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Subject: Expert Variant Proposal from Kayenta Games rss

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Dan Hallagan

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Greetings! This post (a long one) aims to establish an official "expert" variant for Obsession. The goal with this variant is to mitigate luck without compromising theme.

All the engaging, thoughtful feedback and proposals in this forum caused me to put on the hat of gamers who derive no pleasure from having—a la Wile E. Coyote—a slab of mountain fall on their head. I think "expert" is an apropos label for this as-yet-to-be-finalized variant because the gamers it will serve are serious strategic machines. I respect that, but I'll be forcing theme down their throat the whole way!

I WILL NOT TURN OBSESSION INTO CHESS LOL

The purpose of this official variant is not (as I lack that ability) to get in the way of house rules and any wild sort of variant all of you want to embrace; rather, folks will constantly look to me to saction a variant, particularly one that has been playtested for balance.


The first thing I want to do is capture here all formally proposed variants (variant names have links to their threads):

Dual Courtship (John Weber) - Permit courtship of both Fairchild siblings with divergent interests.
Incremental Reputation (Frank Calcagno) - For reputation level 5 and above, grant 1 VP for each position around the reputation wheel.
Eligible Ladies (James Clarke) - After an activity, a player may reserve an eligible lady, who other players may court for favours.
Known Prestige Guests (Steve Boucher) - Three prestige guests are maintained face up to mitigate luck of the draw issues with prestige guests.
Community Objectives (Steve Boucher) - Objectives are shared, community objectives rather that the standard hidden, individual objectives.


I searched the forum but surely missed other suggestions. Please let me know so we can gather all the variation goodness under this umbrella. Note that the Incremental Reputation and Eligible Ladies are two variations not expressly proposed to cope with luck. They are on my playtest list and are strong candidates for a full-fledged variant to be presented elsewhere. The Dual Courtship variant is exciting, but I believe it will absolutely require a larger Theme Card deck to make this work. As no one but me has multiple Theme Card decks, I am going to playtest this separately.

After much thought on the above variations, I come away with three guiding principles:

1. I wish everyone to know that the luck component is an intentional device to make a deep, gateway Euro driven by theme accessible to casual or non-gamers.
2. I hope, by this time, I have persuaded everyone that the score in no way matters except to crown the family who has best restored their standing in 19th century British society.
3. I believe the greatest (and most flawed) aspect of luck that has been discussed—most notably by Mariya M, Stephen F, and Robert M—but not developed is unbalanced Casual Guests. This is a major part of the Expert Variant below.

Please note that ALL of you will have homework to play this variant and report back (LOL).

--------------------

The Expert Variant, Proposal #1, 9/15/18

GUESTS
1. I have discussed the Butterfly Effect to explain the critical nature of decisions early on when your shabby estate is all sleepy and overgrown. With a reasonable distribution of starter guests and early casual guest draws, you are empowered to craft your own engine for future seasons. With Mariya's 10 casual male guests full of scoundrels and cads, you're toast. Local Casual Guests: Derbyshire is large. Our cluster of neglected estates is in a small "corner" of the county. Within society in and around Alderly Hall are a known group of local gentry as familiar as the rolling hills. Setup and Use: Starter guests are either dealt blindly per normal rules to all players or drafted via the card draft variation (see Glossary under Variations). The remaining starter guests are not shuffled into the casual guest deck, but instead are used to populate the local, familiar gentry in much the same manner as Steve B proposes in his prestige guest variant (click to enlarge).

A. The remaining starter guests are shuffled and used to populate the local casual guest display (if you do not have the Wessex Expansion and its five additional starter guests, standard casual guests will be used for additional cards per the rule below).
B. The number of local casual gentry displayed are 6/8/10 for 2/3/4 players respectively.
C. Cards from the remaining shuffled starter guest deck are placed into the display.
D. The genders must be equal. If a gender beyond 3/4/5 is displayed in the random setup, it is not used.
E. If there are insufficient starter guests to populate the local casual guest display, regular casual guests are used for the needed cards, provided the reputation is = 1. Unsavory guests are permitted!
F. Players may choose from the displayed local casual guests or blind when enjoying an invite favour. If a card or tile permits a player to examine more cards than will be kept, that ONLY applies to a blind draw. Otherwise, the player simply acquires the appropriate number of guests from the display.
G. If a card or tile permits a player to invite more than one casual guest, the favour may be split between the display and the deck.
H. Note that when a favour takes a guest from the display, it is not repopulated. If the display empties, players revert to blind draws.
I. At the end of the 1st Courtship, all local casual guests are placed at the bottom of the face-down casual gentry deck. There is no local casual guest display in seasons 2, 3, and 4 (there is no need at this point to compensate for casual guest imbalance).


