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Maharaja: The Game of Palace Building in India» Forums » General

Subject: Impression / Opinion about Raja rss

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Pierce Ostrander
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I posted this in response to a geeklist, but decided to also post it here - because it seemed appropriate.

Maharaja is definitely Hot!

I don't see Maharaja primarily as a "gamers game" in the Puerto Rico / Goa / PoF sense. When I hear “gamers game” I think of games that have so much going on that a novice player cannot possibly grasp the mechanics without a demonstration, and cannot play fluidly (not necessarily competently, which is a different thing altogether) without practice. Those games take real commitment - you need to play them many times just to sort out what everything does and how it works together to make a game.

Maharaja is not like that at all. You choose two of about 7 or 8 different possible actions at the beginning of each turn. You have character cards that give you a bonus. Other than that, you just move from city to city and build palaces and or houses. The cities are scored in a generally predictable order that can be fiddled with (slightly!) by the players, but only at the cost of forgoing one of their two precious actions per turn. Remember, there are only about 15-20 actions per player per game, 7 of which must be used to build palaces, so the remaining number of actions are precious. It is all very simple. If someone has read the rules carefully a couple of times (which by the way are very clearly written) then you should have no problem playing it correctly right out of the box.

There is an element of bluff (outguessing your opponents), there is movement, there is "outfoxing" and there is taking calculated risks. I think the people that don't like this game dislike uncertainty and like to be in complete control (boooooorrrrinnng... if you ask me). This game has been unfairly labeled as prone to "analysis paralysis" by some - but I would say exactly the opposite - both empirically and logically. You only have two actions per turn. There are a limited number of choices. There is a lot of unknown information (how much money your opponents have and what they will do with their actions). Because the actions are chosen at the beginning of the turn simultaneously, everyone is thinking at the same time and the turns execute quickly because plans are already made. It has tonnes of player interaction. It is elegantly simple, with manageable strategic and tactical complexity, with lots of fun characteristics thrown in! These elements have made games "fun" and popular for centuries (uncertainty, tension, risk, outfoxing, movement etc.). This game is a sleeper classic. It is hard for me to describe in words how much this game has captured my interest affection. Maharaja is truly great game!
 
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Peter Donnelly
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Re:Impression / Opinion about Raja
fubar awol (#48030),

I agree with much of what you say, but don't you think there is a bit of a runaway leader problem? As Rick Heli says (http://spotlightongames.com/list/nights/r.html#raja), "it is very difficult for trailing players to cooperate on how to stop a leader and there is no other catch-up mechanism. This can even lead to the situation, unusual for a Kramer game, that a player can be proven the winner turns before the game is supposed to be over."
 
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Chris Farrell
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Re:Impression / Opinion about Raja
I definitely found a runaway leader problem when we first played with 3. It seemed substantially less of a problem when we played with 4 and knew more what we were doing, though.

So I dunno. It seems the problem isn't so great because the VP rewards (palaces) are not the best income generators. So it seems like it's not simply a game of making money and then reinvesting in VPs that incidentally make even more money which translates directly in VPs, it's about allocating the money you have wisely to various infrastructure bits, some of which make money, some of which provide positional advantage, and some of which are worth VPs (and can make a little money, of course). Players who make investment mistakes early will get whacked, but the game isn't that long, and that hardly seems to me like a very serious flaw for a middle-weight game. I mean, Puerto Rico is much, much worse in this respect.

I'm somewhere between Rick and the mainstream on this one. I like it better than Rick did, but not as much as the average rating
 
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upandawaygames.com
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Re:Impression / Opinion about Raja
With this one, it's possible that the company whose name, after all, is Phalanx, intends that we discard our German-style gaming reticence and resume the kind of full scale table talk we practiced in our early war gaming days. That might solve a lot.


 
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Re:Impression / Opinion about Raja
fubar awol (#48030),

I agree that this is a great game.

But I disagree with you in one respect - it IS extremely prone to analysis paralysis...bourne by the fact that each action is so precious and the consequences of a poor move can be so humbling.

 
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Pierce Ostrander
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Re:Impression / Opinion about Raja
fubar awol (#48030),

Analysis Paralysis - My article was running a little long, so I left this out: During a recent play, the player in our group who is the slowest (usually) had no problem keeping apace with the rest of the group. So, our most analysis paralysis prone player had no problem. Additionally, as I described in my article, with the simultaneous action choices, "down time" is limited. There is no way someone can put this game on the level of Tikal in that regard...

Play it and see.
 
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Pierce Ostrander
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Re:Impression / Opinion about Raja
fubar awol (#48030),

Is there a runaway leader problem?

I haven’t played enough to make a definitive statement one way or the other, but based on the rules and my limited play it doesn’t seem likely.

