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Subject: Theme vs Best Strategic Move rss

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Bill Cook
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One of the biggest struggles in Stone Age is producing enough food to feed your people each turn. Like any good Eurogame, there are several ways to go about this... hunt, build up agriculture, buy food... but today I saw a new strategy... let them starve. One of the players made zero attempt to gather any food and simply took the 10 vp penalty each turn. It actually made a ton of sense, has not having to worry about food freed him to take other actions worth more than the 10 vp he lost. Apparently, this is a common strategy. But I never even thought of it because, well, starving your people is wrong, isn't it?

My question to you is whether you ever let theme get in the way of making your best strategic move. We want our cube pushers to have theme... we want to feel like we are doing something other than just collecting vp's. But do you ever go so far as to make a play, or not make a play that is inferior but fits the theme better?
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Pete
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You play to win the game.

Pete (channels Herm)
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Chris Berry
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I have seen the starving strategy tried several time in Stone Age. Can't remember a time I saw it win in 3 player as agriculture is so much more available to other players. It might have won once or twice in our three player games, but I'm uncertain. They couldn't make the game short enough to counter act the built in per turn advantage of agriculture (particularly of the player following them getting easy access to agriculture).
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chad winters
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I have seen the starvation strategy win many games on board game arena. The number of players didn't seem to matter it just worked most times. I tied it once online, won, and haven't used it since. Im not sure if it's because it feels wrong to starve my workers or because it just feels "cheesy" , but I don't have any urge to do it again.
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Andreas Pettersson
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I've never played Stone Age, but if a strategy like that was strong enough to be competitive it would definitely affect my opinion of the game negatively.

Seems odd that starvation doesn't remove one or more workers, much harsher and much more thematic.
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Cris Whetstone
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I generally lose interest in games where 'gaming the game' is a legit strategy to win. If doing something otherwise negative is a built in part of a game it doesn't bother me the same way. Say trashing a company in 18xx to prop up another. But when it's clearly not built into the design then that game has lost some respect in my eyes from the standpoint of design and play-testing.

If people choose to use it to win that's perfectly fine. I just don't enjoy playing that way or playing games where that's available.
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Bill Cook
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plezercruz wrote:
You play to win the game.

Pete (channels Herm)


Just sayin'....

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Werner Bär
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WetRock wrote:
I generally lose interest in games where 'gaming the game' is a legit strategy to win. If doing something otherwise negative is a built in part of a game it doesn't bother me the same way. Say trashing a company in 18xx to prop up another. But when it's clearly not built into the design then that game has lost some respect in my eyes from the standpoint of design and play-testing.

What makes you think this wasn't considered in the design and play-testing?

A text (german) by the designer on the publishers site:

"Zuerst möchte ich sagen, dass es von mir als Autor und von den Testgruppen als 'Co-Autoren' durchaus gewollt war, diese Strategie als Alternative zu anderen Strategien zuzulassen. Schließlich spielt StoneAge in einer Zeit, in der sich der Handel und überhaupt die Arbeitsteilung rasant entwickelt hat. Es war also, wenn ich die archäologische Literatur nur ein wenig verstanden habe, durchaus möglich, ohne Ackerbau und Jagd zu überleben. Dies sollte sich auch im Spiel wiederfinden. "

First i want to say it was intended (by me as the author, and by the test groups as 'co-authors') to allow this strategy as an alternative to other strategies. After all, Stone Age takes place at a time when trading and division of labour were rapid developing. If i understand the archeological literature at least a little bit, it was definitely possible to survive without farming or hunt. This should be reflected in the game".
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Darryl
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Over the last couple of years I have realized that for me the story that the game is telling (whether overtly or not) is important for my enjoyment.

So for me I might play a sub-optimal strategy to follow the theme of the game. For the most part the people I play with tend to play the same way.

However, that doesn't mean that we don't try "off theme" strategies if we play a game a lot. Those strategies can tell a story too.

However, s other people have said, if an off theme strategy works better than "regular" strategies I would definitely be less inclined to play that game in the future.

Starving my people leading to a game victory would definitely put me off eventually. Just my opinion of course.
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It's not even outside the theme. You're the head-honcho of a stone age tribe. If you don't procure food collectively, for instance by cooperative hunting, then each person acquires food on his own but you take a penalty due to lower efficiency of food acquisition.