2. Per Steve B's recommendation, the same setup is applied to prestige guests.
A. The number of local prestige gentry displayed are is equal to the number of players.
B. The seven prestige guests of reputation level 3 (excluding the four level 3 guests with a prestige invite favor) are gathered and shuffled.
C. Cards are flipped up and placed into the local prestige guest display.
D. The genders do not have to be equal.
E. Players may choose from the displayed local prestige guests or blind when enjoying an invite favour. If a tile permits a player to examine more cards than will be kept (English Garden), that ONLY applies to a blind draw. Otherwise, the player simply acquires the appropriate number of guests from the display.
F. If a tile permits a player to invite more than one prestige guest (French Garden), the favour may be split between the display and the deck.
G. Note that when a favour takes a guest from the display, it is not repopulated. If the display empties, players revert to blind draws.
H. At the end of the 2nd Courtship, all local prestige guests are placed at the bottom of the face-down prestige gentry deck.
I. There is no local prestige guest display in seasons 3 and 4 (there is no need at this point to compensate for prestige guest imbalance).


VP CARDS
The wide, wholly random variation between VP card points is considered by some to be extreme.

>>> Remove all VP cards with VP value greater than 5.

The remaining VP cards are of value 3, 4, and 5, and all have a favour option.

OBJECTIVE CARDS
I am going to propose a hybrid between public and private objectives. I do not think the public nature of the objectives mitigates luck (except in eliminating private objectives), or that it has strong thematic coherence, although it is VERY interesting. I suspect it will be popular. However, it was proposed not because public objectives were highly thematic, but because private objectives were too variable. The goal here is to reduce the VP impact of private objectives, but still preserve some of the enjoyment and guidance they provide.

A. Players draw 4 and keep 1 private objective during setup.
B. When the icon appears on the round track, a wildfire spread of gossip reveals a heretofore unknown vital fact about the Fairchild family. Once during standard play and twice during extended play. This adds a jolt of excitement, and provides a potential path for a player in a rut to make a stab at VP. EXACTLY this happened during one playtest.
EDIT C. The one or two icons on the round track will be public objectives and taken from the top of the deck on the supply board. The top card will simply be placed face up in the central play area near the supply board. All players can choose to complete public objective, earning the VP shown.

COURTSHIP
Open courtship for the Expert variant.

--------------------

IMPRESSIONS
Low-scoring games seems to suggest the impact of the OC and VPC rules modifications. Also not sure if seasoned players were keeping VP options out of the hands of opponents or if the builder's market, which was oddly devoid of Monuments in all three games (in one two-player game, some popped up late), was a bit stagnant. For this reason, I am recommending the Emily Bronte Variation also be part of the Expert Variation (flush the market at the start of each season).

I played two 2-player and one 3-player with the above rules, and would observe the following:


GUESTS
1. The casual guest display is HUGE for preventing a negative, fatalistic feeling from descending in that first round. It also makes the young lady's (relatively) weak favor of a casual guest invite very attractive out of the gate. Also, it creates a marvelous sense of gambling with the Lady of the House's favor. The best casual guests are hiding in the deck, and the look at two, keep one is tempting. But in one game I had no money, and she was the first invite out in the PRIVATE STUDY, and I had to take money from the display. This plays extremely well.
2. Equally good is Steve's rep 3 prestige display. The immediate jockeying for the GAZEBO to snap up a £400 rep 3, for example, is excellent and disrupts rote behavior (round 1/2 play of BOWLING GREEN/PRIVATE STUDY). A wonderful addition. Also looking very good.
VP CARDS
>>> These points seems down, but courtship remained decisive. In two of the three games, one player had the upper hand, gaining three cards. In the other game, monuments put the player trailing in the last season over the top. I think this is effective in moderating the VPs available.
OBJECTIVE CARDS
>>> Large impact on net VPs for OC. Real shout out to Steve for an exciting completion of a public objective in the 3 player game (where I scratch out and change the score) that gave Cavendish hope. I like OC, but for those concerned, this does the trick!
OPEN COURTSHIP
>>> I hate open courtship, I really do. How dull. How pedestrian. Ugh. However, if you want no surprises, this is essential for the Expert Variation. Verdict: Does the job.

