Ender Wiggins
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The problem

This concern was first raised in another thread, and the more two player games of Xenon Profiteer I play, the more I'm becoming convinced that the game-end reward token makes the game balance flawed, and needs fixing in some way. The real issue here is that the game doesn't give players an equal number of turns. The start player is unfairly advantaged by this if he triggers the game end and wins the Xenon Privilege Token, while another player won't get this same advantage if he triggers the game end.

What exactly is the purpose of the reward offered by the game end Xenon Privilege Token? From the perspective of game design, I presume that it is intended to function as an additional incentive for players to compete for, due to the advantage it gives. So far so good. The problem is that because of the way it works (I'll use the example of a two player game throughout this post), it only gives the first player an advantage for winning it, while the second player gets no advantage for winning it (except for preventing the first player from getting an advantage).

Example

Let's use the example of a two player game to make this clear:

Scenario 1- if Player 1 triggers the game end and gets the Xenon Privilege Token, he effectively gets to choose whether:
(a) to have an equal number of turns as Player 2, plus take 3 points; or
(b) to get one more turn than Player 2.
Either way there's a real advantage to Player 1.

Scenario 2 - if Player 2 triggers the game end and gets the Xenon Privilege Token, he effectively gets to choose whether:
(a) to take 3 points and get one less turn than Player 1; or
(b) to have an equal number of turns as Player 1.
Either way there's no real advantage to Player 2.

So if you're the start player, triggering the game end and getting the Xenon Privilege Token will earn you an advantage of about three points. If you're not the start player, triggering the game end and getting the Xenon Privilege Token earns you no advantage, because your opponent is entitled to get one more turn than you, which basically cancels out the benefit you get from the token. How can it be fair or balanced, if the same objective will reward the start player with a significant advantage of about 3 points, but doesn't give the other player any opportunity to get the same advantage? See also this post and this post. (For the record, I'm one of those people who considers the house-rule that players get equal turns in Dominion to be essential, as justified in this thread and these statistics.)

Implications

If you made a Xenon Profiteer AI and ran a match of 10,000 games between AI players using the same strategy (as has been done with Dominion here), this is what you will find:
- When Player 1 triggers the game-end: Player 1's average score is 3 points higher than Player 2's average score.
- When Player 2 triggers the game-end: Player 2's average score is identical to Player 1's average score.
Is this what the designer intended? I'm not sure, but I'd be interested to know if he is aware that this is what the outcome would be, or could prove it wrong. But I'm quite confident this analysis is correct, and if so, I think most people would agree that this is a problem with imbalance.

The net result is that in about half the games (i.e. the ones in which the start player triggers the game end), there is a start player advantage of 3 points. Considering that in most games the scores are in the 30s, and often the margin of victory is just a few points, that is not insignificant. If I'm Player 1 and trigger the game end, and win by a margin of 1-3 points, it's the privilege token that won me the game. But if I'm Player 2 and trigger the game end, the privilege token actually doesn't earn me anything (except the option of 3 points in lieu of getting an equal number of turns), but just prevents my opponent from getting those 3 points. Now I don't mind if a game gives a 3 point advantage to a player, but it should be an advantage which both players have to fight for and each have a chance of getting, and not an advantage that potentially benefits only the start player.

To further illustrate this disparity, let's say for argument's sake that players can earn around 3 points in a turn, and consider two different cases:
- Case 1: Player 1 is behind 28-30 at the start of a round and manages to trigger the game end that round. He'll win 34-33, because of the bonus from the token.
- Case 2: Player 2 is behind 28-30 at the start of a round and manages to trigger the game end that round. He'll lose 34-36, despite the bonus from the token, because of Player 1 getting the extra turn.
So an identical game situation, and yet in the first case Player 1 wins because of the token, while in the second case Player 2 doesn't win despite the token. That's just not equitable, and in cases like these it can make the difference between winning and losing. In practice it means that this imbalance will change the winner of the game in instances where the start player triggers the game end and goes on to win by 1-3 points; and that in instances where the last player triggers the game end and only loses by a couple of points they can feel hard done by because they didn't get a similar advantage.

