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Subject: Analysis Paralysis and Heavy Strategic games with multiple players rss

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Allan
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Hi everyone,

I was designing a boardgame – I can get into it another time, but I wanted to ask people for advice.

I want to make a heavy thematic and strategic multiplayer boardgame. One of the biggest problems that I have is that as I add on more layers and elements factors that influence decisions that players make, players will (and likely should) take more time to think out the best response in their situations. The problem with this is that in a multiplayer game if people spend so much time thinking and there is a lot of analysis paralysis in their decision making. Everyone has to wait on the active player’s turn and if they have AP, it can prevent them from going – stalling out the game. While it is a pain it is tolerable in a 2 player game in a 4 or 5 player game it is much more painful.

I wanted to make a perfect information game as much as possible and dramatically limit the influence of luck. My game was turn based and I don’t really want to have it be simultaneous turns.

If I still want the game to be medium to heavy, what successful ways are there to really battle against AP in a multiplayer game? What boardgames have done this well? What mechanics did they use that seemed either seamless or effective?
 
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'Bernard Wingrave'
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These may not be heavy enough -- they are eurogames between 3 and 3.5 according to the BGG weight currently.

Puerto Rico gives the active player a choice of roles. (There are 6 - 8 roles depending on how many players are in the game.) That player does the role action and the privilege that goes with it; then each other player in turn takes the role action. And then it moves on to the next player clockwise to choose a role that has not already been selected that round. This means that the main choice of a turn is limited to one of the roles (and there are at most 6 to 8 of those).

Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery has several action boxes that each do different things. Some of the action boxes can accommodate more than one worker, and others are full when one worker occupies them. In some cases, an action box is filled left to right and this is how they will be resolved later (in priority order). During play, a player puts one of his colonists or specialists in an action box, and then play passes to the next player. So what you are doing is putting one guy on one action box. It doesn't take very long to do this.

Concordia gives each player a hand of cards. On your turn, you play one card and resolve it. Then it's the next player's turn.

I think all 3 of the above have some things in common:
1. Limited options
2. Do one thing on your turn, and then it's the next player's turn. (If you are trying to do a bunch of things on your turn, and trying to work out exactly how to do that best, that sometimes leads to slow play.) This also means there's a limit to how much the game state can change between your actions.
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Robert Bracey
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sadsayboo wrote:
... One of the biggest problems that I have is that as I add on more layers and elements factors that influence decisions that players make, players will (and likely should) take more time to think out the best response in their situations. ...


I think this a common, but in my opinion incorrect, understanding of AP. If we are talking about AP caused by the game, rather than the personality of problem players, then it is not the 'heaviness' of the game. Rather it is the the relationship between how much difference a choice will make and how the adequacy of information I have to make that choice.

If it is clear I have insufficient information to choose between two alternatives my choice is easy.
If it is clear which is best choice between two alternatives (because I have sufficient information) my choice is easy.
AP becomes a problem when it appears I have sufficient information but I in fact do not. Then I am tempted to try and tease out the 'correct' choice.

The best example of this is the game Citadels. There is very little difference between choosing your role in that game and randomly selecting a card when it is passed to you - but you have a lot of information about the game state. Unfortunately none of that information is really what you need in order to choose a role. So you see large games of this bog down with AP rapidly as players try to solve a problem they have lots of information for but not the information they actually need.

Contrast that very light game with the relatively heavy (and lengthy) near perfect information Civilization. Civilization rarely produces AP, because individually choices are either relatively straightforward or it is fairly clear you do not have enough info to choose between them.
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Jason J
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Might not be the answers you are seeking but you could:

-Have timed turns. Could even have time as a resource in the game so players could get more time to think than the others on their turn if they gather the time resource

-Have incentives for being fastest (turn order, fastest goes 1st next turn, 2nd fastest 2nd, etc). It is simultaneous but Galaxy Trucker has a pretty good incentive for the fast

-Have other players do something when not their turn and the active player has to have their turn finished before those players complete some objective

-Penalize Victory Points/Resources/etc for every 30 seconds or whatever beyond time limit.
 
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Andrew Lowen
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My advice would be to consider a game like Caverna: The Cave Farmers. There are many options available, and multiple starting “paths” that have clear objectives.

For example, in Caverna, you could start with

1. Cave building

2. Farming

3. Mining

4. Animals / Pastures

You will want all of them eventually, but you “start” with one and continue to others based on your preferences, resource scarcity, other players “blocking/limiting” your options with their choices, and your overall strategy.

