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Subject: AAR - Third Era unbalanced? rss

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Ryan Bigelow
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In this After Action Report, I’d like to talk about my experience with how the third phase of the game played out in a recent game and then highlight our concerns about the third phase.

Space Corp is a Euro race game. Between myself and my friend Ben, we have over half a century of gaming experience, and yesterday we sat down to play our third full game of Space Corp. Both of us agree it is an enjoyable game, and we know the rules well enough that there were no concerns that we had made any tiny rules errors. We were playing the full game, and we started off with some tight plays leading to an almost equal point level on entering the third era. Let me outline the game board state for you and then I’ll discuss our issue with the game.

Playing the full scenario saw both players at the end of the second era at identical points. We both had about 3 upgrade cards (Adaptations/Breakthroughs) and while I had mainly first era cards in my tableau, my opponent Ben had been busy upgrading to second tier cards in his tableau in order to get that “achievement” unlock when you have 3 non-start cards in your tableau. If I had to guess, I would have said that the advantage going into the final era was to Ben, as his Infra abilities out-stripped my own. My advantages going into the final era was I had scooped the First Beyond and Ben had the Second Beyond tokens. Our positions seem about even, wouldn’t you say? Neither of us would have anticipated the score beating that was about to occur.

My first action in the third era was to explore my new star system. If you recall, when you have the First Beyond token, you start with one of your away teams already at a new star system. There is only one “Primary” slot on this system, so the difference between First Beyond and Second Beyond doesn’t seem that great as the Second Beyond player has an away team in transit on another star system. I explore my new system, but I had the tech that allows me to look at two “Primary” tiles and then choose one. I lucked into an Alien tile, the Introvs. This gave me some tech bumps, and I was able to grab another Breakthrough that allowed an Away team to move to another star system. A lucky tile draw to be sure, but again, this didn’t seem that extreme of a start to Ben and I. But we were wrong.

As the game progressed, it became more and more clear to us that there was no way for Ben to catch up to me now with such an epic start. We both were playing that same as we had, with tight card plays, and a good grasp of strategy. My strategy at this point was to keep my start systems at different levels of development so that I could take advantage of my hand and either build in one space, explore in the other, etc. without having too many down turns. Eventually I had about 9 Breakthrough/Adaptations, 4 colonies on the board to Ben’s 1, and was working on my 5th star system, to Ben’s second. I had nearly caught up to Ben’s victory point marker, almost lapping him, when we decided to call the game since I was in line to take almost all the remaining achievements and there was no physical way for Ben to catch up to my score.

Every once in a while you get thrashed in a game. This happens to us all, and it can make for some memorable plays and some “remember when…” moments down the road. My concern with Space Corp is that this is the third time the game has played out this way. One player staying one step ahead of the other, leading to a point blow-out in the third phase, while up to that point the game was quite equal. I suppose the argument could be made that this is unusual and that playing more times will even out the variance, but I’m concerned because in each of three games, this exact same problem has occurred each time. I’m curious about other players’ experiences and if anyone else has noticed this issue. Like I said, both Ben and I like the game, but if this keeps up, we are going to develop a negative attitude towards it, and it’ll will begin to languish on the shelf like too many of my other games. Thanks for reading and please let me know about your own experiences in the comments.
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Here the truceless armies yet / Trample, rolled in blood and sweat; / They kill and kill and never die; / And I think that each is I. // None will part us, none undo / The knot that makes one flesh of two, /
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Yes, the 3rd era offers opportunities for scoring many points (more than the previous 2 eras), and you have to be prepared to take advantages of the possibilities there. I've learned to play this better after my first few games with this in mind, and optimize my technology & cards accordingly.

There's more to this game than first impressions, and I'll keep playing it to see which strategies work best. So far, I enjoy the challenge, but I can see how clever players can run away with the lead. They certainly beat me this way.
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Mark Buckley
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The last time we played (with 4) in the Second Era I got both the 1st and 2nd Beyond markers. Score ran away. Next time the same person will not be getting both!
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A L
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"I play to win, as much or more than any egoist who thinks he's going to win by other means. I want to win the match. But I don't give in to tactical reasoning as the only way to win, rather I believe that efficacy is not divorced from beauty."
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David Ells wrote:

There's more to this game than first impressions,


Care to elaborate?
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Here the truceless armies yet / Trample, rolled in blood and sweat; / They kill and kill and never die; / And I think that each is I. // None will part us, none undo / The knot that makes one flesh of two, /
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Sick with hatred, sick with pain, / Strangling -- When shall we be slain? // When shall I be dead and rid / Of the wrong my father did? / How long, how long, till spade and hearse / Puts to sleep my mother's curse?
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HarlemMimeSchool wrote:
David Ells wrote:

There's more to this game than first impressions,


Care to elaborate?


