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Subject: RotA Alliances for a 4-player game - Good or Bad? rss

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Tahsin Shamma
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Should a 4 player game of Eclipse + Rise of the Ancients expansion include Alliances?

Does the inclusion of the Alliance mechanism predispose people to make alliances in defense once two other players make an alliance?

Thanks for any responses in advance.


 
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Peter Bakija
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veector wrote:
Should a 4 player game of Eclipse + Rise of the Ancients expansion include Alliances?

Does the inclusion of the Alliance mechanism predispose people to make alliances in defense once two other players make an alliance?

Thanks for any responses in advance.
My experience is that the Alliance rules in 4 player aren't great, as it just becomes, basically, the two strongest players vs the two weakest players, and as that is the only viable combination of alliances, that is what is always going to happen (i.e. the strongest position has no incentive to ally with anyone other than the next strongest position, resulting in a very one sided situation). I have played 4 player games with pre-established Alliances that worked ok (i.e. start the game saying players A and B are allied against C and D from the get go), but it is important that each side competitively select races that work well together, as if one side has a pair of strong races that work well together (say Hydra and Orion) and the other side has essentially random races, it is again going to be a very one sided game.

The Ally rules work well in 6-9 player games. Not as much in smaller ones. As there just aren't enough viable combinations.
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Nathyr
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I had the same experience as above: two strongest teamed up against (and annihilated) the two weakest. The experience was so bad, my group banned alliances going forward. But we don't usually have more than 4 or 5 players, so we aren't hitting the 6-9 range, if that truly is a sweet spot for them to work.
 
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Thor Sundqvist
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I have tried the alliance rules few times only, and once in an epic 9 player game. I find that the alliance rules overall tend to take some of the suspence from the game. I like the diplomat part, but true alliance... I do not know, not my cup of tea. So you know where I come from. As for 4 player games, I agree with the previous advice, that the teams are decided before the game starts. I would even suggest that the most interesting part would be testing out different combos of races and different starting positions, if that is your cup of tea. Rules as written usually end up to the conclusion, where the strongest players join their forces, because that is the most sensible thing to do.
 
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Tahsin Shamma
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I didn't want to color the discussion, but I had an occasion where a player expected that we WERE playing with alliances because I brought in some other modules from RotA.

When I told him I didn't expect that we were playing with alliances because it was a 4 player game, he looked surprised and slightly annoyed because he explored in a way to make an alliance with another player (a stronger player). I just want to be sure that I'm not passing on alliances for a bias that is unfounded. If people here report that alliances in 4 player games work well, I'd definitely shift my opinion and try it out.
 
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Wim van Gruisen
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I have not tried alliances yet.
What I'd like to do some time is to have a big humans vs magellan game; half the players choose humans, half of them magellans, and the two groups have alliances from the start.
Perhaps you could do something like that as well; form alliances at the start, when players are all of similar strength.
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Locke Balenska
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I've had some 4-player games with alliances that went very well, but they were almost all games with the alliances setup before the game began.

As others have already expressed, using the alliance rules as-is in a 4-player game tends to result in the 2 currently-strongest players around round 3 or so allying together and then using their combined current dominance to crush the two weaker players. The reason this can happen so easily is that once those two strongest players ally together you have only 2 factions so there's no one on the "other side" of the stronger alliance that they need to be wary of. In a 6-player game, if 2 strong players ally and begin smashing two allied weaker players, there's still 2 more players after that who might attack the strong alliance's undefended backside, use the opportunity to get all the good researches and be stronger late game, or just turtle, save resources and win by monoliths later.

Of course, the two 'weaker' players in a 4-player game might not even ally, themselves. This can especially happen if the two strong players who ally together are on opposite corners of the map and connect through Tier 1. Then they wall off the two other players from each other, and those two players don't even get to trade ambassadors for a bit of resources.

