Is it just me, or are the mission cards in this game fatally unbalanced?
There are four of them, which give you extra bonus points for expedition where you own:
1: 1 or more ships
2: at least half the ships
3: a majority of the ships
4: all of the ships
Obviously, the harder expeditions are worth more points than the easier ones. You can also increase the value of each expedition that scores you points by completing more trade contracts. So far, so good.
The problem is in the screwage. The players with the harder missions have one pretty obvious strategy to use--hog the 3- and 4-point expeditions quickly. It's a lot easier to get the majority (or all) of ships in an expedition that's limited to a small number of ships.
Where the screwage comes in is from the guy with the "easy" mission where he only needs to have 1 ship in an expedition in order to score extra points for it. He's in just as big a hurry to get in on those little bitty expeditions as are the players who desperately need to get in on them! In fact, he's in more of a hurry to get in on them, because they not only help him score bonus points, they also deny his opponents the ability to do so!
Conversely, the guys with harder missions have to work much harder to cut their opponents out of the smaller expeditions. All the 1-ship mission guy has to do is get any ship into the 3- and 4-point expeditions in order to make them either very hard or impossible for other players to score bonus points there. The guy who has to own an expedition's entire complement of ships is really up against it--the only way he can guarantee himself any bonus points is to play a strength 3 ship on a 3-point expedition right away. That not only requires a strength 3 ship to be available to him on his first turn, it also requires him to bankrupt himself on his very first turn!
In other words, every player needs to get in on the smaller expeditions just as quickly as he can, but 3/4 of the players in this game can get screwed even if they manage to do so! Only the 1-ship-per-expedition guy is sure to score bonus points by getting a single ship launched into the smaller expeditions!
The game is balanced well in other areas--if you quickly launch ships into expeditions, you won't have their services available for filling trade contracts. And if you concentrate on racking up trade contracts (and money), you won't score a single point. For all players, the need to balance how one uses one's ships is very real. But the guys with the harder missions just seem so hosed to me. They have to satisfy trade contracts in order to build up any mission-related bonus points, yet they have to hog those smaller expeditions with big expensive ships in order to score those mission points!
It seems impossible to do both, which seems to make the harder missions worthless. The only guy who's going to mop up any mission points is the guy with the easy mission, because he can keep his bigger ships at home to satisfy trade contracts while sending any cheap old rowboat out to screw up expeditions for everybody else...
I just won a 4pl game with the "all of the ships" mission card filling the 'blue 7' expedition with 4 ships and the 'green 6' with 3 ships thus gaining 18 point for my mission (6 completed contracts).
This was possible because the other 3 players all rushed to occupy the '3' and '4' expeditions in the first turns while I completed contracts, leaving the big '6' and '7' expeditions free for enough time for me to build up my fleet and treasury and fill them in a couple of turns.
I'm still non sure that the mission cards are well balanced but I think the strategy for the player with the "all of the ships" mission card is not decided by the mission; he can wait and see what the other players do.