There should not be a time-based penalty in a game like this. These games take longer in general.

Also, I wanted to second the possibility for players to have things to do during a long turn. A second option would be to split full turns into their individual phases, and then allow each player to finish a phase before all players move to the next one.
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Jeremy Lennert
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RobertBr wrote:
If it is clear I have insufficient information to choose between two alternatives my choice is easy.
If it is clear which is best choice between two alternatives (because I have sufficient information) my choice is easy.
AP becomes a problem when it appears I have sufficient information but I in fact do not. Then I am tempted to try and tease out the 'correct' choice.

This is an intriguing way of looking at the issue, but I don't think I buy the implication that all non-obvious conclusions are illusory. That is, I think it is possible to have enough information that you can solve a problem without having so much that the solution is easy.

One might argue that's the entire idea behind puzzles and brain-teasers.

I'd also point out that there are some problems a computer can solve easily, and others that a computer can solve but it takes a lot of time and computational power--what is all of that computational power doing, if not extracting non-obvious conclusions from the starting information?


I tend to think that player decisions in games mostly revolve around the use of heuristics--simple rules-of-thumb that aren't 100% correct but which usually give a pretty-good answer very quickly. Maybe the problem isn't so much with the lack of relevant information as with the lack of good heuristics?
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Jim F
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I'm involved in education so maybe heuristic has a different meaning/application for you but is generally that people find out for themselves, rather than being taught.

Are you saying here that the game mechanics should encourage this? Not sniping - just clarifying.
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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I don't think of the word "heuristic" as implying anything about how it's learned, only how it works.

Regardless of how players come to discover a heuristic, I think the fact that the heuristic exists is dependent on the problem. There are some problems where players will never find good heuristics because there aren't any to find (then you tend to get superstitions instead, which are basically heuristics that don't work).

There are also some heuristics that are easier to discover than others. Again, I think this depends on the problem being solved.

I think good strategy gameplay requires that the players are able to find decent heuristics.

I think for a game to teach heuristics to the players is basically the same as giving them strategy advice: getting advice is better than being stuck, but often worse than figuring it out for yourself, so judging how much advice to give can be very delicate.
 
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'Bernard Wingrave'
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One other suggestion: avoid action points. Games where you have a pool of action points each turn (i.e. Tikal) seem to lend themselves to analysis paralysis.
 
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Corsaire
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Because we rely in the long term on the heuristics we develop, I think a game needs to be fun and interesting enough that I can enjoy the first few plays by experimenting and exploring the game's problem set.

Theme and resmeblance to other familiar game patterns helps in that initial phase. It is the fringe decisions and cases where there are six ways to get the same outcome along with a clear sense that one is "mathematically" best that causes lock up.

Having not played Terra Mystica and taking on Gaia Project for the first time this week, I had some AP moments because I could for example see too many ways to get the two ore I wanted for the next turn.

Interaction and interference help solve AP, because they are non-engine imposed chance factors that allow a player to excuse a looser confidence factor in their decision. More solo puzzle = more "perfect" plays = more AP (not exclusively, but as one key design area to consider.)
 
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Nate T
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Not a designer, but some games, e.g. Lisboa or Wildcatters. Have a follow mechanic to help have some wider player participation during long turns.
 
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John "Omega" Williams
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Limit the number of actions.

Or add a footnote in the rulebook that reads. "Do not take too long making decisions." sometimes its as simple as that.
 
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Dances With Militias
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sadsayboo wrote:
If I still want the game to be medium to heavy, what successful ways are there to really battle against AP in a multiplayer game?


My easiest workaround is to avoid playing with anybody from IT.
 
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I recommend trying to include some simultaneous action selections in the game if you want to cut down on play time.

Figure out what stuff must be done in order, and what can be done at the same time if possible.
 
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Allan
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bwingrave wrote:


I think all 3 of the above have some things in common:
1. Limited options
2. Do one thing on your turn, and then it's the next player's turn. (If you are trying to do a bunch of things on your turn, and trying to work out exactly how to do that best, that sometimes leads to slow play.) This also means there's a limit to how much the game state can change between your actions.


Thanks for your reply Bernard

I think that a good example of what I have is something similiar to 5 tribes in terms of:
1. perfect information - you have ALL the information that you need to make a decision on the board
2. If 5 tribes was 3 or 4 players, can you imagine the game state when it gets to your turn will be dramatically different

While my game is not as drastic as changing the game state as 5 tribes. I wanted to make a turn based strategic game where you had to play your moves like Caverna. You get to build your engine and yet still have to make some tactical choices at the end.