There you have it! Your homework for the coming week. Please, please evaluate this variant if you are intrigued and report back. Open to all suggestions.

Thank you!

Dan
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Frank Calcagno
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Very exciting proposals here and will give us all something to make our initial game results provide a meaningful result for Dan.

One comment I will make about luck in games...it may make for an uninteresting result, but life is filled with luck, and it is the lucky who often prevail. Just a simple fact of life. If luck plays a part in my games, I have no problem with that. Sometimes it is a more enjoyable game to find creative ways of mitigating a bad run of luck on-the-fly, thus increasing the overall strategy of the game.
A purely designed Euro game completely devoid of luck (to me) is uninteresting, especially when a player "discovers" the perfect strategy to manipulate the perfectly balanced mechanics. Then, to me, the game suffers horribly, and it is only the person who reads published "perfect strategic openings" that will be the ones who win.
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Dan Hallagan

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Antares Rangers wrote:
Very exciting proposals here and will give us all something to make our initial game results provide a meaningful result for Dan.

One comment I will make about luck in games...it may make for an uninteresting result, but life is filled with luck, and it is the lucky who often prevail. Just a simple fact of life. If luck plays a part in my games, I have no problem with that. Sometimes it is a more enjoyable game to find creative ways of mitigating a bad run of luck on-the-fly, thus increasing the overall strategy of the game.
A purely designed Euro game completely devoid of luck (to me) is uninteresting, especially when a player "discovers" the perfect strategy to manipulate the perfectly balanced mechanics. Then, to me, the game suffers horribly, and it is only the person who reads published "perfect strategic openings" that will be the ones who win.

Frank, I have said "Sometimes it is a more enjoyable game to find creative ways of mitigating a bad run of luck on-the-fly, thus increasing the overall strategy of the game" often myself. After my brother and I finished the playtesting of the expert variant, we looked at each other, shook our heads, and said, "Nah. Let's play the original way." Which we did, and he got slammed with cads and gossips, and we laughed and laughed.

That said, the "local gentry" is a very smooth and effective idea.
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Frank Calcagno
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Quote:
That said, the "local gentry" is a very smooth and effective idea.

Yes, I am looking forward to trying each of these suggestions.
I plan to copy/paste all these and insert the page into my rule book (when it arrives on the East coast!soblue)
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rossoft rossoft
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I don't get what are the changes on the objective cards. At setup we get 4 and pick 1. Then what should be done when reaching the objective icon in the round track? Should all players reveal their objectives to make them public? Or new ones get dealt to the players?
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Dan Hallagan

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rossoft wrote:
I don't get what are the changes on the objective cards. At setup we get 4 and pick 1. Then what should be done when reaching the objective icon in the round track? Should all players reveal their objectives to make them public? Or new ones get dealt to the players?

Sorry, was writing furiously yesterday.

There is only one private objective card for each player, the one dealt at set up. The one or two icons on the round track will be public objectives and taken from the top of the deck on the supply board. The top card will simply be placed face up in the central play area near the supply board. For those who like public objectives, feel free to turn over 2 when you reach the objective space on the round track. Beware that in an extended play game, that would make for 4 public objectives.
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John Weber
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Re: Expert Variant Ideas re Monuments

Dan,

Excellent suggestions, eager to try them (obviously, have played with Dual Courtship in all 4P games thus far). The idea about having some face-up Starter guests to choose from is particularly appealing, given my last game, late in the game I drew three casual guests I couldn't get rid of that cost me a total of 8 VPs.

