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Subject: Ghostel Design Blog 5 - The importance of turn order rss

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Bevan Clatworthy
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For this week's Ghostel blog piece, I'd like to look at the player order impact. A quick warning: this piece will talk a bit about the strategy of Ghostel and as such could be considered spoilers for those that like to learn as they play. If you're that kind of player, I advise you to look away.... NOW!

Still here? Cool. Now, player order is a hotly debated topic in board game design. First/last player advantages need to be mitigated to prevent situations where winning the dice roll or coin flip at the start of a playthrough makes the rest of the game a waste of an evening. So what is the impact of player order in Ghostel?

Well, during playtesting it rapidly became obvious that going as far down the player order as possible was better. Player interaction was a huge bullet point on the Mission Statement when I first conceived Ghostel. To this end, the board is small and the movement deliberately limited to ensure this happens. So going first means making the first move and staking your claim without any inkling what the other players will be doing.

This is incredibly powerful for the other players, especially last place, since you now have the chance to calculate the possible routes the other players can take to maximise their own scoring. This in turn allows them to make their own plans with reduced risk of being intereferred with or to gun for another player and keep their scoring lower.

So to mitigate this advantage, the solution was simple: the player with the best score should have to make the first move. For the first round of the game, where no player has scored any points it's based on the terror dice roll scores. For the rest of the game, it's down to victory points. This is shown by the score tracker around the board; if your score tracker marker is in the lead, you're the first player.

Player order is very important in Ghostel so it's advantages must be mitigated

This cleanly ensures the players who may have enjoyed some advantages in the early game don't run away with the rest of it without players needing to change their seating around the board. It acts as a kind of soft catch-up mechanism, giving a small advantage to players who may not be doing so well. Of course, you can affect your position on the score tracker during the purchase of cards; this creates another strategic layer to play as you can jockey your turn order position by maybe buying a more expensive card during the Day Phase, even if this would be sub-optimal purchase.

Of course, this isn't to say you can't use first player to intimidate the other players by slapping a six pip die on the centre of the board!

How do you mitigate player order advantage in your games? Does singling out the lead player for a less enviable player position seem fair? Do you think games should consider catch up mechanisms or not? As in every blog I'd love to hear from you!
 
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B C Z
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I haven't been following the other designer notes on this, but I'm curious about one question:

If going first is such a disadvantage, why is it not compensated for on the first turn with something like staggered victory points during setup?

aka: last to go gets 1 point, penultimate gets 2, ..., first player gets 'n' (n == number of players)
 
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Michael Brettell
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BlueCatGames wrote:

How do you mitigate player order advantage in your games? Does singling out the lead player for a less enviable player position seem fair? Do you think games should consider catch up mechanisms or not? As in every blog I'd love to hear from you!
I don't know that 'fair' is the important factor. It IS fair, because all players are aware of the rule before they start playing. What I think is important is if its interesting. Does it create interesting decisions, in that someone could claim points, but might not choose to do so because they'd rather not go first?

Catch-up mechanisms are definitely important - moreso in longer games. And the less arbitrary the better. There's nothing worse than losing and thinking there's nothing you can do about it.

We're designing a game as well, and like you, early in our play-testing identified the importance of turn order. It's not completely cut and dried - on the one hand going second you get to see what your opponent has planned, while going first means your actions happen first (its a 2P game).

One of the aspects of our game is that player's upgrade their skill levels in different areas. It so happened that one of the skills wasn't all that useful, and thematically lent itself to knowing what your opponent was doing, so we set a rule that at the start of the turn, whoever had the highest level of that skill decided if they would go first or second, with it alternating if the skill levels were the same. It's worked out very well.

I'm glad I found this blog - I'm hoping to start posting some designer diaries of my own, and wanted to start reading others. I thought there was a 'Designer Diary' section, but I guess they just get posted in this forum?
 
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Bevan Clatworthy
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Sorry for the late reply!

@BTCarpenter: It's a cool idea, however I'd be worried about adding too much complexity to a game primarily aimed at families. It would also mean that the player with the lowest terror dice total would get the most 'starter points' and therefore go first in turn order, therefore being at a disadvantage at the start of the game.

@Michael: I reckon you've hit the nail on the head there. By making the first player part a useful mechanic, players have an extra layer of gameplay which in turn can affect decisions players make in the game. This all adds to the 'meat' of the game and gives players that feeling of control.

I'm intrigued by the game concept you've mentioned your working on. Do you have any links or pics?
 
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Michael Brettell
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Hi Bevan - the web site for our fledgling game is at http://gravitasboardgames.com/. There are a couple of articles that explain the game's core mechanic, but nothing about the turn order specifically.

We're at the stage of getting more content up, play-testing, graphic-designing. Our intent was to start posting about it early next year, but please have a poke around. Love to know what you think - about both the game and the site!
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