I have actually seen one of the non-alliance players win the game in this situation a couple times, but it was always because the winning player turtled from the start and presented enough of a defense that the alliance opted to just try and win by accumulating more points from conquering the other player. Not a lot of interaction for the winning turtle player and definitely not a very fun game for the 4th player getting double-teamed by the alliance all game.

So, all in all, I echo the suggestions of if you use alliances in 4-players to have them setup from the start (or some other similar mechanic, like they are auto-formed randomly at the end of round 1). And put yourself in the mentality of a 2-player game, because that's essentially how the interactions and strategies will go once the alliances are formed.
 
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Peter Bakija
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veector wrote:
I didn't want to color the discussion, but I had an occasion where a player expected that we WERE playing with alliances because I brought in some other modules from RotA.
I suspect it is very common that folks use most of RotA, but not the Alliance rules in games smaller than 6 players. We usually play 4 player games, and always use RotA, and use the vast majority of RotA. I think the only part of RotA we don't regularly use are the Alliance rules. We only use the Alliance rules occasionally, and then only in games that are 6+ players (which we don't play that often overall).

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When I told him I didn't expect that we were playing with alliances because it was a 4 player game, he looked surprised and slightly annoyed because he explored in a way to make an alliance with another player (a stronger player). I just want to be sure that I'm not passing on alliances for a bias that is unfounded. If people here report that alliances in 4 player games work well, I'd definitely shift my opinion and try it out.
Yeah, as noted, in 4 player you just end up with a super dominant 2 player alliance crushing the other two weaker positions.

In 6+ player, there is more room to move and more flexibility in how Alliances end up. You might end up 3 on 3, but with 3 on 3, it is a lot easier to pick off someone on the outside edge of the Alliance, and it is a lot more likely that a third position will be weak, so they will not be attractive to join an alliance of two strong positions. Resulting in a 2-2-2 set of alliances, or a 2-3-1 set of alliances. And so when you have 2 strong positions (and in 6 player, it is considerably less likely that the two strongest positions will be adjacent, making them allying and teaming up less likely) together in a powerful alliance, the other 4 players (or two alliances or whatever) can work together to overcome them. In theory.
 
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Peter Bakija
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skir wrote:
Of course, the two 'weaker' players in a 4-player game might not even ally, themselves.
To be clear, I'm talking about strong and weak "positions" and not necessarily strong weak "players" making alliances. It is easy for a strong player to be in a weak position due to some early bad luck, for example. So when I'm talking about, in a 4 player game, 2 strong "players" forging an alliance and crushing the other two, I'm really talking about "the two players who are in more or less the best positions around T3 when they can make an Alliance".
 
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Forrest & Ryan Driskel
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I don't even like alliances in 6 player games, and certainly not 3 player alliances. They're fine in 7+ player games as the amount of space per player dwindles. You often need the extra room to move.
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Scott Dornian
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Our group has basically vetoed alliances completely, *especially* in a low-player game.
 
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Peter Bakija
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Jolderon wrote:
Our group has basically vetoed alliances completely, *especially* in a low-player game.
While I certainly understand this, I'd suggest that in 7-9 player games, the Alliance rules significantly *improve* the game, as dividing the large number of players into 3 Alliances removes a great deal of "Agh! Who do I fight! Who is going to attack me?" analysis, which speeds things up a lot.
 
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Mistah Frooza
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I think alliances with smaller numbers of players can work but it really depends on group dynamics. If your group is competitive enough then there's no way the strongest players will unite because that means sharing victory. In general alliances are always a dubious proposition and a bad alliance can sink a player who had a shot at winning before.

Also, if people are forming crummy alliances a lot, punish them for it in game! The easiest (and usually but not ALWAYS possible) strategy is to choose the weaker of the two alliance members and pummel them while ignoring the other player. Force that player to decide whether they should keep pouring their resources into an alliance that is no longer a good deal. Be aggressive,don't let the new alliance start calling the shots, the minute they sign the pact they've made themselves a target.

Basically, alliances are like a lot of RotA stuff: they're best used with a group of experienced, competitive players, if you're playing with more laid back players, or newer players, you may be better off leaving them out except in 6+ player games.
 