One thing a couple of players have pointed out is the fact that Monuments can be really strong, particularly if gotten early in the game. Here's a few ideas that have been put forth to minimize the luck factor or impact of Monuments in the game:

1. Do not include VPs from Monuments for Courtships. They still count for endgame VPs and rep each turn. This means, if playing with the optional suites tiles, the decision to flip the Queens Suite or Lionheart Suite creates an interesting trade-off dynamic.

2. Do not add the monument tiles to the draw bag until after the first Courtship. That way, no one is able to get one early and become a runaway leader (that one rep bump per turn can add up to quite a bit by game end).

3. Instead of putting the Monument tiles in the bag, put them off to the side so players have an equal shot at buying them. This could be combined with #2 so they aren't available until partway through the game.

Interested to hear thoughts of others on this.
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Dan Hallagan

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John Weber wrote:

Dan,

Excellent suggestions, eager to try them (obviously, have played with Dual Courtship in all 4P games thus far). The idea about having some face-up Starter guests to choose from is particularly appealing, given my last game, late in the game I drew three casual guests I couldn't get rid of that cost me a total of 8 VPs.

One thing a couple of players have pointed out is the fact that Monuments can be really strong, particularly if gotten early in the game. Here's a few ideas that have been put forth to minimize the luck factor or impact of Monuments in the game:

1. Do not include VPs from Monuments for Courtships. They still count for endgame VPs and rep each turn. This means, if playing with the optional suites tiles, the decision to flip the Queens Suite or Lionheart Suite creates an interesting trade-off dynamic.

2. Do not add the monument tiles to the draw bag until after the first Courtship. That way, no one is able to get one early and become a runaway leader (that one rep bump per turn can add up to quite a bit by game end).

3. Instead of putting the Monument tiles in the bag, put them off to the side so players have an equal shot at buying them. This could be combined with #2 so they aren't available until partway through the game.

Interested to hear thoughts of others on this.

John, I will be interested in your playtest here; I would suggest number 2 is a natural, although I think there is an interesting dynamic with Monuments and Courtship. Several serious gamers have observed that there doesn't appear to be a catch-up mechanism if you get behind, and I countered that the most effective catch-up mechanism is the Monument. It alone changes a Courtship in one swoop. It can turn a three courtship winner into a loser when purchased in Season 4. But early on, the acquisition of a monument (which isn't in the initial population and will appear at a price of usually £1000 or more) can be devastating to the player who goes all out. As I rarely play Open Courtships, it's never a black/white Courtship winner when acquired. Usually, someone who gets a Season 1 Monument is trailing the field in Reputation and can get trapped (whether because an Heiress was used or because of SA).

As I type, I think your idea in #2 would be preferred for Open Courtships.

Please let me know how #1 works; first blush, I think it will have a ripple effect and change a lot. #3, believe it or not, was the original way the Sculpture Garden was acquired (don't have a heart attack at this prototype from 2016!).


Click to Enlarge
 
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Dr Gosburo Coffin
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Dan, it's absolutely admirable how much work you're putting into these variants, attempting to accommodate all player types within the wonderful framework of Obsession. However, I'm actually happy that these are 'just' variants and not mandatory rule changes, because ...

The Reeve wrote:
[...] and he got slammed with cads and gossips, and we laughed and laughed.
This is exactly what happened to my wife in our game earlier today. She ended up with five unwholesome guests, which amounted to -11 VP (she had been able to get rid of an American heiress earlier, otherwise it would have been -14 VP). Needless to say, having such a large amount of negative guests in her hand also limited her options for playing effectively, and she lost the game with a rather low total score.

She still enjoyed the game tremendously, and when I told her about these efforts to reduce the impact of luck on the game, she said that she had no interest in playing with those rules. Her opinion (which I share) is that the risk of having bad luck and attracting the wrong kind of guests is just an integral part of the game, and actually makes for more memorable storytelling. Or, to use her own words after today's game: "Your heir may have married that Fairchild girl, but I bet that the parties at my manor were so much more fun than yours!"

Having said that, I fully understand that other players are interested in a variant with reduced luck, and I think it's absolutely awesome that the designer is spending so much time on trying to find a solution for those players. I'm certain that the set of variants presented here will absolutely serve its intended purpose.
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Scott Saccenti
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John Weber wrote:
1. Do not include VPs from Monuments for Courtships. They still count for endgame VPs and rep each turn. This means, if playing with the optional suites tiles, the decision to flip the Queens Suite or Lionheart Suite creates an interesting trade-off dynamic.