Each player will do only one thing on their turn, but because there is a lot of information to process it takes time to decide what is the best move, and there are many options available
 
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Allan
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RobertBr wrote:


I think this a common, but in my opinion incorrect, understanding of AP. If we are talking about AP caused by the game, rather than the personality of problem players, then it is not the 'heaviness' of the game. Rather it is the the relationship between how much difference a choice will make and how the adequacy of information I have to make that choice.

If it is clear I have insufficient information to choose between two alternatives my choice is easy.
If it is clear which is best choice between two alternatives (because I have sufficient information) my choice is easy.
AP becomes a problem when it appears I have sufficient information but I in fact do not. Then I am tempted to try and tease out the 'correct' choice.


Hi Robert, I did not actually know that there was a definition of AP before. It was just sort of a term that I used when people took a long time to think through their turns and stalled in the thining phase.

I am trying to make as close to a perfect information game as possible. Where everyone has all the information they need to make a decision, but there are several available options so it takes time to process what is the best possible outcome.

The first suggestion was to limit options. While this would dramatically cut the AP in the game, I wonder if it really a good alternative though in a heavy strategic game. I think part of what adds complexity to the game is that you have many different options, and while it is perfect information it is still difficult to see which path will give you the best results at the end of the game.

I specifically want people who can piece out that puzzle with the perfect information avialble to them to be able to win.
 
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Robert Bracey
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sadsayboo wrote:

I am trying to make as close to a perfect information game as possible. Where everyone has all the information they need to make a decision, but there are several available options so it takes time to process what is the best possible outcome.


As some-one pointed out further up (quite correctly) it is complex. The ability to form useful heuristics matters, as does the size of the decision space.
Also be careful with the term AP. I always think of AP as a circular form of reasoning, where the player starts repeating steps they have already taken. So in a theoretical game, players have action spaces which consist of prime numbers and the action a player takes consists of the factors of the space they choose, and the player needs a 7, that will generally not produce AP - as an earlier poster pointed out that is soluble, it just takes time to check factors.
On the other hand the game in Princess Bride where Vizzini and the Man in Black must each drink from a goblet (one of them containing poison) and Vizzini is engaged in a 'I cannot choose that, but you know I know so I cannot choose this, but you know I know I know...' line of reasoning is real AP.
The two are not firmly differentiated but most of the strategies people have pointed out will broadly work. Give players limited choices, have those limited choices have immediate short term differences (as well as the longer term consequences that give depth). Avoid very large decision spaces the player can search (this is the problem with action points, if you give a player 10 action points and three ways they can spend them in which the order matters the decision space will have over 59,000 possibilities. The player will start rechecking things long before they complete the search if they have to weigh the consequences of each).
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To me AP is people trying to perfectly understand a game state to make a decision and freezing at their failure to do so.

Many games try to give a managable set of choices to assist with game flow which is more what you are talking about. Take Stefan Feld's games, they are overloaded with choices and different actions but there is almost always some limiting factor so your actual choices on a turn do not overwhelm or take to long. For instance in castles of burgundy you are restricted by the numbers you roll (yes you have workers to tweak it slightly but that is at a cost).

Also I think the desire to make medium-heavy games is misplaced. Lighter games sell better and often are better. Look at Knizia's best designs they take a core consept and shave off all the fat leaving a lean, quick playing and often excellent design. Would extra bells and whistles help Tigris or Ra? In Ra you really have very few choices pass or play one of your 3-5 bets but within those limited choices there is a lot of depth. With the limited choices the game never overstays its welcome. Many Knizia designs in the hands of other designers would get lots of fluff and waste added and lose their sharp focus.
 
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John
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Interesting thread.

RobertBr wrote:
Also be careful with the term AP.

Agreed. I don't know that there is an accepted definition of what it is, but even if there is AP gets used to mean a variety of things on BGG. In fact this is pretty much what I assume someone means when they say AP unless they provide more details:

sadsayboo wrote:
It was just sort of a term that I used when people took a long time to think through their turns...


RobertBr wrote:
I always think of AP as a circular form of reasoning, where the player starts repeating steps they have already taken.


Agreed, this is what I think of as AP. Your Princess Bride example is good and ties in with your earlier Citadels example. Previously when playing Citadels some people in our group (including me) spent too much time thinking about character choices. We've now realised that it's not worth spending much time thinking about it.