A game with a runaway leader problem rewards early success with material or position that gives a player an inordinate advantage over her fellows, thus making her difficult if not impossible to catch. Games SHOULD reward good play with improved position. The key is to ensure that an advantage (especially an early advantage) is not insurmountable by the other players if they play well and the leader plays less well.

The “runaway leader” has an inverse: the “leader bashing” problem. A game can go too far to avoid the former and end up with the latter. A good game will avoid both extremes. To avoid the “leader bashing” problem, a game needs to make it difficult or counter productive for the other players to easily gang up on the leader and knock them out of contention.

I think Maharaja avoids both extremes, but let me limit this note to why I think the design mitigates the “runaway” problem.

1. The reward of success is money: and money allows you to build. If you have more money you will be more able to build your 7 palaces more rapidly. However, the fact that a certain player has the most money does not guarantee that that player will be in the best position to score higher in the next cities and therefore get more money again. In order to get the best score in the next city, the player must choose a combination of actions that cause them to get to the next scoring city first, or have a character in their possession that improves the scoring value of palaces that are built after the first one. Money does not necessarily help you do this. Each player still has only 2 actions, regardless of how much money they have, and therefore, are on relatively equal footing when it comes to setting themselves up for future scoring (and its monetary reward!).

2. Rewards are incremental: the amount of money rewarded is not directly proportional to how far ahead you are in the game. If a player wins a city by one point or ten, he still only gets 12 coins, the second place player still gets 9, the third place player 6 and the fourth place player 4 (in the four-player game). The difference in total coins received between first and second place is only 3. And since the number of actions are limited, winning by “too much” sets you back because you “wasted” an action that could have been used to put you in a better position for the next city’s scoring round.

3. If you are rich, and are therefore building a palace every turn (which requires the use of one of your two precious actions), then you as a matter of course are NOT doing other actions (like swapping characters, changing the governor order, bringing in new houses from supply, building houses (which is cheep!), moving houses etc.) All these non-palace building actions are free, or nearly free. Therefore players without money are still able to do an awful lot to improve there position and hamper the position of others. The potential would also exist for players to cooperate to hamper the progress of the leader, perhaps by making it expensive to move (building houses along a route before the leader can), stealing her character or altering the governor order.

So, in summary, this is not necessarily a game where “the rich get richer” and “the poor get poorer” as a matter of course. There are mechanisms that mitigate against this result. It is difficult for the players to gang up on the leader (which is good) but it is not impossible. I can imagine ways for the other players to work together that would make life difficult for the leader.



 
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Jim Cote
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Re:Impression / Opinion about Raja
fubar awol (#48282),

Nice post. Well thought out.
 
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Rene Wiersma
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Re:Impression / Opinion about Raja
fubar awol (#48282),

Nice post, and I agree with most points. However, I do want to point out that building the central palace is a very efficient way of generating money. If you can build the first central palace, you are in a good position to score the most money on the first round and be the first one to be able to build a second central palace and score the most points and gain the most money again, etc.

However, if the other players play well, they will quickly occupy central palace spots in other cities. That should delay the influx of income for the "leader" long enough for him to make mistakes or for the other players to make clever moves and be able to catch up. For example, if the "leader" neglects to build an efficient network of roads, that could break him up later in the game, despite the early influx of income.

So, does the game have a run-away leader problem? I would say "no". However, the player who wins the first scoring round does have a bit of a headstart. Then again, Maharaja is such a tight game that a small mistake might cost the "leader" the game, despite having a headstart.
 
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Pierce Ostrander
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Re:Impression / Opinion about Raja
fubar awol (#48030),

Actually, Building a central palace is an inefficient way of generating points (from a strictly economic point of view) instead, build three houses - at a cost of 1 coin per. worth 3 points. same as a central palace which costs 12 to build and scores only 3 points. Or better yet, move in some houses and spend no money!

One of the ways that poor players can use actions to catch up. There are so many cool aspects here that we haven't begun to explore (or at least I haven't!) that I'm not sure any of us can make blanket statements.
 
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Randall Peek
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Re:Impression / Opinion about Raja
In a recent game that I was in, a player began with the Mogul and moved into a city ahead of everyone else, traded characters for the Artisan to build a discounted center palace and then smugly moving on to the next city. The following three players all scored more points in that city, with one having the Sadhu and an outer palace, another with an outer palace, a house, and the architect, and the last with the builder and a whopping four houses! The first player was stuck in the next city with practically no cash and a late placement in the next city! The central palace is nice, but no game-buster.
 
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Jim Cote
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Re:Impression / Opinion about Raja
Given the discussion in this topic, I have to ask: Do you have to build the central palace first in an empty city? Can you choose to build one of the outside ones?
 
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Michael Van Biesbrouck
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Re:Impression / Opinion about Raja
ekted (#48382),

The rules do not forbid you from building an outside palace first. Under especially unusual circumstances it might actually help you win.
 
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