I'll think of something witty to put here...
I have known for quite a while that PR plays well with 3 or 4, and not so well with 5, although I’ve not been able to put my finger on why. It feels like the games was designed to be played with 3-4 players, but at the last minute the publishers decided to extend the game to 5.
After playing it today I am in a better position to articulate what it is I don’t like about the 5-player version, and the short answer is chaos.
(Note that PR doesn’t play badly with 5, per se, it just drops from being a 9 or 10 in my ratings (being one of my current favourites) to about a 7 or a 6.5. So I’d still rather play 5 player PR than anything sold in Toys R Us or WHS etc., or quite a few other games.)
Here’s a rough description of the game from my perspective. I sat in the 2nd seat. I didn’t win the game- I finished on 28 points, and the winner got about 38(ish), I either ended in 3rd or 4th place- I don’t remember.
Towards the end of the game I was I producing 1 coffee, 1 sugar, 1-2 indigo, 3-4 corn. I had 1 quarry. (A second would have been nice but by no means essential.) This gave me lots of flexibility on what to put in the trading house and a bunch of corn/indigo to get shipping points. The trading house was very slow. I only managed 2 trades in the whole game (corn for 1 and coffee for 6). The ships were busy, as you’d expect. The player to my right (Andy) produced tobacco, and Sam (to my left) produced coffee. All looks good so far…
My buildings, in order (approx):
1. Small market- (cost 1) which I only managed to use once (late in the game) for an additional income of …one.
2. Small warehouse – I was terrified of being screwed over by the captain so it was a choice of buy this earlier than I want to or not get it at all. I paid 3 full coins here which is what slowed down my coffee roaster. (which came a turn or two later than I’d have liked also due to the plantation draws- I didn’t know if I’d need coffee or tobacco)
3. Small indigo- for my starting plantation. Saved money.
4. Coffee Roaster. Yay! I had a manned quarry by this point (also much later than I wanted)
5. Small sugar. Diversity is good. As I was late in affording my cash crop I decided against the factory
6. Large Indigo (I drew an extra indigo tile I had no choice over so I bought it a large indigo plant to get some use from it- but I only paid one coin due to builder + quarry, and the 2 points was mainly what I was buying it for)
7. Random cheap building (hacienda I think- bought it late on for the +1VP- never manned)
8. Guild hall- bought on final turn, never manned as the mayor had gone, but I had the money and it was better than nothing. If my coffee roaster hadn’t been so late I would probably have had it manned in time, but hey ho, that’s how it goes…
But here’s the thing: I know I played pretty well. I can’t see many major decisions that I got wrong. I got a small market when I’d likely have been better off with a construction hut or hacienda but that’s about it- and I didn’t know the trading house was going to be so slow. I’m not saying every tiny tactical decision was optimal- I think my role selection was maybe 90% as good as what it could have been.
Don’t get me wrong- even in normal PR you can play a perfect game and still lose because of the actions of other players- and I don’t mind that. It’s not “bad luck” since everything happens for a reason -someone made it happen.
The only luck is in your start position and the settler plantation draws. Even the player added chaos doesn’t add much more than plus or minus a few points on what you earned by yourself (assuming everyone knows roughly what they’re doing and there isn’t some fool who chooses the craftsman every single turn).
However in 5 player PR there is so much scarcity that it is easy to be on the crappy end of the stick a lot of the time without anyone really planning it, and with no means of avoiding it. That crap can mean plus/minus 8-10 points (my guesstimate), which is a lot considering a winning score is around 40. For example:
There are still only 3 boats with 5 islands worth of production trying to fit on, so it’s harder to ship. Same with the trading house- 5 sellers and only 4 spaces. Some people get to do trades more often because of the sequence that the roles come around in. It is harder to get a quarry when you want one because the settler is likely to have gone before you have a shot at it. The component limit (barrels) becomes very relevant, especially when those large ships are partially full. …).
The mayor is more likely to be lop-sided, so some people get only 1 tourist, some get 2. If you’re the person who gets one a few times, you’ll fall behind. Running out of important violet buildings (this didn’t affect me but it will have affected others), also the production buildings can run out, although you can plan for the building scarcity sine you have a free choice (assuming you managed to trade and get your quarries, and get them manned. The craftsman becomes even more suicidal as there are now four people acting before you on trader or captain (instead of three) when you pick it.
You have no control over whether someone on the opposite side of the table picks a certain role or not. I know that’s true with other numbers, but with 5 it’s much worse.
By comparison in the 3 or 4 player game, the 1st player would get a modest privilege, and the others get a roughly even benefit from most roles, depending on the role (at least amongst experienced players). No-one would be screwed enormously.
In 5 player, players can repeatedly get shut out of trading, shipping, workers, quarries etc., repeatedly and it takes 25 actions for the governor to come back round compared to 16 (>50% more), so any counter measures take longer to respond.
Anyway, comments and questions welcome. If you can tell me if there’s something obvious I have missed that I should have done differently please tell me. If I’m over estimating the impact of chaos- I’d love nothing more than for it to be me that was at fault not the game so I can try a different approach.
Basically I think your right, in 5 player PR you have a lot less control over your own fate than in the 3 and 4 player games. To play well it becomes even more important to consider the likely order of role selections from the other players after your various role and building choices. Most importantly you need to see ahead of time if situations are arising where there could be a run of crafting followed by captain/trader that will end up with you being shut out of boats or the trading house and if so trying to alter the course somehow or alleviate the damage ahead of time – sometimes it just doesn’t seem possible to do so. I still enjoy 5 player PR – you just have to go with the ride and do the best you can.
It is hard to comment on whether you could have played your particular position better based on just the building choices/order, but I’ll hazard a couple of comments:
- Small Market can be a great value building but as Seat2 I’m starting to think its not a great choice as you are unlikely to pick Mayor in the first couple of turns. If you pick settler on 2nd turn you also have a quarry to man which will probably take precedence. Basically SM can go unmanned for some time.
- Small Warehouse. Yes one of my favourites too, but I don’t usually buy it before I get my first production building even if you think this means you may miss out on it. Sounds as though it severely delayed you in your Coffee production.
- Late game Large Indigo Plant and other cheap building. If you had forgone these and focused on money roles would you have been able to get your big building any earlier and hence manned?
To answer your question whether 5 player PR is worth playing then I’d answer yes if you’re happy to play a game where there is an interesting flow but you sometimes only have limited ability to affect that flow. It can be frustrating at times and a lot can happen in between you role choices (especially just after being Governor when you have to wait 8 more choices until you select again). For these reasons I find 5 player PR slightly less intense than 3 and 4 player PR and maybe this is why I enjoy playing it every so often.