RobertBr wrote:
Avoid very large decision spaces the player can search


Yes, make sure you know how big the decision space is. As Robert points out it's easy for things to get totally out of hand. The decision space can be larger if it's easy to see that many of the decisions are terrible or equivalent. For instance Chess has a moderately large decision space at some points in the game but it's usually obvious that many of the moves can be discounted.

benme wrote:
To me AP is people trying to perfectly understand a game state to make a decision and freezing at their failure to do so.


Do people try to perfectly understand a game state? Unless you just mean the current state without looking ahead past my move then that's impossible in most games. Admittedly there are games where it's almost impossible to work out all the options I have on my move (going back to Robert's point about very large decision spaces).

I totally agree with your point about Knizia games, the few I have played are excellent designs.

Interestingly Lost Cities has caused AP for me - I think it's the fact I feel I should be able to work out probabilities of drawing what I want but I'm terrible at probabilities (like almost everyone) so I should just play more and not worry about it.
 
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All this theoretizing about AP is quite interesting, but it comes down to: AP describes a situation in which a player takes longer to do something than he should. If the problem is with the player, that cannot be helped. If the problem is motivated by the game design (too many choices, too hard to compute), the design should be streamlined. (And yes, there is a thin line between streamlining and downdumbing).

One solution would be to make it a lighter game.

The other choice would be to make the information easier to see. It should be obvious, what information players do have. If learning to manage information well is part of the game, AP will happen.

It often seems to me as if making information and choices more obvious will automatically result in a lighter game.
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Maarten D. de Jong
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sadsayboo wrote:
If I still want the game to be medium to heavy, what successful ways are there to really battle against AP in a multiplayer game? What boardgames have done this well? What mechanics did they use that seemed either seamless or effective?

No, there are no ways to make this work every time. If there is a solution to your problem, it has to be a bespoke solution.

I am of the opinion that it is not productive to think about the AP issue while designing your game. The game is as the game does. You can disagree with the direction it seems to be developing into, but it is then your prerogative to block certain avenues and move things in a different direction. You can always create a second design in which you do explore further.

I also believe that you shouldn't try too hard to think about what your players might like and what not. The game will reach its intended audience, AP or not.

Finally, a medium to heavy perfect information game will come with a lot of information to absorb. You cannot fault people for trying to work out what goes on, and how to do better. The best you can aim for here is that when players apply heuristics to approximate the complexity of what is unfolding, that they will be playing well. In other words, the game should allow itself to be approximated to some extent by 'what seems logical'. But you cannot plan for this to happen: it's an ethereal characteristic of the design which just happens to come into being as you are designing it.

Ultimately I believe that all sorts of tools and tricks—limiting actions, introducing randomness, ...—will do more harm than good. A medium to heavy game should be allowed to be a medium to heavy game. Trying to make it fit a mold of something light to medium will only cause irritation.
 
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A P
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Most of this has been said before, but things that mitigate/reduce AP:

- Simultaneous actions (7 Wonders)

- Lots of quick actions instead of deciding everything in one go (most worker placement: "I want to do a lot of things but this is the most important;" "it's my turn again but several of the things I wanted before are now gone anyway so it's easier to choose")

- Limiting the scope of any one decision (Puerto Rico: "You may or may not have a long term strategy but right now all you need to decide is whether you want the Indigo or the Coffee plantation").

Agree that action points are best avoided.
 
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Bastiaan Reinink
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A while back I wrote a post with 14 different ways of reducing analysis paralysis. Not all of them are applicable to your situation but perhaps you'll find something that helps?

http://makethemplay.com/index.php/2016/07/07/14-ways-of-redu...

Good luck!
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Mario Lanza
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This is something I have given some thought to because I like medium to medium-heavy games, but I also don't like a dizzying array of choices.

One of the best ways to design around the issue is to constrain the number of components. I have marveled at what Hansa Teutonica accomplished with its relatively narrow set of components. Abiding this constraint also seems like a reasonably good way to design a game if you're newer to design.
 
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Harry Jacobs
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I think Analysis Paralysis is more to do with the gamer, and less to do about the game. I have seen AP on a number of different games, and it drives me nuts when you have 4 players and each round is on average 6 - 9 minutes before it comes around to the player with AP. He has this time to make his strategy and make his turn. But instead waits to play a la Rahdo where it takes him 20 minutes to figure out every permutation before making a move.

Seen this in games including Fallout, Five Tribes and Terraforming Mars. Three distinct games, all played with common folks and the same person suffers AP in each of the 3 different games. So you should think on how to get a good flow of the game that moves from one action to another. A great example is Lisboa, heavy euro but the turns can move super fast, or Concordia another were turns flow pretty easilty.


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