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Subject: My concern with this game, and how to fix it... rss

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Scott Sexton
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Let me begin by saying that I love Above & Below. What I'm about to say comes from a place of love and constructive criticism.

The design goal of Above & Below is quite obvious. It was to fuse a tableau building eurogame with a storytelling/experience game. That in and of itself is a brilliant idea on Ryan's part and one worthy of further exploration. On one hand, the storytelling portion of the game is a smash success. The story elements are implemented in a clean and simple manner that improves on the fiddliness and complexity of Tales of the Arabian Nights or Agents of Smersh. My concern lies in the balance of the tableau building portion of the game. There is a significant runaway leader issue in this game. Beds equal actions. Actions equal growth in resources. Growth in resources equals more money. More money equals more big point buildings at game end.

Beds are relatively hard to come by in this game. I think that the reason for this is obvious. If you give out too many beds, the game rounds will start to take too long because everyone will want to have tons of beds/villagers/actions. At the same time though, if you don't have the ability to create more beds, it drastically dilutes the value of training new villagers. Besides, having more actions is fun.

The problem I have is that Beds are randomly distributed by card flops in the market. If a player lucks into getting an extra bed or two early on in the game, it starts to create a run away leader problem. If I have an advantage in beds, I will be more likely to be able to afford to buy new beds when they come out in the market. Buying those beds not only affords me more actions, but it deprives my opponents the chance to catch up.

So what is the fix?

Here are my thoughts:

1- Amend rules to cap bed purchases. This is the simplest solution. Create a rule that says the following: You may not purchase a building that provides you with extra beds if you have more beds then any other player.

Pros- Very easy to implement this rule change.

Cons- This rule isn't very thematic.

2- Ryan could release a mini-expansion that creates a permanent supply of bed buildings. This is similar to how Star Realms always has a supply of Explorer ships available to buy. You basically have a pile of 30 cards that are all identical and always available in the market. Each card costs 5 coins, gives a player 1 bed, and gives a VP PENALTY (say -5 VP at end of game). The VP Penalty is a critical element so that players won't go crazy with buying up beds and bogging down the game. The penalty must be harsh enough that players will want to avoid buying these cards unless absolutely necessary.

Pros- This fix adds interesting choices to the game.

Cons- This fix would need testing and is possibly imbalanced.

3- Cap # of beds by round. There could be a limit to the number of bed uses based on what round you are in. Example: Rounds 1-2 4 beds, Rounds 3-4 5 beds, Rounds 5+ 6 beds.

Pros- Easy enough to implement.

Cons- I'm not sure this completely fixes the problem. It would need significant testing too.


Conclusion:

I will be house ruling Above & Below to implement the first option I listed (You may not purchase a building that provides you with extra beds if you have more beds then any other player).
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Caleb K.
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The rules allow you to spend 1 coin and refresh a building row. I have done this a few times to get a bed when I need it.
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Hmm, I can't say I've ever seen this be an issue. We usually have no problems at all getting beds because of the following:

1) Since each person is only allowed to do one action per turn, if there are multiple beds, other players have the opportunity to purchase the other beds before it makes it back around to the person who made the first bed purchase.

2) If there are no beds left, a player can pay 1 Coin to refresh the buildings list before they decide to purchase. This is considered a free action.

3) If you need another bed and don't have one, simply be the first to Labor that round. You can use the Cider you get from that as though it were a bed.

4) Each time a person purchases a building, a new one is put out. This gives others the opportunity to come across a new one.

5) Each round, someone different is first. This helps even the chances of getting a bed the next round.

6) I actually used the lack of beds as a way of weeding out my less strategic villagers (ones with poorer roll stats). With those I know I can safely use them and not need to worry about whether or not I have enough beds to get them back out.

7) Finally, there are so many different ways to get Village Points that you do not always need to get as many beds as others. It depends on what your strategy is.

It sounds to me that you have one player that goes after all the beds while everyone else is more concerned about other things. In our games, our players go for the best possible choice of building based on current income/play style/situation. Sometimes the beds are not always the most lucrative building at the time so they often sit around in our games.
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Scott Sexton
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Ryalyn wrote:
Hmm, I can't say I've ever seen this be an issue. We usually have no problems at all getting beds because of the following:

1) Since each person is only allowed to do one action per turn, if there are multiple beds, other players have the opportunity to purchase the other beds before it makes it back around to the person who made the first bed purchase.
This isn't a compelling solution because it relies on luck for something like that to happen. Maybe I'm just unlucky, but I've never seen multiple beds in play at the same time.

