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Subject: Decision making in setup. rss

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JT Schiavo
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Frederick
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How much decision making do you like to have in the setup of games you play?

No decisions, everything is the same or randomized?

Pick a varient and go?

Chose your starting race/character/position?

Meaningful decisions in board layout before the game begins? Possibly before you even know where you will start?

I know I could have made this a poll, but I would like some individual feedback and discussion on why you have that preference.
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A Deal with Death
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1) Picking a starting race or character
Just enough customization/variation to make you feel invested but not so much that it causes a significant delay before play begins.

2) Pick a variant and go
Also very little delay and a provides me with variations that keep the game from getting stale. However, I don't feel quite as personally invested.

3) No decisions
No delay but repetitive and no initial personal investment.

4) Meaningful decisions
I have just found that too many times people lose interest throughout setup causing the set up to take that much longer, or causing us to jettison the game entirely.


I say all this as someone who has the philosophical stance that board games should be very interactive, and prolonged setups don't generally encourage much interaction between players (at least not in the same way actual gameplay does)
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Brian M
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I really don't like to have to make any decisions during setup. We'll usually try to randomize if any setup decisions are required.
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Billy Lumiukko
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No decisions, everything is the same
Why not, I like that, if the game has enough replayability in itself.

No decisions, everything is randomized
That's probably the best option in my opinion. It usually improves game replayability and I don't have to make any meaningful decision at the start, which I like.

Pick a variant and go
If there are different variants, they must provide a wide enough difference to make sense. For example, in Mage Knight, you have scenarios and basically at the beginning you choose, whether you play coop or competitive and the length of the game. Now, I think that this provides too much decisions before even starting the game and I think that's a reason why Mage Knight doesn't hit the table so much anymore.

Chose your starting race/character/position
Now obviously a lot of games offer that and in some games it might even be essential that you choose the right character. I always prefer the random here and enjoy dealing with the consequences afterwards.

Meaningful decisions in board layout before the game begins? Possibly before you even know where you will start
To quote again Mage Knight: you can choose the map layout. End result: we always take the same...

Conclusion:
I believe that if you give choices before the game, that might be a cognitive effort that people don't necessarily want.
I think that the result of this is that people will either always take the same choice or go for randomness even when the game indicates a choice.
Now it might widen the target population for the game but it might dilute the pleasure people get.
In my opinion, if there are choices to be made, the consequences of those choices should be made clear, like a difficulty level...
But I believe that whatever the choice is, it should always be valid with the spirit of the game and therefore, it should always be possible to have it be random.
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Tony Guthrie
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I think it really depends on the game. Some game styles really benefit from decision making during setup. However, these usually fall into the category of games where setup is done before you get together. I enjoy Magic the Gathering, for example, although I don't play much anymore. It has a ton of pre-game setup but that is done before you ever get together with the group. For most games, however, I would answer as follows.

No decisions, everything is the same or randomized?
I think it's fine to have the same board every time if there is enough variation elsewhere (card decks, die rolls, etc.). This is how most games are, anyway. I also really like randomized board setups for exploration/discovery games.

Pick a varient and go?
To me, most variants seem to be afterthoughts of the designer so we usually end up playing the standard game anyway.

Chose your starting race/character/position?
As long as the order of choice is randomized (e.g. roll a die, choose in highest to lowest order), I like choosing these things. However, with some players this is the first stage of analysis paralysis or arguments over "I always play the elf. You know I always play the elf." Because of that, I tend to prefer randomizing these steps anyway.

Meaningful decisions in board layout before the game begins? Possibly before you even know where you will start?
I have never seen this done well. Unless it's incorporated into the theme seamlessly, this just seems to draw out the game unnecessarily.
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Emanuele Buffagni
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No decisions, everything is randomized
I like that! It increases replayability with some random choices and decrease the time spent "thinking" during setup.

Taking decisions during setup usually is boring, my group usually start "thinking" deeply about the game only after the setup...and maybe some chips.


For a new or inexperienced gamer it may be difficult to take a decision on something he/she does not know. He/she may regret the decision later and lose interest or not enjoy the game.


