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Subject: Too much luck on power cards? rss

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Joel Gabelman
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Just finished my first playing of this long awaited "Reiner" big box game. My least favorite part of the game is the seeming in-balance with the power cards. You can literally get GREAT cards, or average cards, seemingly, with mostly luck. Am I wrong here? I'm tempted to sell b/c I don't like that element. At least in El Grande, the power cards differ but you can at least control the full power of the cards with bidding, thereby making a more powerful card more expensive.

Just my 2 cents. What do you think?

-Joel
 
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Randall Peek
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Re:Too much luck on power cards?
I don't feel that the power cards are all that unbalanced. Whle some may be more immediately useful, almost all the cards have some eventual use, and being able to sell them back can be a very useful tactic if you don't like what you got.
 
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Dave Eisen
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Re:Too much luck on power cards?
RandallPeek (#27717),

They are unbalanced. While yes, a player can take actions to make the ones he happens to hold more valuable than they otherwise would be, some power cards are just better than others.

I suppose this would bother me more if I were playing for money. But I'm not. Even with this mild unbalancing, I find Amun-Re a great intellectual challenge and a whole lot of fun to play. And a game the winner is determined more by skill than by luck of the draw.
 
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Matthew M
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Re:Too much luck on power cards?
Elmsley (#27712),

I'm assuming you are the same poster who posed this question on the SF yahoo group, in which case it is important to note that since you only played the Old Kingdom the luck of the card draws become amplified. Since power cards carry over to the second half of the game it is easier to plan accordingly to make a card that was less good in the first half more useful to you.

The ability to trade in powercards for gold also helps mediate bad draws. This essentially makes drawing at least one card, when possible, a no-brainer and gives the opportunity to definitely find a useful card for two gold (assuming you sell one back) by drawing two cards. The more cards you draw the more likely you'll find one that helps you so you must decide, as you do in other aspects of Amun-Re, how much that is worth to you.

-MMM
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Brian Reynolds
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Re:Too much luck on power cards?
From about 80+ games of playing this, my thoughts can be summed up as follows:
1. Yes, there is a randomness issue with the card-draw
2. There are things you can do in your play to mitigate this, but not completely.
3. There are several simple variants you can play to pretty much eliminate this problem. Jump down to #3 if you want to get straight to the fixes!
4. Between doing 2 and 3 Amun Re (already a fantastic game, IMO) becomes even better.

Details follow...

1. There is a randomness issue with the cards: the cards are of noticeably different values even on an absolute basis, let alone relative to your playing strategy. Here is a discussion of the cards as I rank them; I've provided what I consider the "absolute" value scale--obviously the values move up or down relative to your particular strategy and situation.

(A) Scoring cards: these are great, because getting them gives you a chance for points, and it also keeps other players from having the same chance. They're especially important to get early in the game when you essentially have two chances to try to fulfil their conditions (if you miss in the first kingdom, you hold it to the second). These mostly disappear during the first run-through of the deck and don't reappear until people actually score them. Note that even if you get a few "too many" of these it's good: it gives you more options (score North/South OR score East/West OR Nine Farmers, etc) and it keeps the cards from the other players. And if you 2 or 3 of them at the beginning of the second kingdom you usually plan your bidding to score at least 2, sometimes 3. Incidentally, the scoring cards rank:
i. Nine-Farmers: Generally the easiest card to score. Lots of ways to get 9 farmers, and the bonus-farmer cards help you along the way.
ii. North/South and East/West: Next easiest to score, because a variety of provinces are available in each qualifying area.
iii. River/non-River: slightly harder to score because so many of the interior provinces tend to go for premium prices, and if you go for exterior provinces you risk having too many caravans and being ganged up on in the bidding.
iv. Hard to score because it requires Memphis or Abydos (the former of which is a premium province w/ the 2 free blocks), and then on top of that requires careful card-bandwith purchase later.

(B) Master Builder: flexible and helps you in races for points. Useful almost every turn and with almost every strategy.

(C1) +1 Farmer Income: easy to turn into 4 income, often 5 or more if you get some Free Farmers too. Having one or two also makes a farmer strategy "safer".

(C2) 8-income: similar value to Farmer card, just for the opposite strategy. Slightly harder to use well than the farmer card, because it works best in a completely "blanked" province. Great if you get Dakhla of course, and also on the last turn of a Kingdom to save you building farmers in a province.

(D) Free Farmer: better the earlier in the kingdom you play it. If I have only one on turn 3 of the old kingdom then I hold it for the next kingdom. Extra special good if you're going for the 9 farmer card. It also combos really well with the +1 farmer because it lets you concentrate more farmers in a single province.