My first impression was that it was an easy, straightforward Euro in Space, more fun than deep. I tend to be wary of such games, but I am a fan of John H. Butterfield's games, so I hoped to give the game its due and play it enough before I could see how I liked it.

Also, I've played High Frontier (in each edition, plus the expansions), and I really like that game. HF has an Intersteller solo-only post-game, where you can use your existing patent card technologies to see how well they will (space)fare there.

Well, SpaceCorp has enough challenge for me in terms of gameplay, strategy and (what little I know of) realism & hard science fiction vs. space travel. It has just enough of the latter to keep me interested and see how it might predict possibly intersteller space travel, while we see what our existing technology offers us as we transition from Era 1 into Era 2.
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M St
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Bigguyry wrote:
I’m curious about other players’ experiences and if anyone else has noticed this issue.

I have, and at this point I'm willing to entertain the notion of playing SpaceCorp solo for the challenge, but I don't think I want to play it face-to-face. This is not a question of the depth of gameplay (sure there are complex strategies), but the degree of immersion relative to the degree of randomness. In this Spacecorp is different from High Frontier, which has such depth in the subject that I'm willing to continue playing even as I'm losing because the challenge lies in putting together particular solutions. Here there's too much importance just in drawing the right cards.
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Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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Bigguyry wrote:
Space Corp is a Euro race game.

I think the random tile draw, which has huge knock-on effects in the game, is a bit part of why this game, while drawing from the Euro tradition, is not firmly in that genre. The random tile draw is greatly exacerbated in the third era, and part of the reason why I like to play just the first two.

I actually don't think the randomness of the cards is that bad, there is more mitigation for that than the tiles.
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Ryan Bigelow
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I guess I'm mostly interested in people's experiences in the third era. If you wouldn't mind, can we keep this discussion on track?
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OK, to be specific my own defining Third Era experience was getting dead-ended on movement multiplier cards so that everyone else (in a four-player game) had both teams in other star systems while I was still hanging around on Earth, with cards that I had to burn to even conduct research again (because I had conducted more research in the hope of finally getting a decent movement multiplier together) - or using services to try and catch up, which meant handing even more cards to the other players who were already far ahead of me. The limited number of paths meant that the only systems that didn't have someone ahead of me there were the harder to reach ones, which exacerbated the lack of movement cards.
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Robert Woodward
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Bigguyry wrote:
I guess I'm mostly interested in people's experiences in the third era. If you wouldn't mind, can we keep this discussion on track?

I have only been playing the solo game. Right now, I am in the middle of an experiment. I had finished the Planteers era with what I thought was a respectable position; recorded everything and played Starfarers from that over and over again (yes, I reshuffled both decks, even trying to separate cards that were played together in the Starfarers deck). My starting position is:
1) 2 Adaption cards - Low body mass and Radiation Resistant; 1 Breakthrough - Quantum Mechanics
2) Survey Drones, Micro Mesh, Open Gas Core Nuclear Drive in the Infra
3) 1 Genetics point
4) Profit is 30T
5) 1st Beyond

The competition has
1) 2 adaptation cards - Energy Efficient and Radiation Resistant; 1 Breakthrough - Probe Network
2) Profit is 37T

(Edit note: I forgot to mention the contract status):

Contract 1 was fulfilled in the Planeteers era; Contracts 2 and 3 had not been fulfilled; Contract 4 was fulfilled in the Mariners era, Contracts 5, 6, and 7 had been fulfilled in the Planeteers era.

I have done four games so far. So far I have won 2 games (margins of 31T and 19T) and lost 2 games (margins of 10T and 17T). I scored as much as 102T in the Starfarers era and as little as 21T (I was hosed with Offers in that one, there were only 25 competition cards played, BTW). One game ended with 6 contracts claimed, the other 3 ended with the Starfarers deck emptied.
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M St
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Good point. I should note that in that game I mentioned I got First Beyond in Mariners and ended Planeteers with lead in points, so it was not as if my Infra etc. seemed to place me at a disadvantage at that point.
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Ryan Bigelow
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That's some awesome dedication! Not sure if solo and multiplayer are inter-changable but I think your comments hi-light that there IS some high randomness and variance in the third age. Thanks for sharing!
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Robert Woodward
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Bigguyry wrote:
That's some awesome dedication! Not sure if solo and multiplayer are inter-changable but I think your comments hi-light that there IS some high randomness and variance in the third age. Thanks for sharing!