Also, as Tony said, decisions can create...problems...with some players ("That's my character...I don't want that...why are you taking the strongest?...bla bla bla")
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Geoffrey Burrell
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People get to select their favorite color in my group then everything else is randomly selected. Then people pick their factions if there is no conflict on which. If then it is randomly picked or decided by a die roll.
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Magnus Carlsson
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Meaningful decisions in board layout before the game begins?

I would say that when you start taking decision the game has already begun!
Ok, "simple" decisions like selecting race might not be that heavy, but look at SmallWorld, there it's part of the game.
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Jacob Holmqvist
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I agree, when you're making decisions, you're playing the game.

There is a lot conservative views in this thread. Who is to say when the game is started? The designer, would be my answer. But I don't think that's the problem, the issue at hand is do the players have enough information to make a decent choice? Is it a really big decision that will impact the whole game, a lot, that will usually not feel good. Are they having fun while making the decisions?

Basically I think a discussion about specific examples would be more relevant than about decision during setup in general.

I do have a comment about role-selection though, I think it hurts replayability to have the players choose roles. Because, I at least, will tend to pick the the same role, or force myself to take another even if I feel like it's the "wrong" choice. So I think a random role will give more variability and hopefully unexpected challenges. People can always break the rules if they really want to play a certain character.
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Brendan Riley
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JacobHolmqvist wrote:
Basically I think a discussion about specific examples would be more relevant than about decision during setup in general.


A great example of a game that does decisions right, to my mind, is Elysium. The game has 9(?) decks, of which 5 can be used in any game. The rulebook provides a suggested "first five" to use during a learning game, along with a guide suggesting different combinations for different experiences (more conflict-heavy, point salad, tight points, etc).
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Magnus Karlsson
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Since my group often play new games, I think it's annoying if we have to make a decision before not really knowing what it affects - of course with those games we first go through the rules to get an idea what the choices affects, but it's often easier to get into a game if the setup can be fully done before going through the rules.

If a game has those kind of decisions (which often can be good to promote more different playing styles right from turn one) I really like when there is a suggested choice made for first time players (like Player 1 takes these resources and starts at A, etc).
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marc lecours
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Avoid decisions before the game starts.

You got me thinking about games where there are a lot of choices before the game starts. And I don't enjoy it. For example if you choose a character then you will tend to always pick the same ones and avoid others. This leads to a less variable game experience. Better to have the character chosen randomly (assuming they are all equally good).

Map set up should also be random.

The only choices should be number of players, game length and scenario difficulty.
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Philip Kitching
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It depends.

One of the great advantages in a standard setup is that the game can be setup whilst waiting for the players to arrive, make drinks, etc.

War of the Ring (first edition) benefits from this.

Games with a long and variable setup often benefit from choosing the variants beforehand. Arkham Horror is an example of this, however it also has meaningful decisions for each player - choice of character, starting stats, position in the turn order - and those choices are influenced by choices made by other players.

Eclipse and Nations perform setup (choice of species/nation) in reverse turn order and, depending upon which random elements are present, it is possible to lose the game during setup.

One of the things that I really dislike about Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game is that the two decisions you make during setup (nation and capital starting position) determine your path to victory, strategy, tactics and chance of winning for the entire game.


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Jon Vallerand
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Set-up decisions, I think, need to be randomizable without destroying balance completely, at least for a first game. For example, Terra Mystica (my favorite game, in large parts thanks to the 14 different races) has the flaw that race selection can have a huge impact on how well you do, but requires multiple games before you know the strength and weaknesses of each, which leads many players to think the races are imbalanced.

I personally like randomness in set-up, which adds variety. I like choosing a faction/race/character/starting hand, but not creating a map, which is longer and less clear in how it will impact the game. As far as variants go, we usually find out which ones work best for us and go with those. For things like multiple maps, or extra challenges for coops, which you probably switch from game to game, I like a way for that decision to be random: if we don't like the result, we'll choose something else.

If the set-ups include decisions, like others have pointed out, it's part of the game. Does that part hold up, fun-wise, to the rest? Does it distract from the game's core? Those are all questions you have to ask then, because it's basically a different mini game to play before the big one.
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