------ The "good" cards are above this line; the mediocre and bad cards are below ------

(E) Building Blockade: this bidding card can be useful if it guarantees you ownership of a critical province. But you need to value the province carefully because if you underbid and somebody does kick you out, the other good provinces will often be going for prices high enough that your building blockade card won't help you. So essentially this card usually needs to "work" for you on the first province you choose, otherwise you essentially lose it. More risky is trying to get a good province "really cheap" by bidding one lower than you would have bid, because you'll often get outbid and then you essentially lose the value of your card. I'm only "mildly disappointed" when I get this card.

(F) Overbid-same-Province: maybe useful when players are learning the game, when players often underbid, but not very useful once everyone knows what they're doing--essentially people make the "right" bids for the province and there are very few chances to make "overbid" work. This is one of the cards I'm very disappointed to see.

(G) Sacrifice Correction: this is a terrible card no question. At least half the time its played it doesn't even have an effect, and another quarter of the time it just cancels out someone elses card. This is about the worst card to get almost no matter what strategy you are using, and getting a clump of them early can really kill your game.


Additional card-randomness problems include one player drawing a huge clump of the same kind of card (not all playable at once), rather than a variety, and finally just drawing cards that don't help your strategy.


2. There -are- a few things you can do in your play to help mitigate this a bit: Pay attention to provinces that have "2 card bandwidth" at the beginning of a kingdom; if you can buy 2 cards a turn, especially in the first kingdom, you're much more likely to get decent stuff. Thebes is a great province to start with in turn 1, because you get SO many cards (get 2, buy 2). Take advantage of the ability to buy 2 cards a turn. The more cards you buy the more likely you are to get a nice variety. I feel a lot less sorry for someone who only buys a card every now and then and then is sad that "they didn't get good cards". But I -do- feel sorry for the guy who buys 6 or more cards over the course of the first kingdom and gets nothing but bid and sacrifice cards while somebody else gets a huge wad of scoring and income.


3. Here are the VARIANTS we've tried with great success that help with this problem:

a. (Got this one from a french website): Whenever a player -buys- cards, he draws 2 extra cards from the top of the deck. He looks at the cards, keeps the ones he wants up to the # he paid for, and puts the remaining 2 back on the bottom of the deck. If there aren't enough cards in the deck to make n+2, we recommend you immediately shuffle the discard pile into the remaining deck before the player draws any (rewarding the player for flipping the deck over by giving him the first look at the fresher cards). This is a great variant and makes it much easier for players to pull out cards that actually help their own strategies: everyone has more fun, less frustration all around, just as much strategy. The only minor downside is the game takes a few minutes longer because people have to think about which cards to throw back.

b. At the beginning of the game, pull out one scoring card of each of the 5 types, and (secretly) deal one randomly to each player for his starting hand. Makes the first pass through the deck a little fairer in terms of everyone having access to a scoring card, and actually increases the fun of the first bidding round as players actually have an asymmetric starting situation. Like any variant it subtly changes the strategy of the game, but believe me there isn't any -less- strategy.

c. Make the Overbid cards better by keeping their current function but adding the ability for an outbid player to discard it in order to steal another player's bidding box on a -different- province. For example: White bids 6 for Damanhur; Green bids 3 for Memphis; Black bids 6 for Memphis. If green holds an "Overbid" card he can either use it normally to bid 10 for Memphis (his same province) or he can steal White's 6-bid for Damanhur by discarding his Overbid card. In our games we allow players to discard the Overbid card even after it's already been used to jump in the same province on a previous round. With this variant we've found the Overbid cards are at least as good as the Bidding Blockades. Incidentally if a Overbid player wants to "Steal" a bid from a player with a Bidding blockade, he has to bid one higher. So if in the above example White had bid 6 for Damanhur with a Bidding Blockade, Green could use the "Steal" power to bid 10 for Damanhur, discarding his Overbid card.

d. Make Sacrifice adjustments better by one or more of the following methods:
i. Allow them to be played -after- the bids are revealed.
ii. Allow the player who uses one to ALSO collect 1 gold.
iii. Increase the effect to 5 or some other higher number to improve the likelihood of actually having an effect.

Hope some of this helps! As I say we've used these variants to great success.

Brian



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Rene Wiersma
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Re:Too much luck on power cards?
Big Huge Brian (#27808),

Good analysis on the relative value of the powercards. However, in my experience the bid blockade is a bit better. You typically use it in the New Kingdom on a province which has a worth of 21. It allows you to bid 15, saving 6 gold. This puts its power in line with the "8" card and the "+1 per farmer" card. Of course, there's the risk that someone overbids anyway, but it can be really helpful to get that province with 3 pyramids in it.

I also think the "shift 3" card is not totally useless. In fact, I think it is pretty good. The trick here is to know when to play it. I often see it played in the 3rd and 6th rounds, which sounds logical, because there is more at stake in those rounds (temple scoring), but there are also times when playing it in the 1st or 4th round can be crucial in hampering someone else's income and/or helping your own income for the rest of the Kingdom. I've won several games with a well timed "shift 3" card, although I admit it can be a bit of a crapshoot. I don't think it needs fixing though.