2. Do not add the monument tiles to the draw bag until after the first Courtship. That way, no one is able to get one early and become a runaway leader (that one rep bump per turn can add up to quite a bit by game end).

3. Instead of putting the Monument tiles in the bag, put them off to the side so players have an equal shot at buying them. This could be combined with #2 so they aren't available until partway through the game.

Interested to hear thoughts of others on this.

#1: Yes yes yes. Yes. This solves it.
Don't even think you need the other two if you do #1. If Monuments don't count toward Courtship, they aren't so good early. You're spending a lot for end-of-game early, instead of engine building early. That seems like the correct trade-off.
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Dan Hallagan

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saccenti wrote:
John Weber wrote:
1. Do not include VPs from Monuments for Courtships. They still count for endgame VPs and rep each turn. This means, if playing with the optional suites tiles, the decision to flip the Queens Suite or Lionheart Suite creates an interesting trade-off dynamic.

2. Do not add the monument tiles to the draw bag until after the first Courtship. That way, no one is able to get one early and become a runaway leader (that one rep bump per turn can add up to quite a bit by game end).

3. Instead of putting the Monument tiles in the bag, put them off to the side so players have an equal shot at buying them. This could be combined with #2 so they aren't available until partway through the game.

Interested to hear thoughts of others on this.

#1: Yes yes yes. Yes. This solves it.
Don't even think you need the other two if you do #1. If Monuments don't count toward Courtship, they aren't so good early. You're spending a lot for end-of-game early, instead of engine building early. That seems like the correct trade-off.
As most have seen, I welcome all these variations; anything that enhances gameplay for the players who actually own the game is grand.

For purists, I have to raise a rather strong thematic objection. What is this thing we're doing with the "theme cards"? Let's consider the Glossary:


Click to Enlarge

If the theme category is as described in that entry: "Theme Cards always reveal an improvement type, but the revealing of this card is much more than a construction strategy. The goal is not simply to build a certain type of house; it is an insight into the personality of the love interest that is far more than capital improvements." How can a Monument of that category not be the greatest and most expressive improvement of them all? The one most likely to capture the heart of the love interest?

Indeed, the Sculpture Garden exemplifies this:

Click to Enlarge

I am actually delighted that the game's mechanics support a wide variety of variants, but I also have a role as theme policeman, LOL. This one goes against theme.

Sergeant Dan
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Scott Saccenti
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Dan, some of us uber-competitive types are playing a (slightly) different game than the one you intended. But I'm loving that the game can be played either way. thumbsup
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Dan Hallagan

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saccenti wrote:
Dan, some of us uber-competitive types are playing a (slightly) different game than the one you intended. But I'm loving that the game can be played either way. thumbsup

Fully understood and endorsed. I guess I am sort of giving a "theme grade" to variants, not to encourage or discourage ideas, but to provide a service to those theme advocates from the perspective of the developer.

If you saw the variant—nay, actually a whole new form of gameplay—that I am developing (and will launch by month's end), you'd realize that I have a split personality: theme lover who also has min-maxed Tzolk'in so I know the opportunity cost of placing a worker on this wheel or that!

YOU will love this new project.
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Steve Boucher
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My initial thoughts, based on our two player testing:

- I think selecting the initial casual guest(s) from a pool is a GREAT idea. Limiting this to the first part of the game also makes sense, as this is the only time that luck mitigation for casual guests is really needed. For us, ending the selection after the first season in the Standard Game felt a little too soon, so we house-ruled it to keep the pool active until each of us owned two guests (however we obtained them -- through the pool or a blind draw), or the start of the second season, whichever came first.

- The proposal to revert the open prestige guest selection to a blind draw after the second season is a good idea as well, as after that point, luck becomes much less of a game influencing factor. I incorporated that into my Known Prestige Guests variant (as well as another separate twist of that variant that I posted today that we actually enjoyed better).

- I agree re: getting rid of the 7/8 VP cards, which we've done for a while. However, I like the 6 VP one that allows you to retrieve a discarded guest, so personally I would continue to keep that one.