Ryalyn wrote:
2) If there are no beds left, a player can pay 1 Coin to refresh the buildings list before they decide to purchase. This is considered a free action.
Again, relying on luck to fix a problem isn't a good thing. Further, the loss of 1 coin just so that you can "press your luck" is pretty significant in this game.

Ryalyn wrote:
3) If you need another bed and don't have one, simply be the first to Labor that round. You can use the Cider you get from that as though it were a bed.
If one person gets a majority in beds, that leaves everybody else fighting over 1 Cider per turn. That hardly mitigates the issue. Further, at best, Cider is a stop gap measure. It is an inefficient way to refresh villagers (you have to exhaust a villager to get it). You only come out 1 coin ahead by going after the Cider as a way to refresh villagers.

Ryalyn wrote:
4) Each time a person purchases a building, a new one is put out. This gives others the opportunity to come across a new one.
Again, relying on luck to fix a problem isn't a good thing.

Ryalyn wrote:
5) Each round, someone different is first. This helps even the chances of getting a bed the next round.
Not really. Your example only works if there happens to be a bed in play. If there are none in play (which is more likely then not) you have no advantage whatsoever being the first player.

Ryalyn wrote:
6) I actually used the lack of beds as a way of weeding out my less strategic villagers (ones with poorer roll stats). With those I know I can safely use them and not need to worry about whether or not I have enough beds to get them back out.
Yes, you can mitigate the lack of beds by only refreshing your better villagers. But that only makes any real difference when you are focused on just exploration action. Your argument fails to consider that the actions themselves are extremely valuable regardless of how useful the villager is. Any villager can work or gather. Both of those actions are extremely valuable in maxing out VP in the last few rounds of the game. That is why the beds are so valuable, they can generate a huge advantage in the late game.

Ryalyn wrote:
7) Finally, there are so many different ways to get Village Points that you do not always need to get as many beds as others. It depends on what your strategy is.
Yeah, but EVERY strategy to generate VP in this game can be improved by having more actions. I'm not really sure what your argument here is.

Ryalyn wrote:
It sounds to me that you have one player that goes after all the beds while everyone else is more concerned about other things. In our games, our players go for the best possible choice of building based on current income/play style/situation. Sometimes the beds are not always the most lucrative building at the time so they often sit around in our games.
When a bed is available, it is almost always going to be the best move to take. Yes there are situations, especially late in the game where this isn't true, but for the majority of the game, my statement holds true. Because beds are such a huge boon to any player, especially early in the game, I find it unfortunate that dumb luck can have such an impact on a tableau builder. By either capping beds to prevent run away leaders or by making a watered down bed always available, you eliminate a significant amount of luck from the game.
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Marty McFly
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scottatlaw wrote:

This isn't a compelling solution because it relies on luck for something like that to happen. Maybe I'm just unlucky, but I've never seen multiple beds in play at the same time.

...

Again, relying on luck to fix a problem isn't a good thing. Further, the loss of 1 coin just so that you can "press your luck" is pretty significant in this game.

...

Again, relying on luck to fix a problem isn't a good thing.

The availability of beds is based on card draws regardless (i.e. luck). And those card draws are part of the game mechanics. The comments provided were to illustrate that there are also ways to mitigate that luck.

It seems to me that the "problem" you are attempting to solve is really the luck, which is a pretty big part of this game (card draws, dice rolls, exploration outcomes, etc.). But there are also ways to mitigate those instances of luck.

Personally, I don't find bed availability to be a problem. If all players had the same availability to beds, then some of the strategy would be removed from the game. I've seen players win with only purchasing one or (once) zero beds. I've also seen games where a player is so focused on getting beds and workers that they neglected other actions that were more profitable.

If you find yourself in a situation where beds are scarce, then the game offers ways to mitigate that and/or there are other means within the game for taking a different strategy. This is one of the things that I like about this game (and lots of Ryan's games) -- there are multiple paths to victory.
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SIMON WRAY
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As per Marty's responses, I'm not seeing beds as a significant balance issue...

There are 25 normal building cards, with 10 providing beds. Plus 6 of 24 Outposts also provide beds.

With the proportion of bed to non-bed building cards and 4 being available, plus another 4 with a refresh, I simply can't agree that they are such a rare resource that you need to be lucky to have the opportunity to buy.