I did 3 more retries of the Starfarer's era. I won all 3; Starfarers profit for me was 60T, 85T, and 68T; the competition's profit was 23T, 46T, and 32T.

In Game 4, the competition had 9 offers in 25 cards played; in game 5, 10 offers in 28 cards; in game 6, 9 in 33 cards, and in game 7, 9 in 38 cards (which is just under average).

The game I scored 102T in the Starfarers era started off with a bang when I drew Alien Contact, followed by Minds at Alpha Centauri (I built a research base and took a Revelation point which gave me the Entangled Transmission breakthrough - I picked up a genetics point several turns later which gave me the Starchild adaption). I picked up my 7th progress card with the Leak Edge. I wasn't counting the number of competition offers cards in the first 3 games, but I don't believe that game had very many. All, in all, that game had to be an outlier.
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Mike Whittemore
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I just played my first game, solo, but playing four players instead of the solo game. Obviously one game is not enough to say anything but I figured I'd chime in.

I felt the game was balanced overall. For much of the game blue was far in the lead and purple was trailing the others by a huge margin. But in the end, they were all within about fifteen points of each other, with 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place being very close.

There was a point I asked myself "what the heck is wrong with purple". I studied the situation and decided it just couldn't compete with the others in terms of a lot of moving/exploring/building. So I switched their focus to a smaller footprint but grabbing and playing production cards as much as possible. They eventually rejoined the pack to finish respectably. This is just one example where I felt I had flexibility in changing course.

My play of the 3rd era probably took as much time as the 1st and 2nd era combined. Not having played before I couldn't tell who was doing better or worse, but I felt everyone had a decent chance at the win. A few players were able to be first to the center of multiple 2 or 3 discovery systems but they took longer to exploit them, so the others were able to build in more though less valuable systems.

One strategy I found useful: always be scoring. Contracts are great but I suspect it's often better to just find discoveries as fast as possible and to produce with refineries.

My group is going to play this next week so we'll see how my second play goes...
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Ryan Bigelow
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Thanks for adding to the conversation. I like that there was some flexibility of strategy there. When we play different position s solo, there is often an overlap of strategy (i.e. it's the same person! ) So I'd love to hear about your experience in the third era after a multi-player game. Glad that you didn't notice an imbalance in the third age yet. Let us know how it goes and if you want the game to hit the table again, take advice from a poster above who said getting 1st AND 2nd beyond led to some crazy advantages. You don't want to win but such a margin that no-one will play with you again (looks longingly at my dusty copy of 1846 rotting on the game shelf).
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Marty Sample
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MikeWhit wrote:


One strategy I found useful: always be scoring. Contracts are great but I suspect it's often better to just find discoveries as fast as possible and to produce with refineries.



Produce can be powerful, but if all you find are P0 worlds, or only a single P1 ( turned into P2 w/Refinery ) you need to change course IMO. I think unless your average Produce Action activates 2-3 tiles at once at P2 or higher, its not that efficient. If you don't find many P rated tiles, its likely those worlds instead have decent Genetics/Revelation icons. Coupled with Research/Bio bases, you can rack up a lot of Progress cards which not only give bonus T, but enhance your capabilities to do other things as well as fulfill contracts.
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Mike Whittemore
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Reporting back after my first face-to-face play. One of our group had to cancel so it was only a 3-player game. We all really enjoyed it. I had a decent lead in Era 1 and extended that to a fairly large lead in Era 2. I definitely chalked this up to me having already solo played the 4-player game and my opponents having never played.

While I still won the game in Era 3, the margin was not by much. This era really seemed to be an equalizer. Since I was leading, my opponents each made strategic grabs for the advances that place a team right onto a star - in systems that I had just moved into. These were great moves and really hampered my ability to grab good systems. I ended up with 3 mediocre systems while they had all the others. In fact, I believe one of them had pretty much closed the point gap with me.

Unfortunately for them, my ace in the hole was my two P3 factories and 6 points worth of production in my hand. I cranked that 3x in a row as my last 3 actions and they didn't have time to catch up from that rapid point grab.

So... I didn't see any balance issues other than I had an edge from having played before. Our group always says the first game is to learn, the second to play, so next time I'll be on the losing end.
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