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William Hellström
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I have played a lot of games of 4 players with the alliances rules. In the first game we experienced the kind of awkwardness that this thread has brought up, but after a minimal house-ruling it came out very interesting.

What we did is that first we hand out the alliance points and divide it by number of players in it - as in the rulebook - and afterwards we make an internal order among the members of the alliance. So there is never a shared victory. This makes joining (and leaving) an alliance a much more strategic choice, and have worked out fantastic in our, kind of competitive-minded group.

Alliance becomes so to speak somewhat of a desperate method for bringing down a player who is far ahead, with lots of backstabbing possibilities and hardly as effective as in original rules, as you have to keep a look at your ally if you don't want to come out second-best in the end.

Example
(player 1 and 3 in alliance, which scores 39,5pts)
player 1 50 pts
player 2 40 pts
player 3 29 pts
player 4 35 pts

ranking
1st - player 2
2nd - player 1
3rd - player 3
4th - player 4
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Forrest & Ryan Driskel
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What's the downside to the above? Sounds awesome to me. The alliance is still providing VP and movement options, but provides real internal alliance squabbles.
 
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Tahsin Shamma
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vesssla wrote:
and afterwards we make an internal order among the members of the alliance. So there is never a shared victory.
So this internal order is based on their non-Alliance VP?
 
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William Hellström
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veector wrote:
So this internal order is based on their non-Alliance VP?
Yep
 
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CoHo
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After much thought and many games, I've come to the conclusion free-for-all Eclipse games are convergent on one optimal strategy. The best way to play (VP wise), is not to play. Hope the other person faces the brunt of the overwhelming odds. This has been mathematically proven: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truel.
The problem is it's a zero-sum combat focused game, without enough diplomacy dynamics to diverge from this optimal strategy. The only way to overcome this is to do two fixed teams from the start.
Or play a game with more diplomacy like Twilight Imperium (which is where I'm going now).
 
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Glen F
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Interesting ... but not really relevant. Comparing this to a duel is a poor analogy, because it's a false dichotomy: Attack or intentially miss (i.e: do nothing). Survive or die. There are many more options in Eclipse.

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If an unlimited number of bullets are used, then deliberate missing may be the best strategy for a duelist with lower accuracy than both opponents. If both have better than 50% success rate, he should continue to miss until one of his opponents kills the other. Then he will get the first shot at the remaining opponent. But if the "middle" opponent is weak, it can be better to team up with him until the strongest is eliminated
OK, so initiating an attack when you're the weakest player probably isn't the best idea, and teaming up with the next weakest might be a smart move. That much I'd agree with. But again, the analogy falls apart because it's not a single shot, resolved immediately, and deciding the entire game:

- If the other two players fight and weaken each other, you may no longer be the weakest player

- Fighting is not the only option. Focusing on other areas may make you stronger, so again you're no longer the weakest player

- While the above may seem to favor your conclusion, the problem is the game is not resolved in one round. So if you're no longer the weakest player going into the next round, then 'don't attack' may no longer be your optimal strategy, and attacking you may now be the optimal strategy for other players

- Also, attacks are not resolved immediately, and once one of the other players commits to an attack, it may now be an optimal time to also attack (either or even both players)


There's probably more, but the point in the simple Truel analysis is a poor fit for a game of Eclipse, and as such proves nothing.

That said:

NitrousUK wrote:
Or play a game with more diplomacy like Twilight Imperium (which is where I'm going now).
Everyone has there own tastes of course ... if you prefer a game with more diplomacy, by all means go play TI.
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CoHo
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I disagree. The point is whether you are actively trying to reduce the strength of another player or not. How you achieve this, a bullet or a fleet, is irrelevant to the problem. Also who is the weakest and if this changes also simply changes which part in the analogy a player fills.
The basic principle, whilst not encompassing every possible facet of the game, will hold true as the other effects are minor deviations. Minor deviations will cancel out and converge to zero over time.
 
