafting. So in my mind potter helpers are great in specific situations, but rarely a general benefit. The fringe benefit of being able to clear the floor I could see being helpful, but in none of the games I've played has that been a game winning strategy.
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Tailor helpers can be especially powerful if you have Handkerchief. You can build up a huge hand that way. And, if you have a huge hand, Smith helpers can be extremely useful.
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