The overbid card is truly useless once players figure out how to bid correctly right away.

I like the fixes and variants you suggest. However, since I never felt "Amun-Re" was decided by the luck of the draw I will not use them.
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Brian Reynolds
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Re:Too much luck on power cards?
zaiga (#27827),

I actually do agree with you that Blockade can be useful, but I've presented the "glass half empty" case. I concur with the scenario you've described (managing to save 6 with it during New Kingdom), but...

* There are fewer opportunities to use Blockade correctly than the income cards. Best use is in New Kingdom, and also in some games you'll be faced with a relatively "flat" distribution of pyramids in the New Kingdom -- for best effect this card wants a high "contrast" between # of pyramids in provinces up for bid.
* The risks are higher. Someone, as you say, can outbid you which usually costs you the entire value of the card, and possibly for them it isn't even an "overbid" depending on their strategy and cards.
* Greater finesse is required to milk these cards for their full value.

So it's for the added risks, the greater skill required to use them well, and the fewer opportunities to use them well that I've downgraded them.

I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on the "shift 3" card, even though I concur with your assessment of the best times to play them. Although I've certainly had "shift 3" cards come out very well in turn 1 and 4, there are few things more frustrating than playing the card and having the sacrifice total come out at "7": I get squat when I could have had an income card, a scoring card, whatever. So buying a "shift 3" card is at best like buying a lottery ticket: potentially big payoff but low odds of success. Particularly for those who dislike frustration from "random" events beyond their control (and thus start threads like this one), I think "shift 3" cards are major offenders.

Finally, I'm with you that Amun Re is a fantastic game as it is. But once our whole game group got good at the game--mind you this was after about our zillionth game--we also started to notice the swings of luck more (once everyone is similarly skilled at bidding and strategizing, the luck factor begins to take its toll and is easier to spot as something distinct from differences in skill and strategy), and found a few variants freshened things right back up.

Here's hoping they get Amun Re on BSW...

Brian
 
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Chris Farrell
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Re:Too much luck on power cards?

The key on the Sacrifice Correction card is to realize that while it sometimes will have no impact, when it *does* affect the game, its impact can be very substantial indeed - denying significant chunks of money to every player at the table, or increasing the cash flow dramatically. If it enables or denies Camel income, that alone is huge. If it affects the values of temples on the 3rd/6th round, there is no card in the game that has a more dramatic impact on scoring, adding or subtracting 4 VPs.

I'll grant you the card is harder to use, and can often have no impact. And it certainly sucks to get a bunch of them. But if you look at it in terms of risk/reward, its effect is not significantly out of line with the other cards IMHO.

As I said elsewhere, this is Reiner Knizia we're talking about here. When choosing between the hypotheses of "we haven't quite grasped somthing here" and "the cards are unbalanced", the former has got to be considered vastly more likely.
 
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Alex Rockwell
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Re:Too much luck on power cards?
Big Huge Brian wrote:

iv. 7 Powercard symbols: Hard to score because it requires Memphis or Abydos (the former of which is a premium province w/ the 2 free blocks), and then on top of that requires careful card-bandwith purchase later.


Youre missing a rule (which I also was missing for my first 15 or so plays). The free cards symbols in the box COUNT for this. So Thebes is 4, Dakhla 3, Edfu 2, towards this. That makes it in line with the others difficulty.


(E) Building Blockade: this bidding card can be useful if it guarantees you ownership of a critical province.


This one is better if you specifically plan for it by building all your pyramids on one province in the first half, getting most on a side and foregoing a set. Then, in the second half, you make a large bid for this province and play the blockade to make it much bigger.
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Allen Doum
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Re:Too much luck on power cards?
Alexfrog (#32560),

I missed that one, too. Thank for pointing it out.
 
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Rene Wiersma
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Re:Too much luck on power cards?
Alexfrog (#32560),

Oh my, I missed that rule too!!!
 
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Moisés Solé
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Maybe The Overbid card is to be played as a (semi-)bluff? I'm no expert at Amun-Re or anything, but how's this?

You evaluate a province at slightly above 15, say 17 or so, and it's your turn to open the bidding. You could bid 10 and show your outbid card, that sends a message that you're willing to pay 21 for that province. (It helps if you're willing, though not necessarily eager, I'd say).

Opponents now will have to choose: Bidding 15 and risk the loss of tempo of being outbid (which might force them into a worse province), bidding 21 (and then you leave somewhere else), or letting you get the province for 10 (which is a steal, so they won't). Just hope this play isn't answered by its foil, the dreaded fifteen-blockade.
 
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