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Subject: Knowledge vs. the unknown rss

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Andy Olp

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Reading some comments and reviews for other games, I come across very different viewpoints. Some games, such as Eldritch Horror, have expansions that add cards to every single deck. This obviously provides much variation to each game, and makes each game feel more unique. Each expansion is applauded for the amount of cards added!

Now on the flip side, I see a recent thread on Star Wars Rebellion, that states that the new objectives in the expansion are a detriment to the experience because it makes it harder to predict what card you will draw.

In general, I've found that I personally like bigger decks that add variation to each game. I love not knowing what will happen, and having to adapt to that. But I do see the point that knowing each and every card beforehand, and planning when they most likely will be drawn helps you win games, and add a ton more strategy.

In general, has anyone else noticed what people prefer? I have a few game designs I'm working on, and I guess I never really considered the other viewpoint, so now I have more things to think about.

Also is there any OTHER views on this, rather than the either/or that I suggested. More ideas and viewpoints can only help in design!
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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There are lots of ways to combine variety and predictability, if you need to.

For instance, you can assign cards to different categories, so that the number of cards may grow, but the odds of any particular category remain consistent.

Or play with a random subset of cards each game, kind of like the kingdom piles in Dominion. Shuffle everything, deal out a few, let the players look at them so they know what's available in the current game. You can still choose randomly from that subset later on, if necessary.

The best approach depends on the strategies you are trying to encourage.
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patrick mullen
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The examples you cite show the different expectations of players. Star Wars Rebellion is a hidden information competitive game between two players. With a game focused on hidden information, it is necessary for both players to have a good understanding of what can happen, in order to plan in the presence of such obscurity. It is understandable that they might become frustrated with further variety added - all of the new information added to the game increases the load to fully understand how to play well. You can see this also in expansions to games like BSG, where they add more complexity to the game but take away from the core mechanics.

The arkham type games are based on risk vs reward toward a varied game system, and the experience they strive to create is oppression against low odds. This is quite different from the tense cat and mouse Rebellion tries to create. Increasing the variety of events is doubling down on what people already liked about the game - especially if they have played it enough that there are few surprises left for the game to throw at them. The core mechanics of reacting against scary surprises are enhanced, not weakened.

Rebellion could have handled their expansions more elegantly, by having you remove a class of cards from the original set, so that while you need to learn new elements, the overall cognitive load to play the game well remains constant.

If you like big decks and a lot of variety and are designing a game around this, then you will have to manage this somehow. Either by making sure the other elements of the game support this and keeping variety as one of the core mechanics, or by giving players tools to anticipate and manage that variety. Dominion limits the variety in a single game, but there are other ways to manage it.

The biggest issue with variety in a competitive game is that you may have one player gain a significant advantage by chance. If this is what you are going for try to find ways to smooth the variety over time. Auction mechanics or drafting are some ways to stop overpowered cards from having as much impact as players will self-balance the game to an extent.

In a co-op game, you might give players a strong ability that is weak against most events, but lets them get through those random tough draws if they can hold onto it long enough. That way the ability wont be too strong in games where the tough event never appears, but lets them have a chance when it does.
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Beverly Bates
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Pretty much echoing Patrick here, this balance is primarily based on the game being discussed. Some games are all about variety and not knowing what will happen, and some are all about having a good idea of the typical path a game will take. Look at say, talisman, where variety and discovery is part of the fun of the game vs something like Castle Panic! where being able to construct a solid plan going in is more fun.


Basically, think about the game that you are designing and how you intend the players to react to it. Playtesting your ideas in this vein is also really important to understand player expectations and reactions. That's where I would start with thinking and then go from there.
 
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Andy Olp

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See, even the game itself is open to interpretation. Using Rebellion as the example, some people consider it a super competitive war game. Every game of it I've played, however, is the players laughing about the story and sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to see what will happen next, then talking about the awesome stories the Star Wars characters created.

So in this case I love the extra randomness because it creates a chaotic story, with the strategy adapting to the story, and playing with the hand you're dealt.

So two people can purchase a game, looking at it in an entirely different light, but still enjoying it equally much, just in different ways. It's hard to plan for that, not knowing how players will take your game.

But it's fascinating
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Julian Wasson
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The bits of EH expansions that add cards to every deck are generally the parts I care about the least, because they do little to make the game feel unique. The randomness is just background noise. The bits I care about a lot are the ones that add new great old ones and ways to make individual games feel more flavorful and different from one another.

It seems to me that there are a few different value in play here, and your examples are a result of two possible configurations of those values.

Comprehensibility: How well a system lends itself to holding all the factors in your head at once. Good for games where the player wants to mitigate chaos generated either by another player's actions or chance.

Surprise: How well a system can catch you off-guard by generating unanticipated outcomes. Good for games where the system generates a lot of chaos and you want to keep players on their toes moment-to-moment.

Variability: How well a system can produce different possibility spaces from game-to-game. Good for games that want to provide players with interesting different game states to consider.

Predictability: How well a system allows players to understand the results of their actions. Good for games that want keep games fresh by giving players a high degree of agency.

This is just my take, and there are lots more, but these are the ones that factor in to the examples you're talking about. Generally it's not a case where a player likes low variability, it's that they value predictability, and the design choices that generate Predictability generally don't generate much Variability.

In other words, Rebellion players that don't want to dilute the deck place a high value on Predictability and Comprehensibility, and Eldritch Horror players that want to mash everything together place a high value on Surprise.
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