What I do see as a slight imbalance though is the buildings that allow Trained workers to enter play ready rather than exhausted - although only if players are cognizant of that strategy.
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Jebstone Boppman
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Gilgilad wrote:
The rules allow you to spend 1 coin and refresh a building row. I have done this a few times to get a bed when I need it.
This is pretty much the solution
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Antonio Tang
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Revenant wrote:
What I do see as a slight imbalance though is the buildings that allow Trained workers to enter play ready rather than exhausted - although only if players are cognizant of that strategy.
Yeah, this seems like a powerful building. How would you play against someone who's able to buy this right off the bat?
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Greg
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4ntonio wrote:
Revenant wrote:
What I do see as a slight imbalance though is the buildings that allow Trained workers to enter play ready rather than exhausted - although only if players are cognizant of that strategy.
Yeah, this seems like a powerful building. How would you play against someone who's able to buy this right off the bat?
I got that building in my first game and came in 4th place. Got more workers but it took actions to train them. Then I got more tempted to exhaust them when exploring to mitigate bad dice rolls or go for better rewards.

But not getting a star building to reward you for a lot villagers meant I didn't get a good endgame payout for them. Got more actions during the game and didn't need as many beds.

Of course, I was teaching 7 others the game,as we had 2 games going on side by side, so I was kind of distracted with questions during the game and probably didn't play optimally.
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Kim Williams
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I like the variety that comes between games - some games beds are super plentiful, sometimes there's not so many. On average there's been just enough.

I've never felt the beds have caused a problem, though. The one time I was desperate enough to pay a coin for a row refresh, a bed came up, so it worked out fine.

For us, this game is pretty perfect, exactly as it is.
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Son Do
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i dont think this is an issue, game plays fine as is
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James Clarke
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The title of the OP's thread is rather misleading because it says he's fixed something, when in fact he admits to possible imbalances with his ideas and the need for testing.

scottatlaw wrote:
Conclusion:

I will be house ruling Above & Below to implement the first option I listed (You may not purchase a building that provides you with extra beds if you have more beds then any other player).
I suggest that you sleep on it, after considering the comments of others.

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Scott Sexton
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Highland Cow wrote:

The title of the OP's thread is rather misleading because it says he's fixed something, when in fact he admits to possible imbalances with his ideas and the need for testing.

scottatlaw wrote:
Conclusion:

I will be house ruling Above & Below to implement the first option I listed (You may not purchase a building that provides you with extra beds if you have more beds then any other player).
I suggest that you sleep on it, after considering the comments of others.

Nope. I slept on it and I'm still pretty much where I was before, which is fine. Nobody seems to dispute that beds are the most important resource in the game. I fail to see how randomizing the availability of beds does anything GOOD for the game, and as I've described, it can lead to a runaway leader problem. There is a reason why Dominion was designed to have money and VP always available for players to purchase. There is a reason why in Ascension/Star Realms you always have certain cards available.

People will either be accepting of the "spend one coin" solution or they won't. I'm fine offering a solution for those who aren't.

I did name one house rule that doesn't create balance issue or need testing, and I'm pretty sure my original post conveyed that point. I offered alternatives for consideration, but I don't necessarily agree with them.
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Greg
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So what's the sample size of games played that showed this runaway leader issue? 10, 20?

Was the runaway leader issue equally bad at every player count?

This issue sounds pretty major and suggests a lack of appropriate playtesting by Red Raven. The game has been out only a short time and already found to have a major flaw that needs to be houseruled.
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Marty McFly
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Hahma wrote:
So what's the sample size of games played that showed this runaway leader issue? 10, 20?

Was the runaway leader issue equally bad at every player count?

This issue sounds pretty major and suggests a lack of appropriate playtesting by Red Raven. The game has been out only a short time and already found to have a major flaw that needs to be houseruled.
Given that most here are saying that it's not a problem, I wouldn't jump to any conclusions about the amount of playtesting that went into the game.
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Greg
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martidem wrote:
Hahma wrote:
So what's the sample size of games played that showed this runaway leader issue? 10, 20?

Was the runaway leader issue equally bad at every player count?

This issue sounds pretty major and suggests a lack of appropriate playtesting by Red Raven. The game has been out only a short time and already found to have a major flaw that needs to be houseruled.
Give that most here are saying that it's not a problem, I wouldn't jump to any conclusions about the amount of playtesting that went into the game.
My sarcasm didn't translate too well I suppose.
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Marty McFly
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Hahma wrote:
martidem wrote:
Hahma wrote:
So what's the sample size of games played that showed this runaway leader issue? 10, 20?

Was the runaway leader issue equally bad at every player count?