- For the objective card proposal (1 private, 1 or 2 public), yeah, it reduces luck, but it wasn't nearly as interesting to me as the full Community Objective variant, in which there are more goals to go after, which provides much more depth of player interaction. Personally, I would house-rule more public objectives (which I still think is thematic if you consider them characteristics/standards valued by the community that the families are collectively or exclusively trying to achieve).
 
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Dan Hallagan

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stvboucher wrote:
My initial thoughts, based on our two player testing:

- I think selecting the initial casual guest(s) from a pool is a GREAT idea. Limiting this to the first part of the game also makes sense, as this is the only time that luck mitigation for casual guests is really needed. For us, ending the selection after the first season in the Standard Game felt a little too soon, so we house-ruled it to keep the pool active until each of us owned two guests (however we obtained them -- through the pool or a blind draw), or the start of the second season, whichever came first.

- The proposal to revert the open prestige guest selection to a blind draw after the second season is a good idea as well, as after that point, luck becomes much less of a game influencing factor. I incorporated that into my Known Prestige Guests variant (as well as another separate twist of that variant that I posted today that we actually enjoyed better).

- I agree re: getting rid of the 7/8 VP cards, which we've done for a while. However, I like the 6 VP one that allows you to retrieve a discarded guest, so personally I would continue to keep that one.

- For the objective card proposal (1 private, 1 or 2 public), yeah, it reduces luck, but it wasn't nearly as interesting to me as the full Community Objective variant, in which there are more goals to go after, which provides much more depth of player interaction. Personally, I would house-rule more public objectives (which I still think is thematic if you consider them characteristics/standards valued by the community that the families are collectively or exclusively trying to achieve).
The first person to do homework! 10 Geek Gold for you, sir! Thanks for the report. Everything reported is excellent. The objective thing I think will be personal preference.

We are getting close!
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benjamin CLOVIS
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Hi dan,
Am about to test three player using the known guest rule.
Out of curiosity, why do you feel they need to balanced in terms of gender and That they need to be positive? Wouldn’t it ad to variability for the known starters to be quite varied? (Also would make set up easier)
I will try it out as stated, but the number of known guests also seems high to me.
On a side note, shuffling casual guests before playing is really important, as the look at two cards take one mechanism means that there is often a clump of undesirable guests at the bottom of the deck, which means when setting up the next time, just casually cutting the deck results in a passage of cads and scoundrels.
All right, off the county, will let you know how it works out....
 
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Dan Hallagan

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clovisIII wrote:
Hi dan,
Am about to test three player using the known guest rule.
Out of curiosity, why do you feel they need to balanced in terms of gender and That they need to be positive? Wouldn’t it ad to variability for the known starters to be quite varied? (Also would make set up easier)
I will try it out as stated, but the number of known guests also seems high to me.
On a side note, shuffling casual guests before playing is really important, as the look at two cards take one mechanism means that there is often a clump of undesirable guests at the bottom of the deck, which means when setting up the next time, just casually cutting the deck results in a passage of cads and scoundrels.
All right, off the county, will let you know how it works out....
The reason I went with the number of guests as well as the balanced genders it’s because this mechanism is specifically designed to permit players to correct a gap in their favors is and/or genders. So I think that even split between genders and positive favors are the reason for the mechanism, otherwise players can simply draw blind.
 
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benjamin CLOVIS
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Not able to finish my three player simulation game, but...
THIS IS A BILLION POUND IMPROVELENT ON THE GAME!!!!!
This is a mandatory set up in my opinion.
THIS MAKES THE GAME COMPLETE.

I think ´expert variant’ is a misnomer as this set up helps experts have more control of their engine, but it also keeps novices from being kicked in the teeth early on. It would take a true expert to dig him or her self out of a bad early draw. A novice would be out of the game by round 5

Hope this info gets out to everyone.
 
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Dan Hallagan

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clovisIII wrote:
Not able to finish my three player simulation game, but...
THIS IS A BILLION POUND IMPROVELENT ON THE GAME!!!!!
This is a mandatory set up in my opinion.
THIS MAKES THE GAME COMPLETE.

