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Subject: Issues with the game design, and potential solutions rss

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I finally played this game at a game night meetup, and couldn't help but become acutely aware of what it's like when it's no longer competitive.

Essentially, the issue was that one player had 8 points, another player had 1 point, and there were 3 missions left worth 4, 4, and 2 points. In that 4-player game, myself and the player across from me had zero points. I was attempting to fund a mission that would score all 3 in a row, but he completed one of the missions ahead of me. In that instant, the leaderboard was as follows: 8 points, 4 points, 1 point, 0 points, with 6 points up for grabs.

This meant not only that half the players no longer stood any chance of winning, but that they were still in the game. We could simply "co-operate" with whichever player we want to win, and just hand them the game. It pretty much took the wind out of our sails, and we ended up ending the game then and there, with the second-place player more than willing to simply concede to the leader.

After some discussion, we pretty much decided that it would probably be more fun if the game ended when an arbitrary points threshold was crossed. You could complete easier, quicker missions, to make progress towards the goal, or you could risk a bigger mission to win in a single shot. Missions that are worth more than the quota could help resolve ties, especially in the case of missions that end at the start of the year. Once a player crosses a threshold, the other players could finish out the year in an attempt to beat the leader on points; then, the game at best stands a chance at staying competitive all the way through, and at worst ends quickly once it gets really bad. I think the main effort there would be deciding on exactly what the victory threshold should be, but that's really a matter of trial and error.

Though, come to think of it, it wouldn't necessarily completely eliminate the problem; what if one player is on their way to the threshold, but due to the lack of missions, other players are already unable to meet that threshold? Or could, at best, only attempt to work to prevent another player from meeting it?

The proposed solution for that was some means of introducing new missions as old ones were accomplished, perhaps on a 1 to 1 scale. That way, there would only be so many missions available at any given time, but no player would ever simply fall out of the race due to a lack of available missions to score. This could also apply to missions that are revealed to be impossible. Savvy players could spend extra funding in an attempt to option select a potentially-impossible mission such that they could still quickly complete its replacement.

As for the outcome cards, the scenario that was brought up was when an advancement has two cards, one of which is a known failure, and the other of which is a known success. The "correct" play, as far as I know, would be to only use the advancement if you can afford to discard each card as it appears, but you really only have two options: leave the advancement at a 50% failure rate until it actually fails and you can discard that card, or pay to discard the discard the success and turn it into a 100% failure rate for the next use of the card. I just can't come up with a good reason why that is. Essentially, the space agency is aware that the next time they use, say, a Soyuz rocket, that it will simply blow up. And all of their rockets will continue to blow up until they pay $5 million to, er, fix their bad engineering. But if you have the money to fix it, and you have a rocket you want to use, you effectively have to blow the rocket up just to have the opportunity to fix the underlying problem. It's a really strange issue, and it only comes up as a side effect of the mechanic of each advancement card effectively having its own individual outcome deck.

The suggestion to deal with that was, whenever a card is drawn from a given outcome deck, discard the others and draw new ones to replace them before shuffling the revealed one back in. The effect this has on game balance, I think, depends on the distribution of outcome cards, which doesn't seem to be listed in the rulebook.

Anyway, we all had a really fun time, but dealing with these issues would probably make the game a lot more enjoyable for us overall. Do you folks (including Joe) have any thoughts on these ideas?
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Joe Fatula
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I'm glad to hear you had fun, and that you decided to share your thoughts on the game. As my wife could tell you, I always have some thoughts to share on game design questions like the ones you posed, but I'll try to keep them brief here.

I've summarized your two points below, hopefully fairly.

1) What are you supposed to do when you've fallen so far behind that you have no chance of winning?
Good question -- I don't really know. On the one hand, it would be nice if you had something to do all the way through the end of the game. On the other hand, if someone is doing that much better than you, a mechanism that lets you catch up that much would cheapen their success. I can't think of a good way to meet both those criteria, but it wouldn't surprise me if someone else does.

