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Concordia: 8 Forum Cards mini-expansion» Forums » General

Subject: Minus Denarius issue rss

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Tom Lehmann
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Concordia has a lot of careful structure to prevent the first player from running away with the game.

While the first player gets first crack at which cities to settle (if they Architect on turn 1) or which cards to buy (if they Senate on turn 1) and generally has the jump on expansion over other players, there are three things which mitigate against these advantages:

1) The other players can Diplomat a first turn Architect and the first player may not able to efficiently Diplomat their later Architect plays. This is fairly minor, but sometimes slows the first player.

2) The first player starts with less money. With 5 coins, they must choose whether to go for a single high-valued Cloth city or two lessor value cities. Other players, starting later in the turn, can often find two cities, one high-valued and one low valued, to build.

3) The first player starts furthest from the 2x production bonus tile, so that their initial Prefects, given #2 above, tend to produce fewer and cheaper goods.

All these effects seem carefully designed to reign in early players vs late players.

Imagine our surprise, given this, when we combined this expansion with Salsa and discovered a power that completely negates this design.

In most map setups, a first player who begins with Minus Denarius -- sell a single good for 2 gold fewer coins (on your turn regardless of the action you pick) -- can immediately build both a Salt city *plus* a high-valued Cloth or Wine city.

For example, suppose a Salt and Cloth city are within two moves of the starting city. The first player plays Architect, sells a cloth for 7-2 = 5 coins, moves, and then builds the Salt city for 5 coins, iron, and wine, plus the Cloth city for 5 more coins, a salt and a brick.

In almost all map setups, there will be a Salt city next to a high-valued city within 2 moves from the start city, often in the same province.

This opening both slows down later players (as they can build in neither of these cities, due to the increased cost of doing so) and allows the first player to then Prefect for three high-priced goods (if they are in the same province), just as if they held the x2 bonus tile. (If the goods are in two different provinces, then the first player can get two high-priced goods immediately and then do a second Prefect for 3 more goods when the x2 bonus tile comes around to them.)

This is a *huge* advantage. Yes, the other players get an advantage from their initial patrician power, but we have found that it is very, very hard to overcome this strong start by the first player. The other players are just a step behind the entire game and the game feels like an exercise in frustration due to this.

In the regular game, without salt cities and without starting with a Salt, so that selling your highest valued good hurts more, Minus Darius doesn't seem like a huge advantage. But, in Salsa, this power can be too easily leveraged during the opening.

I hesitate to use the word "broken", but it sure seems like this to us. If you disagree, then give the first player Minus Denarius in several Salsa games and see how it feels...

A simple fix, of course, is to simply disallow Minus Denarius in starting hands in Salsa games. But, it's disturbing that a tile that completely negates so much of the designed turn order balance slipped through playtesting. It raises the issue of just how much the tiles in this expansion were actually tested with Salsa, as opposed to just by themselves in regular games...
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Anthony Rubbo
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Do the Expert Auction rules help? Or is the value so weighted to specifically the starting player, that anyone outbidding is in too big of a hole without commensurate tile value?
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Tom Lehmann
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LemonyFresh wrote:
Do the Expert Auction rules help?

I haven't tried this, but I suspect that this won't address the real problem, as players are bidding VPs, *not* in-game resources.

Suppose you get the start player to bid, say, 5 VPs for the tile. That doesn't change the fact that the start player *structurally* will still be ahead in terms of map expansion, money, etc. the entire game, even though this may only translate into a tied score (to be broken by the Bonus tile) at the end.

Being behind the entire game in in-game terms -- even assuming A) you can extract the correct number of VPs from the starting player and B) you don't have a "Who bells the cat?" problem among the other players in who has to bid up the start player -- is simply not a lot of fun for many players, even if the scores end up essentially the same.

(This is why most successful handicap systems involve in-game resources instead of an end-game VP adjustment. For example, I don't think Go's handicap system would work very well if it didn't involve extra pieces for the weaker player on the board, but simply consisted of a bunch of extra VPs at the end.)
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Anthony Rubbo
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Totally agree that it would change the gameplay experience for all, though author might(?) argue that the fun is enhanced by having drastically different start states even from a structural standpoint.

If the tile has great blocking potential for players earlier in turn order, then the bidding rule doesn’t resolve the issue. (2-player game, say net value of MD over the others is 6/0 for P1/P2. P1 will have 3pt advantage after bid.)

It could be even said to worsen the problem, as the tile must merely appear anywhere in the bidding array for the start player to gain an advantage, as opposed to being one dealt specifically.
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Minus Denarius can indeed be very powerful. And if your layout exists you are up for a fine start.

Anyway there are various other things to consider:

How good is the second build?
Do not prefect for money, if other players have big 2 or even 3 city provinces where you get nothing.
Build in a players strong province even if it is expensive, etc.

It is clear that the different Forum tiles cannot be equal in every situation and some are nearly always more powerful than others.

From my point of view it is a challenge to try to win with a weaker tile. Concordia is a game of skill and the more experienced players win more often. Give the more powerful tiles to the new players. If you are all experienced try to work together against the leader.

One last word: we test our games a lot, but it is nevertheless always possible to overlook something.
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