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Glen F
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Sorry, but I don't even believe Truel theory is that great of an analogy for a Truel - it just ignores far too many variables. And it bears only a superficial resemblance to Eclipse.

In fact, if you can boil Eclipse down to minor variations on a Truel, you could do the same to every single game involving player combat (including TI). After all, they all come down to the same thing:

NitrousUK wrote:
The point is whether you are actively trying to reduce the strength of another player or not. How you achieve this, a bullet or a fleet, is irrelevant to the problem.
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Locke Balenska
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Why stop at games with player combat? I'm sure we could use this same logic to reduce non-directly-interactive games like Castles of Burgundy to a Truel, too: it's better not to take the tile that would both benefit you and set back your opponent, because leaving it there will make both your opponents squabble over it and you'll... somehow benefit.

There are only two board games in the universe: Snakes & Ladders, and elaborately themed Truel simulators.

 
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CoHo
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Game theory has been around for decades, rising to prominence and development when it was applied to and used for the Cold War by America. There will be a large number of possible plays at any given time, but some will be more beneficial than others. If you boil down to the most important plays, the others can be ignored, as over time, over enough plays, the most important plays will dominate. That's game theory.
It doesn't say "This is optimal for all plays, under all circumstances and all variables". It says given *enough* plays, it will result in a greater overall reward than any other.

I agree TI will suffer a similar fate, but diplomacy changes the rules considerably. Someone an enemy can become a friend, removing the possibility of attack, leaving only a highly costly betrayal. It will probably never totally diverge from the optimal play of no play, but diplomacy would at least push it far enough to add more variety.
 
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Glen F
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Right - Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). If one side launches their nuclear missles, the other side can just launch their own, assuring both sides are destroyed. Therefore neither side is willing to actually launch.

Doesn't apply here - there's a reason this came up during the cold war: Prior to Nuclear missles, there was no way to destroy another nation with a single attack - there was no MAD. And there is no MAD (no equivalent of nuclear missles) in Eclipse.

According to the theory, your best move in a Truel is to drop your gun so the other two focus on each other. But good chance one will win that draw. And now they've got a gun in their hand while yours is on the ground ... I'd say your chances are pretty poor. When you take away that artificial 'everyone takes a turn shooting', the conclusion no longer makes sense: Dropping your gun almost assures you lose.

However, it is true that you don't want to be the first to draw (makes both other 'players' go for you). But it goes back to what I said before: Truel is one shot, resolved immediately, deciding the entire game. In Eclipse, it takes many shots, doesn't resolve until the end of the round, and is only one factor in who wins the game (fleets don't factor in at all, but territory taken over would).

Yes, if two players are fighting it out and are pretty evenly matched, you can win by staying out if (maybe building monoliths). But that's far from the norm - more likely one will win, and in doing so become stronger. And by staying out of it, you've actually just assured their victory, not your own. And even in the evenly matched scenario, it's assuming they don't notice you getting ahead and turn their attention on you.
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CoHo
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MAD was just one application of game theory. Wasn't trying to include it in any discussions of Eclipse. Not entirely sure why you mentioned it tbh.

The optimal strategy for Truels is not to throw your gun on the ground. It is to deliberately miss. You still have your gun, it never said to disarm yourself. Just make yourself less of an immediate threat to the others.

Truel also isn't just about one shot either. I really think you should go re-read about Truels. It is about the moment of first engagement and what actions you precipitate, the problem doesn't abruptly end after the first shot. If both remaining duelers miss they don't just walk off. They continue until one is the victor and the other the loser. However optimising your chances going into this fight to the death is what is crucial, as once you are in it there is nothing more that can be done since it is then down to chance.

If two people are fighting, and one wins, if the third uninvolved player has some sense, they will choose that moment to send their fleet into the undefended flank of the victor. Or if there is no clear victor but they have weakened each other, you could choose to just monolith ahead of them. You also can't easily tell if someone is ahead, as the VPs on the victory tiles can give you anywhere from 4 to 16 VPs.
 
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