2) So you had a failure in one of your techs, but you can't fix it until you reproduce the conditions that led to the initial failure? Why?
This one's entirely by design. To me, coming from an engineering and software background, this feels very appropriate, trying to cause the same failure to occur so you can better understand how to fix it.
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Michel Kangro
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buffalohat wrote:

2) So you had a failure in one of your techs, but you can't fix it until you reproduce the conditions that led to the initial failure? Why?
This one's entirely by design. To me, coming from an engineering and software background, this feels very appropriate, trying to cause the same failure to occur so you can better understand how to fix it.


I second that. Only mistakes that are reproducable can be fixed. A mistake occuring once without being closely monitored is a pain to fix.
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Murr Rockstroh
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buffalohat wrote:
I'm glad to hear you had fun, and that you decided to share your thoughts on the game. As my wife could tell you, I always have some thoughts to share on game design questions like the ones you posed, but I'll try to keep them brief here.

I've summarized your two points below, hopefully fairly.

1) What are you supposed to do when you've fallen so far behind that you have no chance of winning?
Good question -- I don't really know. On the one hand, it would be nice if you had something to do all the way through the end of the game. On the other hand, if someone is doing that much better than you, a mechanism that lets you catch up that much would cheapen their success. I can't think of a good way to meet both those criteria, but it wouldn't surprise me if someone else does.

2) So you had a failure in one of your techs, but you can't fix it until you reproduce the conditions that led to the initial failure? Why?
This one's entirely by design. To me, coming from an engineering and software background, this feels very appropriate, trying to cause the same failure to occur so you can better understand how to fix it.


For #1, try a variant where you leave all the missions that were drawn out there for the entire game. If you complete the mission first you score full points, if you're second to complete the mission you score half points for it (or some other fraction of it), third gets one-fourth of the points (or some other fraction of it), then it's done.

For #2, I agree with the designer, and I enjoy that aspect of it. This is one of the cases of "realism" vs "fun" in game design (sort of). Perhaps some variation like the OP suggested could be developed by someone that would lean more toward the "fun" than the "realism"
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Roger BW
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Murr wrote:
For #1, try a variant where you leave all the missions that were drawn out there for the entire game. If you complete the mission first you score full points, if you're second to complete the mission you score half points for it (or some other fraction of it), third gets one-fourth of the points (or some other fraction of it), then it's done.
This suggests a "low-capability generalist" strategy, rather than picking a high-value mission and developing all-out to get it sooner than anyone else, which would add some interesting complexity.
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Brent Pollock
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What is missing from the initial post is how you ended up at one player had 8 points, another player had 1 point, and there were 3 missions left worth 4, 4, and 2 points.

Without that info, I see no problem with the game as it was played. I am guessing what happened was the low scorers got outplayed and/or the high scorers gambled and got lucky (that's how I won). The 'fix' to me is that you (i) do what you did and terminate the game, awarding it to the obvious number one finisher and then (ii) set it up and go again, applying lessons learned.

The one thing I learned from the two times I have played multiplayer is that multiplayer makes it a SPACE RACE game...so, start your engines and press your luck or start engines...restart your engines...restart your engines...restart your engines, then launch a failsafe mission and hope the guy who gambled and launched before you does not beat the odds.

Did any of you, especially the ones starting to fall behind, trade technologies? That's the one 'catch up' mechanism I am aware of in the game, but it only works if you do it before it all becomes Mission Impossible.


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buffalohat wrote:
I'm glad to hear you had fun, and that you decided to share your thoughts on the game. As my wife could tell you, I always have some thoughts to share on game design questions like the ones you posed, but I'll try to keep them brief here.

I've summarized your two points below, hopefully fairly.