A possible solution

I think the solution is to give players an equal number of turns before awarding the benefits of the reward token, as follows:
- If Player 1 triggers the game end: finish the round (i.e. both players get equal turns), and then Player 1 gets either 3 points or an extra turn (to be decided at the moment they trigger the game end).
- If Player 2 triggers the game end: play one more round (i.e. both players get equal turns), and then Player 2 gets either 3 points or an extra turn (to be decided at the moment they trigger the game end).
This ensures that the Xenon Privilege Token gives the same benefit (3 points or an extra turn) to whichever player who wins the token, regardless of whether or not they are the starting player.

The only change this involves to the current rules is what happens when Player 2 triggers the game end, to ensure an equal number of turns before applying the benefit of the token.

Two further tweaks are perhaps necessary to this solution:
a) One result of this solution is that if Player 2 chooses the extra turn, they'd get two turns in a row, which is somewhat inelegant. Perhaps to make this more elegant the Privilege Token should also be changed so that it doesn't give the option of an extra turn but only a straight benefit of 3 points.
b) Another result of this solution is that it arguably makes the Xenon Privilege Token too powerful. By winning the token as Player 2, not only am I preventing Player 1 getting 3 points, but I'm also earning 3 points, which is effectively a 6 point swing in my favour. So to compensate, the value of the token might need to be adjusted to 2 points (effectively a 4 point swing in favour of the player who earns it) to prevent it becoming too decisive.

The rules could then read something like this:
Quote:
Xenon Privilege Token
The player that triggers the game-end is given the Xenon Privilege Coin, and will receive 2 extra during Scoring.
All players are to receive an equal number of turns:
i. If the start player triggers the game-end, the remaining players all receive one final turn to complete the current round.
ii. If another player triggers the game-end, the players first complete the current round, and then all players receive one final turn in a final round.

I'd love to know what others think about all this, and whether they'd also consider this more satisfactory. Or any better ideas at a "fix" for this issue?
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Igor Kaplounenko
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First of all, thank you for presenting my argument more eloquently than I have in That Other Thread.

I have only played the game 10 times -- to meet the requirements for the 2016 10x10 challenge -- so I do not have the extensive experience of the designer or a multitude of other players. Regardless, I'm leaning towards agreement with the designer on this issue, namely that what happens during gameplay has a greater effect than the first player advantage. To quote from the other thread,

TheCrippledWerewolf wrote:
A purchase of a single Pipeline by the first player removes one turn of timing. There are better and worse hand draws. Cards available for purchase may be cheaper or expensive.


While true, to my mind this is a bad thing, which is why this game will never supplant other deckbuilders like Dominion for me. I found Xenon Profiteer to be a rather unfulfilling, swingy experience, but unlike, say, Innovation, it doesn't provide a compelling story as a tradeoff. It's just... kind of random.

I really wanted to like this game. I'm a nerd and found the theme actually appealing, and Daniel Solis's vibrant and user-friendly graphic designs are always a plus. However, the swinginess and the feel that a lot of the game is just automated -- mandatory phases that are purely mechanical in nature with no player agency -- are what keeps this game forever on the shelf for me.
I do not mean to disparage the designer. Game design is hard. If I didn't have exposure to other similar games I think I probably would've liked it a lot better.

If I were still playing this and wanted a house rule, I would just get rid of the end-of-game bonus altogether, because one should always err on the side of Knizia.

Quote:
It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove. -- Antoine de Saint Exupéry




P.S. I didn't know about the Dominion house rule, and that is something I'll try to incorporate in my games from now on. Intuitively it makes sense if the playing field is really level, but I tend to play with people of varying skill so it hasn't been a factor for me.
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TC Petty III
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I wrote a response, then deleted it. I'd rather stay a neutral party in the discussion to avoid appearing defensive. What do other players think? Does the end-game feel tense?

megawidget wrote:

I do not mean to disparage the designer.