I'm not interested in playing games with people who won't entertain potentially winning lines of play because of some psychological hangup.
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David Buckley
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Werbaer wrote:
WetRock wrote:
I generally lose interest in games where 'gaming the game' is a legit strategy to win. If doing something otherwise negative is a built in part of a game it doesn't bother me the same way. Say trashing a company in 18xx to prop up another. But when it's clearly not built into the design then that game has lost some respect in my eyes from the standpoint of design and play-testing.

What makes you think this wasn't considered in the design and play-testing?

A text (german) by the designer on the publishers site:

"Zuerst möchte ich sagen, dass es von mir als Autor und von den Testgruppen als 'Co-Autoren' durchaus gewollt war, diese Strategie als Alternative zu anderen Strategien zuzulassen. Schließlich spielt StoneAge in einer Zeit, in der sich der Handel und überhaupt die Arbeitsteilung rasant entwickelt hat. Es war also, wenn ich die archäologische Literatur nur ein wenig verstanden habe, durchaus möglich, ohne Ackerbau und Jagd zu überleben. Dies sollte sich auch im Spiel wiederfinden. "

First i want to say it was intended (by me as the author, and by the test groups as 'co-authors') to allow this strategy as an alternative to other strategies. After all, Stone Age takes place at a time when trading and division of labour were rapid developing. If i understand the archeological literature at least a little bit, it was definitely possible to survive without farming or hunt. This should be reflected in the game".


Personally I like that starvation and hunting are both viable strategies. To feed or not to feed is an interesting dilemma. For those who don't like it there is an incredibly obvious fix: Increase the penalty for not feeding from 10 to (eg) 30 points.

Aside: I hypothesize that not feeding would occur to many more people and cause less indignation if the 10 point penalty for not feeding was replaced by a 10 point bonus for feeding. Of course this is functionally equivalent but it's not psychologically equivalent for most people.

Aside(2): Why does Stone Age get so much flak for the starvation strategy when Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar gets so little? Is it simply that the audience for Tzolk'in is more "gamer-ish"?
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Michael Korson
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Not to necessarily derail the thread, but is Stone Age the only game where a starvation strategy actually works?

I can't see it working in Agricola - the scoring is way too tight and the -3 pts per missing meal is just too high (unless of course you had the Mendicant occupation that allows you to ignore some of those).
 
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Trent Boardgamer
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Thematically many nations and civilisations have been built on the back of a starving population. Not sure I agree it's un-thematic.

Sometimes the starving strategy is a winning strategy in Stone Age, but it's not a guaranteed winner.

It reminds me of how some people get annoyed with the money strategy in Dominion.

Yes they can seem cheap and simplistic the first time you encounter them, but once you are aware of the strategy, you can certainly beat them.

All that said I'm pretty meh towards both Stone Age and Dominion these days because they generally do come down to a few dominant strategies.
 
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Ben Asher
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The only theme that I (occasionally) let interfere with making what I assess to be the best move strategically* is the theme that I want my wife to continue playing board games with me, and occasionally that means I need to let her win. This is at odds with the fact that she wins plenty of her own volition, but insists that I "always win, all the time, every game, no matter what."






*What I assess to be the best move strategically and what actually IS the best move strategically have been known to differ widely, depending on the day.
 
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Per Glöde
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The Czech rules have been around for ever, I think the playtesting before release of Stone Age was mostly done by Czechs. They have a anti-starvation twist on the feeding rule:
Official Czech Rules wrote:
If a player can not, or does not want, to pay for missing food with raw materials, he must lose points.
Subtract 4 points for each missing meal (if it does not have enough points, it moves to minus).

I think the designers standpoint to defend the starvation strategy is lowering the rating from me by a lot, at least -2.
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J C Lawrence
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So, a game with a wider, richer and more expressive strategic range than was expected...is punished for it. That surely makes sense...
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Joke Meister
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EMBison wrote:
One of the biggest struggles in Stone Age is producing enough food to feed your people each turn. Like any good Eurogame, there are several ways to go about this... hunt, build up agriculture, buy food... but today I saw a new strategy... let them starve. One of the players made zero attempt to gather any food and simply took the 10 vp penalty each turn. It actually made a ton of sense, has not having to worry about food freed him to take other actions worth more than the 10 vp he lost. Apparently, this is a common strategy. But I never even thought of it because, well, starving your people is wrong, isn't it?