1) What are you supposed to do when you've fallen so far behind that you have no chance of winning?
Good question -- I don't really know. On the one hand, it would be nice if you had something to do all the way through the end of the game. On the other hand, if someone is doing that much better than you, a mechanism that lets you catch up that much would cheapen their success. I can't think of a good way to meet both those criteria, but it wouldn't surprise me if someone else does.

2) So you had a failure in one of your techs, but you can't fix it until you reproduce the conditions that led to the initial failure? Why?
This one's entirely by design. To me, coming from an engineering and software background, this feels very appropriate, trying to cause the same failure to occur so you can better understand how to fix it.


For 1), we'll give the "replace missions as scored" + "win by threshold" variant a try and see how it goes. For 2), that makes a lot of sense, and should help stem the frustration of that particular situation.

WBRP wrote:
What is missing from the initial post is how you ended up at one player had 8 points, another player had 1 point, and there were 3 missions left worth 4, 4, and 2 points.

Without that info, I see no problem with the game as it was played. I am guessing what happened was the low scorers got outplayed and/or the high scorers gambled and got lucky (that's how I won). The 'fix' to me is that you (i) do what you did and terminate the game, awarding it to the obvious number one finisher and then (ii) set it up and go again, applying lessons learned.

The one thing I learned from the two times I have played multiplayer is that multiplayer makes it a SPACE RACE game...so, start your engines and press your luck or start engines...restart your engines...restart your engines...restart your engines, then launch a failsafe mission and hope the guy who gambled and launched before you does not beat the odds.

Did any of you, especially the ones starting to fall behind, trade technologies? That's the one 'catch up' mechanism I am aware of in the game, but it only works if you do it before it all becomes Mission Impossible.




I left out the details because they didn't seem relevant. One player was in the lead, but any of the three players remaining could have still won. The problem was that the first player of those three to score any of the missions would immediately become the only one capable of either winning or tying the game. The other two would still be in the game, but would not be able to win. At most, they could essentially choose a winner by giving one of the people in the running all of their stuff.

We didn't do any sharing. We'll have to explore that more next time.
 
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Larry L
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This game is a racing game, and a common state in most racing games I've played is that some racers end up so far behind they cannot possibly win. In most racing games I've played, losing players continue to race for the best position they can achieve.

There are some issues specific to this game: Players can boost other players and turns can take some time due to the mission planning. I think those issues need some group discussion to resolve. For example, is it okay for someone striving for third place to make a deal that helps another player make first place, provided it is mutually beneficial?

I think (based on very little experience) that if you play it like most race games and have everyone strive for the best possible place, it probably works best.

I know can be strange, since in most games, finding first place is sufficient.
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Joe Fatula
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In a game with 3 players or more, sharing research and launch capabilities is very important.
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Mike Hoyt

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I find the game challenging enough that just completing A mission is an accomplishment.

If winning is the only goal, then yeah, call it when the winner is decided. And try again, because certainly you've all learned something about the game. For myself, even if I'm bumping along in 4th place with no chance of winning, I'd still like to be able to complete the mission I'm working towards, so I might prefer to continue in that case
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vgambit wrote:
In that instant, the leaderboard was as follows: 8 points, 4 points, 1 point, 0 points, with 6 points up for grabs.



It strikes me as odd that you'd consider there's no game left at this point.

If the players are A,B,C and D in descending points order, then B still has a chance to win, C or D have a chance to overtake B for second place (or scrap it out for third) and A needs one more mission to seal the victory, which could all make for a nail-biting finish.

If I can't come first then I quit is no way to play a race game.

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Chrysm wrote:

It strikes me as odd that you'd consider there's no game left at this point.


I don't think it is that odd. The game doesn't really feel like a race in the same way a game of Formula D feels like a race.
 
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RingelTree wrote:
Chrysm wrote:

It strikes me as odd that you'd consider there's no game left at this point.


I don't think it is that odd. The game doesn't really feel like a race in the same way a game of Formula D feels like a race.


