I originally posted this as a GeekJournal and was encouraged to post it here, so here goes:
I played Anno 1503 for the first (and second) time last weekend, and I really liked the basic structure of the game. I especially liked the victory conditions which allow players to win in multiple ways. One can forego exploration of the seas and only develop his city, sail the seas in search of outposts, treasure, and trade agreements with minimal building, or try for a middle-ground strategy.
I also like the flow of the game and the way the game mechanics match the exploration theme (i.e. the islands get "discovered" and subsequent players have to go farther to explore new islands, the first to build get first pick of buildings, etc.). The game really makes the player feel as if she is competing with other explorers.
But the thing I hate about the game (and about most similar games) is that a die is used to determine who gets which commodities. I think Anno's system is light years better than Settlers of Catan's, but if any player gets a significant run of die rolls that allow him to have his choice of commodities, he can run away with the game. This happened in both of our games.
So my question is this: has anyone tried using a dice deck or other method of evening out the luck of the roll in Anno? I'm not talking about eliminating randomness altogether. I'm fine with a game being somewhat unpredictable (Ra is my favorite game), but I don't like games where a run of good luck is impossible to counter.
The game of Anno that I won went that way. My opponents were all skilled players, and they all played very well tactically and strategically. I can't see that they made any mistakes that I didn't make myself. But because I had my "?" commodity come up a lot I was always just one step ahead. And as I said before, being one step ahead is crucial to success in Anno. So if the only thing crucial to success is determined by luck, I think the game is flawed.
In the end, I was the only one to have even two victory conditions, nevermind all three. Another player was absolutely wiped out of the game by two consecutive pirate attacks. You might say he should have bought the anti-pirate building, but then he could have been wiped out by fire: the game simply does not allow for any strategy that cannot be thwarted by luck. The question then becomes: can we mitigate the luck and retain the essence of the game? I like this game but cannot handle the swings of luck. Does anyone else share my concerns here?
Re:Reducing the luck factor
I think you're right in saying that there is a fair amount of luck.
There is some luck in the dice roll, but there is some luck in the sea board too, both in the location of the good tiles, and in the eventual content of the tile set which gets placed (i.e. how many branch offices and how many treaties are not placed). So managing the dice luck doesn't solve all the problem. I'd rather just accept the game as is, as a medium-weight strategy game with some luck.
There are some ways to manage one's luck. If one is ahead, he can place a useful island at the same number as the opponent's "?", so that the opponent cannot run away with good rolls. If one is behind, he does the opposite, thus giving himself the chance of catching up when the dice favor him and not his opponent.
If I want a game with less luck, there are always plenty of other choices: PR, Yinsh, Magna Grecia, Bridges of Shangri-La, Dos Rios, Shadow of the Emperor, etc. Or even Dragonland.