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Tigris & Euphrates» Forums » Rules

Subject: Play Balance rss

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Jeff Cornett
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In a 4-player game, the players to move first seem to have an obvious advantage. To offset this, restrict the first 2 players to taking only 1 action in the first round. Given this change, I am no longer sure who has the advantage -- the players to move 1st and 2nd but with only 1 action initially, or the players who move 3rd and 4th but with two actions on their first turn.
 
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Jeff Thompson
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How many games played by the rules?

How many games played with your house rules?

I admit I have not played enough games of E&T to notice such an advantage. But your choice of execution does sound good.
 
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Jeff Cornett
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Thank you for inviting me to further explain my interest and experience in this game. I am the reigning WBC world champion in E&T, and also the top rated player based on WBC laurels and AREA ratings. Oddly, I hardly ever play this game except at the World Boardgames Championship.

I have lots of tournament experience and some friendly game experience, but have only rarely used the rule limiting the first two players to only one action. Although I have strongly suggested this rule to past WBC GM's, they always argue that the 3rd and 4th players statistically win almost as much. I counter with the argument that I unfortunately get disproportionately stuck going last (but win anyway).

Currently, there is an opening for WBC GM in 2007, and I am considering whether I should volunteer. If so, I wanted some feedback as to whether those who know this game well would agree with me that this would make a good play balance adjustment.

http://www.boardgamers.org/yearbook/e&tpge.htm
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Blorb Plorbst
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I can't argue with your experience but I missed where you actually supported a change to the rules.
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they always argue that the 3rd and 4th players statistically win almost as much. I counter with the argument that I unfortunately get disproportionately stuck going last (but win anyway).

This seems to support the fact that turn order doesn't matter.

I've played the game casually a dozen times or so and haven't observed a problem with a starting player advantage. It seems that there's enough variables (availability of opening positions, hand randomness, 8 player actions per round) that any advantage would be marginalized.

Do you have game records showing that 1st and 2nd place win more often? Care to share the data?
 
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Marshall P.
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"Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" - Theodosius Dobzhansky
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There is a significant turn order imbalance in the game which I documented by compiling the finish order of 270 online games based on turn order. You can see the results here in this tournament format I created to deal with the imbalance.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/767305

For casual games I don't think the imbalance matters much. For a tournament I do think it needs to be corrected for. There are several options the easiest probably being to make sure everyone gets 4 games once in each starting position. Or, if starting positions are random you can use the weighting factor method I came up with.

Or, I suppose, you could modify the rules of the game as the OP suggested. Another rules modification might be to give the third and fourth players an extra starting tile. Or to give every player 1 point in each color to start and let them bid for turn order. Several things are possible.
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Jeff Cornett
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It's good to see some statistical data. Suggest to keep the play balance simple and affect only the game opening. Rules to affect the scoring or game ending are distractions throughout the game and may lead to play balance regret at the end of the game. How the game started and adjustments then are pretty much forgotten by the end game, which is why a lot of people don't realize the effect that turn sequence actually has on play balance.
 
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Bob Crane
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I agree that the turn order imbalance needs to be fixed. The evidence is clear in the data Marshall provided.

However, why not just implement the simple solution that the last player always gets to go last at the end of the game? That is, finish out the round once all the tiles are drawn or treasures taken. One of the main reasons the imbalance exists is because the players early in the turn order have a good chance to get an extra turn in to score more points.

Is there any arguments why the same number of turns solution would be inferior to limiting the number actions of the first and second player initially?
 
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Jeff Cornett
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The ability to move last could be a MUCH greater benefit than the ability to go first.

Many games are very very close -- no matter who goes first. The timing of the game ending is one of the key tactics of the game. Sometimes, you purposely want to bring the game to a close before another turn or round is taken. There are various ways to force the game to a quick end. Such tactics are pointless if you have a prescribed ending sequence.

Play balance rules that affect game ending have too much effect on the game play. Play balance rules that only affect the game start are not even noticed a few turns into the game.
 
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Marshall P.
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There are two other factors besides the extra turn at the end of the game that accounts for the turn order imbalance (although the extra turn is probably 75% of it).

First is there are really only three good starting spots (if you don't know where these are I won't spoil it for you). Unless one of the first three players played a non standard opening the fourth player really has to shoe horn himself onto the map in a suboptimal position. He is at risk of early conflict, has a harder time getting two treasures, and generally has no spot where he can reasonably hope to build a monument.

Second is the imbalance in tiles drawn before the first confict if the attacking player is later in the turn order. The player earlier in turn order will likely have drawn two more tiles (simply as a consequence of having an extra turn) over the player he is in conflict with. Two tiles may not seem like a lot but it's just that many more chances to get the tile he needs to win a conflict. And losing an earlier conflict can be especially painful. This effect washes out as the game progresses and all players have a chance to draw nearly equal number of tiles.
But is does make attacking a player ahead of you in the turn order slightly more risky up to about the fourth turn.
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Bob Crane
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Well, I should take pause before I try to argue against the current world champion of T&E, Jeff. But, I would argue that the two other points given by Marshall (starting tile placement and initial tile draw imbalance) would make it VERY UNLIKELY that the last player would have any advantage if given the chance to have an equal number of turns. Obviously, Jeff is very fond of the tactic of a player being able to end the game immediately but that’s exactly what frequently makes the game unfair to the last player.

To answer Jeff’s original question, I don’t see how the second our fourth player would have any advantage over the first or third player given the modification to allow only the first and second players a single action in the first turn. It is possible that the third player would now have a slight advantage or maybe still the first. Overall, this modification may be a decent solution to minimizing the position imbalance. I’d like to see a fair solution to the turn order problem. Ultimately, only trial and error and statistics from many games will prove which solution is best.

Is there any chance that a modification to the rules will be made in upcoming tournaments or is the T&E community just stuck with the rules as is? Has Knizia ever commented on this problem?
 
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Jeff Cornett
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The principle of play balance is to balance the game more fairly, not to change the rules into some other game design. The endgame strategies in E&T are extremely important strategies to master, and also extremely interesting strategies to employ. When play balancing the game (rather than redesigning the game), one should try to minimize the effect on game play.

Would changing the end game improve play balance? We have no way of knowing without a lot of game play testing. It might even result in a greater imbalance problem -- this time in favor of the player to move last. Who knows? However, we do know FOR SURE that it would affect the game play, and not just reduce but entirely eliminate some of the strategy elements that are currently an essential focus of the end game.

Reducing the initial actions of the first two players to a single action does not affect game strategy at all, other than to slow down its implementation and inherant advantage to the first two players. It still leaves going 1st better than 2nd, and going 3rd better than 4th, but these differences are minor compared to the current advantage of going 1st rather than 4th. Even with the change I suggest, it might still prove slightly better to go 1st rather than 3rd, or it might statistically prove better to go 3rd than 1st, but any advantage would be much smaller and less obvious than the current rule.
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