The game is definitely a race, but the race ends once the first player crosses the finish line. Or rather, once it's established that nobody could take first place from whoever is in the lead, the finish line materializes behind 1st place, but the race is immediately ended, so there's no more jockeying for position at that point.

Not to mention, any position other than 1st is simply a loss. Maybe a way to mitigate this would be to award points to each position, and play multiple games to see who wins "overall," but that would stretch an already-long game out to pretty ridiculous proportions.
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Michel Kangro
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vgambit wrote:
RingelTree wrote:
Chrysm wrote:

It strikes me as odd that you'd consider there's no game left at this point.


I don't think it is that odd. The game doesn't really feel like a race in the same way a game of Formula D feels like a race.


The game is definitely a race, but the race ends once the first player crosses the finish line. Or rather, once it's established that nobody could take first place from whoever is in the lead, the finish line materializes behind 1st place, but the race is immediately ended, so there's no more jockeying for position at that point.

Not to mention, any position other than 1st is simply a loss. Maybe a way to mitigate this would be to award points to each position, and play multiple games to see who wins "overall," but that would stretch an already-long game out to pretty ridiculous proportions.


So, we've got this thing that determines who is the winner. It's called "points" or something. And you want a metric to strive for for the second place?

You already have one: Strive for the highest place possible. If first isn't reachable anymore, strive for second. If you can't improve your place any more, get as many points as possible. Be points-greedy. Then the game will be fun until it's certain who completes the last mission.

If all you care for is winning, then your game ends sooner, that's true.
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vgambit wrote:

The game is definitely a race, but the race ends once the first player crosses the finish line. Or rather, once it's established that nobody could take first place from whoever is in the lead, the finish line materializes behind 1st place, but the race is immediately ended, so there's no more jockeying for position at that point.

Not to mention, any position other than 1st is simply a loss. Maybe a way to mitigate this would be to award points to each position, and play multiple games to see who wins "overall," but that would stretch an already-long game out to pretty ridiculous proportions.


Judging by your main complaint, I didn't realize your recognized you were in a race.

In the game you described, first place wasn't decided just yet. The game reached a point where some players couldn't achieve first, but that is typical of most racing games. In such games players are typically expected to accept the loss gracefully and strive for the best position in the race they can (that is how we play Formula D), whether they assign meaning to that position or not. Alternatively they can resign-- no one typically minds.
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vgambit wrote:
The game is definitely a race, but the race ends once the first player crosses the finish line. Or rather, once it's established that nobody could take first place from whoever is in the lead, the finish line materializes behind 1st place, but the race is immediately ended, so there's no more jockeying for position at that point.

Not to mention, any position other than 1st is simply a loss. Maybe a way to mitigate this would be to award points to each position, and play multiple games to see who wins "overall," but that would stretch an already-long game out to pretty ridiculous proportions.

What if you write down the scores after each game and keep a running total? You don't have to play multiple games in one session. Just write down the results on a piece of paper that you keep with the box. If the players change between sessions then keep track of the average score per game, not just the total.

I look forward to hearing about whatever solution(s) you decide to try.
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Chris in Kansai
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Or you could try the game a few more times using the RAW and see if there are any aspects of play and strategy that might have escaped you on your first attempt. whistle
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Robert Manning
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For issue #1
vgambit wrote:
Essentially, the issue was that one player had 8 points, another player had 1 point, and there were 3 missions left worth 4, 4, and 2 points. In that 4-player game, myself and the player across from me had zero points. I was attempting to fund a mission that would score all 3 in a row, but he completed one of the missions ahead of me. In that instant, the leaderboard was as follows: 8 points, 4 points, 1 point, 0 points, with 6 points up for grabs.