This issue sounds pretty major and suggests a lack of appropriate playtesting by Red Raven. The game has been out only a short time and already found to have a major flaw that needs to be houseruled.
Give that most here are saying that it's not a problem, I wouldn't jump to any conclusions about the amount of playtesting that went into the game.
My sarcasm didn't translate too well I suppose.
Well...takes one to know one, and since I almost never rarely use sarcasm, I guess I just didn't recognize it.
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Andy Burgess
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martidem wrote:
... almost never rarely ...
Can't... parse... brain... imploding...

wowcry
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Marty McFly
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MercifulBiscuit wrote:
martidem wrote:
... almost never rarely ...
Can't... parse... brain... imploding...

wowcry
Eh, parsing English is overrated anyway. This is why there hasn't been a Zork game in nearly two decades.
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Przemyslaw Kozlowski
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scottatlaw wrote:
Nobody seems to dispute that beds are the most important resource in the game.
Actually, I would argue that money is the most important resource in the game.
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Marty McFly
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scottatlaw wrote:
I did name one house rule that doesn't create balance issue or need testing, and I'm pretty sure my original post conveyed that point.
I assume that you're referencing your Option #1 (you can't purchase a bed if you already have the most beds). I would argue that this does need testing and that it may create a balance issue in that it would make the train-to-ready buildings much more powerful. And since there are only 2 of those buildings in the game (and since they are key buildings, only one may be available), then players with those buildings have an even stronger advantage that cannot be overcome. If I get a train-to-ready building, then I can ignore beds altogether since any opponent can only ever get one more bed than me, and I can train-train-train while I simply wait for large turns on round 5, 6 and 7 when I no longer care if my workers can be readied. I still have my 3 workers/actions each turn, and even if my opponent has 4 (which he is now capped at ever having ready since I'm preventing him from buying beds by not buying beds myself), I can probably blow by him in the later rounds. At the very least, I've likely caught up because I have so many workers, and so the bed cap didn't really have an affect on the game anyway -- aside from keeping actions-per-turn to a minimum for most of the game.

I don't know if the above strategy would work, but it would require playtesting. It seems to me that capping beds would really only result in a single player buying a bed and then other players playing a balancing act of "do I ever buy a bed and, therefore, let other players buy more beds, or do I just ignore beds altogether since my opponent(s) can't buy more beds anyway?" Beds become less desirable because buying a bed actually helps other players get more beds. And if beds are less desirable, then training more workers isn't desirable either (unless you've got one of the two train-to-ready buildings), so train actions also become less frequent as a result (or train actions become overpowered if you have one of those key buildings).

In the end, I suspect that a bed cap house rule would only result in keeping worker counts low and slowing the VP progression. It may stop one player from becoming a runaway leader (but the game already has ways to prevent that and if other players aren't on top of that, it's not the fault of the game -- after all, as someone else pointed out, 40% of the above-ground buildings provide beds, so beds are hardly difficult to come by) but the house rule proposed would also devalue some actions to the point that I think, for me anyway, it would remove a lot of the fun from the game because it would result in actions per round being low and, as you said in your original post, having more actions equals having more fun.
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Sterling Babcock
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In my one game so far, I managed to get the double bed card for $9 and it was very helpful. I could see how not being able to get a bed could be frustrating.

How about this possible variant as an option. Would it work?

Variant: If no beds are available in the buildings, and you have fewer beds than the player with most beds, you may refresh the buildings once for free.
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Greg
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It seems that some think that the players getting more beds than others are certain to win the game (otherwise, why come up with variants to counter it?). But then Rahdo thought the re-roll ability was pretty powerful. I played a game where a player early on got the building that reduced the cost of other buildings by one coin, which seemed pretty powerful to me in helping his economy a lot. There's also the building that brings your newly trained villagers into play and not having to wait until next round.

To me anyway, it seems like there are several things that can seem pretty powerful and give a player an advantage. By making rules to make it so everyone is pretty balanced with beds, it seems to be taking away a strategy path/choice in the game.

Edit: Heck, the easiest fix would be to eliminate the bed mechanic altogether and just be able to slide every villager over one space at the end of the round.

Or, cap the number of villagers players can have, so you can't train another villager if you have more than another player.

Could also do the same thing for buildings and cavern cards.

Plenty of ways to artificially keep all the players close.
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Jared
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I've had a game where I didn't purchase a single bed and won. I instead purchased the key building that lets you immediately use recruited workers and went after a trainer+ that lets you hire for one gold cheaper. Between new recruits and cider I was never short on actions and my purchase of the villager scoring card sealed my win.

Just one example, from the few games I played, of not needing to necessarily chase after beds. Adapting your strategy to what's available is an interesting part of the game for us.
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