My question to you is whether you ever let theme get in the way of making your best strategic move. We want our cube pushers to have theme... we want to feel like we are doing something other than just collecting vp's. But do you ever go so far as to make a play, or not make a play that is inferior but fits the theme better?


Have you considered that, for your friend, letting them starve was thematic and exactly what he would have done in real life?
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HenningK
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Themes can be cute and might even raise my enjoyment of a game, but I mainly play games for the strategy and tactics. So if something is wonky theme-wise (like enchanting a Stone Wall with Shimmering Wings in Magic), I laugh at it and move on. I would never refrain from making the optimal move just because it doesn't fit the theme.

The starvation strategy in Stone Age is a tricky case - not because it can be a good move to let your people starve, but because it can feel like an oversight by the designer, and thus feel like an exploit of a design weakness. I generally dislike these exploits because they tell me the design isn't sophisticated enough, but since the designer himself said he deliberately left the starvation strategy in, I welcome it as another way of playing the game that enriches the strategic possibilities. Besides, the strategy is good, but far from unbeatable.
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Thomas M
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Any choice in a game is a strategic option.

If the game creators did not want starvation to be an option, they should have written the rules so that you automatically lost the game if your cavemen went to sleep hungry.

Being a roleplayer at heart, I always play thematically when possible. Often at the expense of the most viable strategy. Luckily most euro games reward you for taking the risk to go all-in on a specific direction.
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Andreas Pettersson
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Werbaer wrote:
First i want to say it was intended (by me as the author, and by the test groups as 'co-authors') to allow this strategy as an alternative to other strategies. After all, Stone Age takes place at a time when trading and division of labour were rapid developing. If i understand the archeological literature at least a little bit, it was definitely possible to survive without farming or hunt. This should be reflected in the game".


While it might have been possible to survive without hunting or farming, it wasn't possible to survive without eating. I feel the question here is about the latter. Still feels unthematic, but at least the designer thought about it. Also, since I haven't played the game, it depends on how much of a setback 10 VP is.
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John
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I'll almost always make what I think it the best strategic move at the time. Whether it is the best strategic move is another matter. Very occasionally I might make moves for other reasons (if I'm sure it's not going to decrease anyone else's enjoyment of the game). Of course if the best strategic not only makes no thematic sense but is also an uninteresting strategy to play then I'm probably not going to want to play the game again (if it's good otherwise I might consider playing with an agreement not to pursue that strategy).

If I think that the best strategic move make no sense with the theme it might bother me slightly. That's assuming the overall theme makes sense, I'm not going to complain about thematically dubious moves in Hey, That's My Fish! or Hive. I might consider whether I'm missing some thematic justification, and if it's something really bizarre that seems like it could easily have been avoided it'll slightly decrease my opinion of the game.
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Gustavo Herodier
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Heh, I've had a long conversation about this with my best friend a few years ago... we came to the conclusion that we can only treat a game unthematically if we don't particularly care for the game. Ironically, the less we like the game, the better we become at it

It came up because we were playing Conquest of Nerath, and (cant remember details but) we ended up with a board state where I bottlenecked the war by conquering a frontier tile, then leaving it minimally defended, effectively abandoning it to be re-taken - except because of the movement rules, it meant he was stuck re-invading the same tile every single turn. In the meantime, I was dumping all my resources into the generic victory-point mill. Kinda ruined the game for him, sadly He'd been super excited to play it for a while, whereas I just saw it as Risk+

On the other hand, I *can't* not play a civ game thematically. I just can't do it, even if there's a clear optimal move, I will go for the more thematic action every single time. He, on the other hand, has no problem trampling all over theme for an extra edge in combat/trade/whatever. arrrh
 
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plezercruz wrote:
You play to win the game.

Pete (channels Herm)


Actually I play to have fun and I can have fun by going through subpar moves.
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Gustavo Herodier
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Razoupaf wrote:
plezercruz wrote:
You play to win the game.

Pete (channels Herm)


Actually I play to have fun and I can have fun by going through subpar moves.


Yup. It's not about winning, its about playing with style cool
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AJ Cooper
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Starving as an intentional tactic is fine as long as it is appropriately balanced. If starving is consistently superior to feeding, this is a design flaw: an unbalanced strategy.

Agricola is a different situation. There, the penalty is so harsh that the design obviously intends you to never do that. That is also ok. But if starving is demonstrably better, then having the feeding mechanism serves no purpose and would be better omitted entirely.
 
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