Pretty much impossible. My ego grows every day. Who are you again?
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Anthony Rubbo
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The fact that wacky things happen during the game that have a larger impact on the outcome than first player advantage, doesn't mean there isn't a problem with first player advantage.

Let's play High-Roll with a D20. First roller gets to add 1 to his roll.
Game would be better without this advantage.
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TC Petty III
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LemonyFresh wrote:
The fact that wacky things happen during the game that have a larger impact on the outcome than first player advantage, doesn't mean there isn't a problem with first player advantage.

Let's play High-Roll with a D20. First roller gets to add 1 to his roll.
Game would be better without this advantage.

I can briefly state that my defenses have always come from a strategic aspect of the game, not from randomness. So, this would not be a good analogy. "Wacky D20: A Game of Nerd Dice for the Whole Family" is a good example of a game without mitigation or choice with an obvious 1st player advantage.

Ender's argument for 2 player specifically holds more weight for me. All interaction, whether through tokens or pacing is directly negative or positive in 2 player, and so this advantage for ending the game has no variability. I'm still wondering if offering the 2nd player an extra ($) at the start would be enough to offset this without the rules change. Sadly, I don't have the time to test.
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Anthony Rubbo
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The random aspect was (I would have thought) clearly not the point. If Ender's phrasing better aids in shedding this light for you, then sure, go with that.
 
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Anthony Rubbo
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EndersGame wrote:
I'd love to know what others think about all this, and whether they'd also consider this more satisfactory. Or any better ideas at a "fix" for this issue?


I'd prefer to see something like partial starting turns. First player ONLY distills on his turn, or some such. Or alter starting deck composition - more nonXenon the closer you are to going first. I don't mind the way that the game ends, if it begins more fairly.
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Ender Wiggins
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LemonyFresh wrote:
The fact that wacky things happen during the game that have a larger impact on the outcome than first player advantage, doesn't mean there isn't a problem with first player advantage.

Let's play High-Roll with a D20. First roller gets to add 1 to his roll.
Game would be better without this advantage.

That's a good comparison and exactly my point, although you'd have to mention that the first player only gets the advantage if he triggers the game-end.

Imagine this: "Let's play a two player game of ______, and I'll go first. If I trigger the game end, I get to add 3 points to my score. If you trigger the game end, you don't get to add anything to your score." How's that fair?

In effect, that's how Xenon Profiteer works under the current rules. Yes in many cases this won't change who wins (although in some cases it will), and yes there are a lot of other factors that may affect final scores more than this point. But that doesn't change the fact that a game would be better without this particular aspect of imbalance.
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Heiko Günther
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We did never note any skewed results in favour of the first player, but then, we didn't really pay attention to that, and, on top, only played 3 or 4 players.

Maybe, an easy fix, if it really bothers one or turns out to be a problem, would be to play one game per player, so each player gets to be first player once? It's not a very long game, after all.
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Anthony Rubbo
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EndersGame wrote:
That's a good comparison and exactly my point, although you'd have to mention that the first player only gets the advantage if he triggers the game-end.


It's even more than that, though. Let's say there are two extreme scenarios:

A) the players can make moves to force the tempo to be altered so that he triggers the game end, with no random elements involved

B) it is almost completely random who ends the game, with player one having an advantage since if both players are ready to end the game in the same round, player one will be the one rewarded.

Under scenario A), player two must work harder, i.e. expend moves that under fair conditions would be considerd suboptimal, in order to achieve the goal, since by default, player one ends the game.

Under scenario B), player one could be said to have a pure 2 point advantage. (2/3 chance * 3 pts)

The answer lies in the spectrum between A and B, but the advantage is present regardless.
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Anthony Rubbo
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LemonyFresh wrote:
Under scenario B), player one could be said to have a pure 2 point advantage. (2/3 chance * 3 pts)


And following the above, in a four-player game, player one has a 1.6 pt. advantage over player four, player two has a .8 point advantage over player four, and player three has a .4 point advantage over player four.
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Frock Lobster
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I've played this one quite a bit with 3-4 players and never had any problems with the issue raised here. Game's a blast by the way, for anyone considering it and getting turned off by this thread.