I think ´expert variant’ is a misnomer as this set up helps experts have more control of their engine, but it also keeps novices from being kicked in the teeth early on. It would take a true expert to dig him or her self out of a bad early draw. A novice would be out of the game by round 5

Hope this info gets out to everyone.

I have to admit, I already love this. Love the benefit of greatly empowering the young lady of the house. However, strangely enough two my family members do not. They like the randomness. I guess it is an individual taste sort of thing.
 
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John Weber
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Re: Expert Variant Proposal from Kayenta Games -- Initial Feedback

Here's some feedback on these, having playing one solitaire game (simming a 4P) and one game with human opponents (all of whom were very experienced at a variety of Euro and strategy games). Both were 4P using the Extended game.

1. For the Local Casual Guests, with 8 Starter guests going out in the opening setup and 10 on display (and my game, with the Wessex expansion, came with a total of 20), the instructions didn't specify what to do with the remaining two Starter guests; I decided to shuffle them with the Casual Guest deck per the normal rules. Players seemed to appreciate the fact that there were an equal number of male and female guests on display, and with 4P extended play, all but one or two were scarfed up by the first Courtship. I think that, if you play with this variant, drafting the Starter guests (instead of randomly dealing two to each player) becomes kind of unnecessary. It does seem to discourage people from going blindly off the top, although you take fewer chances with the Lady of the House (draw two, keep one) but, particularly after the first Courtship, you have no choice, and eventually you need to deal with the Casual Guests with negative attributes. Doing the math, I count 20 of these type guests versus 21 Casual Guests without negative characteristics, making it close to a 50-50 proposition on any blind draw (assuming all the Starter guests are out), so this variant also has the effect of making the Casual guest blind draw even more of a crapshoot than it already is. Thus, for me, it's kind of take-or-leave it with this variant, kind of a mixed bag as it seems like you are kind of delaying the inevitable.

2. Prestige Guest display: Generally a positive reaction to the fact that you could get a level 3 Prestige guest early -- and I also understand the reason for excluding the four of them that give another Prestige guest as a favor -- these are simply too powerful. On the other hand, I believe at least two of these require an extra servant, meaning these are less likely to get selected. So, maybe as a variant to the variant, you have all seven available? Another thought, why not have all seven available for drafting in reverse player order at the start of the game, then that way everyone starts with a level 3 Prestige guest in hand, in addition to Family members and the two Starter guests.

3. VP Cards -- this is one everyone seemed to agree with, the range in the original rules (3-8 VP) is just too great, and you have the bonus action option on every card. Plus, with 20 cards to choose from, I doubt there's much chance you could run out. So, a big thumbs up on this idea.

4. Public Objective vs Private -- On the other hand, nobody liked this. First, it kind of nerfs the impact of Objective cards since you get to look at one fewer and start with one fewer in terms of Private objectives at the start. With two cards to start, there's a possibility of a nice combo, or alternatively, you've got two different paths to pursue in addition to Courtship opportunities; if one doesn't pan out, you can try another. Not bringing out the Public Objectives until a few turns into the game runs into serious problems with certain Objective cards. For example, in my solo runthrough, the 10 VP for Smoking+Drawing room combo came out after two players had bought the Smoking room, which meant the remaining players had no shot at fulfilling that objective. Also, you could have a meaningless Objective come out that noone could fulfill, i.e., have only your Starting Servants after everyone had added Servants. So, two thumbs down on this one, suggest leaving the rules as they are. If someone wants to play with public Objectives, suggest they be out at the beginning of the game so at least, in theory, everyone has a shot at fulfilling them.

5. Courtship. Everyone I've played with favors Open courtship versus Closed. Also, the Dual Courtship variant with the following modifications was used in recent games, and everyone seemed to like it:

a. Draw one theme card for Charles and a different for Elizabeth for each Courtship.

b. Players simultaneously and secretly decide which Fairchild sibling to court using unused Prestige marker (odd number for Charles, even for Elizabeth).

c. Monument VPs do not count for winning a Courtship.