Based on that it sounds like you you were playing a hybrid Easy-Normal Difficulty with 5 Easy Missions and 1 Medium Mission -or- 4 easy and 1 Medium with the scoring where you ended it as follow:

Player A: 8 VP (2 VP Artificial Satellite and 6 VP Venus Survey -or- 8 VP Ceres Lander)
Player B: 4 VP (Lunar Survey)
Player C: 1 VP (Sounding Rocket)
Player D: 0 VP
Remaining Missions:
2 VP (Man in Space)
4 VP (Man in Orbit)

I can't see this game going on more than two more turns so it isn't as if those out of the running would be waiting very long for the game to end (and depending on what players A and C started that last turn with the $10 bonus from the Lunar Survey could well allow them -- particularly Player A -- to end the game that very turn).

I see the Easy Difficulty as primarily a "learn the rules" game; it is also going to be over fairly quickly -- particularly if there are many players and especially if they are cooperating. At higher player counts there simply aren't enough missions to go around without producing very lopsided results at the easier difficulties.

Playing at the harder difficulties I think extends the competitive timeline by placing several high VP missions far enough down the road that an early leader isn't going to have an inside track to ultimate victory (potentially quite the opposite). It may still be the case that some players eventually cease to remain competitive; but that should occur well into the game when the game is approaching its conclusion anyway.

For Issue #2:
Although I agree with the ideas put forward by Joe and others above, I have thought about a variant where the last outcome revealed is always left face up on the advancement card and may be bought off at any later time, or perhaps paying $1 or $2 to leave it face up for that purpose (particularly Life Support -- Oh! The funds I have thrown away there!) -- it would of course get shuffled back in and lose this ability if the advancement requires another outcome draw before removal; but I haven't tried this out yet.
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RingelTree wrote:
In the game you described, first place wasn't decided just yet. The game reached a point where some players couldn't achieve first, but that is typical of most racing games.


It's not typical of real races, though. In an actual race, only someone crossing the finish line first makes winning impossible for the other racers. Until then, anything can happen. Obviously, races often reach a point where it becomes astronomically unlikely that a given participant will win. But I still there's a fundamental difference--even if it's just a psychological difference--between a win being astronomically unlikely and a win being literally impossible. Both situations are extremely likely to have the same outcome, but I can totally understand why people might find a game where a win remains theoretically possible until the very end to be more enjoyable. It's not all that different from having a preference for games that do not have player elimination.

I suspect that the simplest solution is, as mentioned above, to have an assortment of missions that you refresh with newly drawn missions as they are completed, and then play to a set point value. It would probably take some testing to figure out specific missions assortments and point values that would make for a good game, but it works with the components as-is, with no modifications needed.

 
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Felderin wrote:
RingelTree wrote:
In the game you described, first place wasn't decided just yet. The game reached a point where some players couldn't achieve first, but that is typical of most racing games.


It's not typical of real races, though. In an actual race, only someone crossing the finish line first makes winning impossible for the other racers. Until then, anything can happen. Obviously, races often reach a point where it becomes astronomically unlikely that a given participant will win. But I still there's a fundamental difference--even if it's just a psychological difference--between a win being astronomically unlikely and a win being literally impossible. Both situations are extremely likely to have the same outcome, but I can totally understand why people might find a game where a win remains theoretically possible until the very end to be more enjoyable. It's not all that different from having a preference for games that do not have player elimination.

I suspect that the simplest solution is, as mentioned above, to have an assortment of missions that you refresh with newly drawn missions as they are completed, and then play to a set point value. It would probably take some testing to figure out specific missions assortments and point values that would make for a good game, but it works with the components as-is, with no modifications needed.



In real races it is typical to keep going, striving as hard as you can even after the winner has crossed the finish line. It is only in racing board games that we might call the race when the winner is decided.

Although I agree with you regarding people might prefer to play a board game only when they have a chance to win. Still it is possible to continue even when one has no chance at all.

I think the expansion adds some uncertainty to the game end though.
 
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You are taking "race" and "finish line" too literally.

In the Space Race, there is no finish line, you'll notice that the race has continued past the 70's right? If you're playing for the experience of being in the race, it really doesn't matter if you can't "win" on points by a certain date.
 
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