For two players, I agree with Heiko - I'd just play two games and alternate start player. Most of the times I've played, everyone wants to play again anyway.
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Ender Wiggins
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lee elektrik wrote:
Maybe, an easy fix, if it really bothers one or turns out to be a problem, would be to play one game per player, so each player gets to be first player once? It's not a very long game, after all.
FrockLobster wrote:
I've played this one quite a bit with 3-4 players and never had any problems with the issue raised here. For two players, I agree with Heiko - I'd just play two games and alternate start player. Most of the times I've played, everyone wants to play again anyway.

I do think that it's mainly with the 2 player game that this is an issue.

I usually play Xenon Profiteer just with my wife. Since we keep record of our game scores, what we do now to negate any potential starting advantage is this: the loser of the previous game gets to be the starting player of the next game. That's a nice simple fix that has worked for us.

Despite this, her win record in this game is still much better than mine! But we're both still enjoying Xenon Profiteer a lot!
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Brandon M
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EndersGame wrote:
I usually play Xenon Profiteer just with my wife. Since we keep record of our game scores, what we do now to negate any potential starting advantage is this: the loser of the previous game gets to be the starting player of the next game. That's a nice simple fix that has worked for us.

Despite this, her win record in this game is still much better than mine! But we're both still enjoying Xenon Profiteer a lot!


I personally haven't noticed a 1st player bias in 2 player games (I haven't been looking for one either), but I usually go first because my wife and I also play a lot and we let the loser go first in the next game. She wins a lot, first second, doesn't matter.

love this game.
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Brian M
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So out of curiosity, why not just play an even number of turns and ditch the whole '3 points or extra turn' thing?
 
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Ender Wiggins
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StormKnight wrote:
So out of curiosity, why not just play an even number of turns and ditch the whole '3 points or extra turn' thing?

That's another possible solution, and it would eliminate the problem of the slightly wonky Xenon privilege token mechanic that favours the start player.

But it creates another slight issue: when does the game end? If it ends at the conclusion of the current round when the end is triggered, it could actually disadvantage the start player.

For example, imagine that the player who is last in turn order triggers the game end. In such a case, the player who is first in turn order may have been working towards a contract that was just not quite finished, and this would disadvantage him because he wasn't to know that the game would end, and didn't complete it - he might have done something different on his final turn. So he should really have opportunity to have another turn - but then so should all the other players, to ensure equal turns!

So this solution would only work if you implemented it as follows:

All players get equal turns, and the "three points or extra turn" bonus is eliminated.
a) if the starting player triggers the game end, this is the final round.
b) if a non-starting player triggers the game end, this is the penultimate round, and one final round follows the completion of the current round.
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Anthony Rubbo
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Glad to see this thread continuing; still hoping a solution emerges. As for the play-two-games solution, I'd rather play one balanced game than two unbalanced ones, unless you're saying you tally the two games together as one big game. And I personally don't understand why the loser would go first instead of alternating who goes first, (e.g. Player 2 wins the first game, overcoming a disadvantage, and thus gets punished the second game) but if the variant works for you, that's super.

Playing one full round after the round during which the game-end triggers sounds fine, except, I'm forgetting now, was there a "carrot" required to encourage someone to trigger the end in this game? i.e. Why was this rule put there in the first place, and would removing the carrot have any adverse effects?
 
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Sam Cook
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Last time I played this, we just house ruled every player had an equal number of rounds and it was fine. There is already some incentive to be the one that ends the game since scoring a contract can take multiple turns of bidding, buying, refining, and players are rarely scoring contracts at the same pace. So if you end the game by buying a contract chances are everyone else is somewhere in the middle of that process and unable to score one that round. Of course there are other points they can get, but typically the contracts are the bulk of your score.
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