As I mentioned, everyone I've played with (at least in 4P games) seems to prefer this. It gives multiple objectives to shoot at, adds some strategy in secretly selecting a Fairchild, and makes it less likely a player can run away with the game on Courtship "wins" alone. The reason for not counting monuments should be apparent; for example, if one player gets the blue Monument, there's virtually no way to lose a Service Courtship since the other tiles aren't worth that many points. Finally, I think it works fine with just the 10 theme cards in the game, as none can appear more than twice. However, I have to admit most of my testing has been with 4P, and it seems less appropriate to consider for 2P and 3P games.

The only suggestion I've heard is for the final Courtship, to make it so the winner only gets the Fairchild card (8VP) but not an additional VP card. VP cards are still handed out during the game, and in the case of ties per the existing rules.

6. Refresh options -- played with the Bronte variant (as recommended) although I wonder how it might work with the Queen Victoria variant or perhaps some combination of the two. In the game played with human opponents, the random draw at the start happened to be all "3" level tiles, and I had Wessex with a "2" already in play, which seemed to be an advantage, but I suspect that was kind of anomalous situation that is unlikely to occur very often. Most players I think like the idea of some kind of automatic "churn" in the market (or maybe they don't relish the idea of giving up 4 Rep. to do it themselves!angry)

Anyway, the good news here is that everyone has enjoyed the game, with or without the variants, and kudos to Dan for producing such an excellent game and being willing to try to do things to make it better.
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benjamin CLOVIS
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Just finished a 3 player sim. The variant is definitely a huge improvement. I do agree w John Webber that one of the unintended consequences is that the blind casual deck becomes very toxic as a result of the all the ´good’ cards being available early on. I think I prefer the idea of mixing in the left over casual starter guests into the deck and dealing out 6/8/10 open guests. Or putting out less open guests before the game starts. This makes the play a bit tighter, and decisions more important, and adds variety, and makes the matriarch look at two/ pick one more relevant.
Sorry that I am posting w a cell phone, when I get back home will try to write a more cogent review.
But as I stated earlier, I think the idea of this variant however it is finally implemented by players is a huge improvement to this already great game
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James Cartwright
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Spilsby
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Been busy at work so my family and I haven't had time to test these variants but we like the idea of the local gentry for the casual guests and for the prestige guests. We haven't had a problem with random extremes of the VP cards. Having a public objective card or two could be interesting but we like ours hidden.
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Dan Hallagan

Avon Lake
Ohio
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Rindel wrote:
Been busy at work so my family and I haven't had time to test these variants but we like the idea of the local gentry for the casual guests and for the prestige guests. We haven't had a problem with random extremes of the VP cards. Having a public objective card or two could be interesting but we like ours hidden.
My family is in the exact same place. We are really enjoying the local gentry, and playing the rest of the game in its original form.
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Bill Buchanan
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I might try the local guest variant, but I think I'll use a ratio of 4/6/8 casual guests for 2/3/4 players (ie. double the amount of players).

I think this is more logical for some reason and easier to remember considering local prestige guests are equal to the number of players. It's just easier to say "Ya, local casual guests are double the amount of local prestige guests".

I'm not sure I'll try the Objective or VP changes right yet. We like the Bronte variant for the market so I think that works well with Objectives as is. I think I like swingy VP cards in there, as it keeps everybody guessing and always makes you feel like you might have a chance ... also makes winning courtships very (more) desirable.

We have played with the Dickens courtship rules, but my wife was saying how she wished she knew what the theme card was earlier so we might try Open Courtship next game.
 
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Dan Hallagan

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WBuchanan wrote:
I might try the local guest variant, but I think I'll use a ratio of 4/6/8 casual guests for 2/3/4 players (ie. double the amount of players).

I think this is more logical for some reason and easier to remember considering local prestige guests are equal to the number of players. It's just easier to say "Ya, local casual guests are double the amount of local prestige guests".

I'm not sure I'll try the Objective or VP changes right yet. We like the Bronte variant for the market so I think that works well with Objectives as is. I think I like swingy VP cards in there, as it keeps everybody guessing and always makes you feel like you might have a chance ... also makes winning courtships very (more) desirable.

We have played with the Dickens courtship rules, but my wife was saying how she wished she knew what the theme card was earlier so we might try Open Courtship next game.
I did 6/8/10 because I was worried that there would be a lack of favour variety per gender (i.e., two ladies who have invites). But yours will work; might do a house rule that no identical favours per gender?
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