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First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet» Forums » Strategy

Subject: Player Count: A Brief Analysis rss

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Ken Brown
United States
North Carolina
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I played Probe On the Loose a couple weeks ago solo, medium difficulty, and was able to beat it barely (it was all down to that final gather roll), but enjoyed it immensely. Last weekend my cousin and my brother sat down with me for a three player game and we also played PotL, medium difficulty. For our AOM, we chose the Research bot. We beat it easily at the end of the sixth round. Aside from being curious how the app might scale with different player counts (I have not played enough to determine if it does and by how much) it occurred to me that there may be a sweet spot as far as player counts go for actions. Let's look briefly at what is available at each count:

4 Players: 8 Actions + Medic must support any heal action (except her own) + typically one fewer Sol
3 Players: 6 Actions + 1 fixed/colorless action + Auto Scanner
2 Players: 4 Actions + 2 fixed/colorless actions + Auto Scanner
Solo: 4 Actions + 2 flexible/colorless actions + Auto Scanner

Four players have obviously the most actions, and all of the eight actions can be used for anything - this count has both the highest number of actions and the greatest apparent flexibility. However, it comes with a potentially crippling drawback: the Medic must assist all heal actions, except her own. This means for three out of four characters, healing is a double action, and healing has a strict limit of two per round. Depending on how much damage and how many conditions your team racks up, this could be devastating, taking half of your actions every round to bring someone back from the brink (or to get them to stop going on so many adventures, or to get them to stop eating so damn much). This is compounded by having one fewer round to complete most (all?) missions. While keeping morale high ought to be easier, the tokens are further spread out. Stress racks up the fastest on this level, adding more potential wounds and conditions, and compounding the healing problem.

Three players have two fewer actions, but have the added benefit of one AOM and the Auto Scanner. The AOM represents a huge loss in flexibility (it can only perform one of four Working Block actions, Events, or clear Shutdown tiles) and one player assumes any risk the AOM action takes each round - one player could potentially suffer three wounds or three adventures from dice, something not present in the four player game. However, the auto scanner is key; not only does the auto scanner allow more than two heals per round now, each heal only costs one action. This effectively means that while the three player game loses one complete action (and has a second severely limited) each round, they have no constraints on healing, and further have an extra round overall. The limit of the AOM can be mitigated somewhat by player choice, depending on the mission. Three player games lose out on one character's skills entirely, but as a result they also have the potential to use their skills more often, even if gaining morale is modestly more difficult and losing morale moderately more punishing. Stress still mounts fast, but with luck and a well maintained HUB, will result in fewer wounds, which are still easier to resolve than wounds in four player games, thanks to the auto Scanner.

Two player games have two fewer actions than three players, but gain one additional AOM. Boosting morale is much harder (each boost is one quarter of a round's most flexible actions) and morale loss that much more punishment; however, both characters will have access to their skills more frequently. It should be noted that the Scientist's skill that allows him to grant all other players two morale tokens loses a lot of its efficiency at this count: essentially it allows him to pass two morale tokens to the other player at the cost of a sample, where at higher counts there is a net gain in the number of morale tokens available. Despite the disadvantages, two players can easily keep the effects of stress manageable compared to higher counts.

Solo players have very similar constraints compared to the two player game, but because two heads do seem to be better than one in this game, they do not have to choose two AOMs at the beginning of the game, but instead bring all four and may use two different ones each round.

Overall, I have to conclude that the addition of the Auto Scanner to the three player game brings a huge advantage. Losing two of the most flexible actions a round is more than mitigated by the increase in utility of the heal action, and an AOM reduces the loss from a flat two actions down to potentially only one each round. Additionally, this loss is largely mitigated by the addition of another round. Three players lose 7-14 actions compared to four players over the course of seven rounds, but they gain 6-7 actions back on the eight round. This compares to two player and solo games, which lose 14-28 actions over the course of seven rounds, but only regain 4-6 on the eighth.

It seems to me that the sweet spot for player count is definitely three players.

Any other thoughts? Anything I missed? What do your games have to say about player count, and what characters seem best to bring (or easiest to live without)?

Bonus: a simple Variant to make the game a little easier - add one AOM at the beginning of the game to each player count. You may use a number of AOMs each round equal to half of your total AOMs, rounded up (4P: chose one, use one; 3P: chose two, use one; 2P: chose three, use two; solo: all four, use two).

Edit: more math!
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