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Subject: Variants for Emperor's Reward cards rss

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J C Lawrence
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Originally posted on my blog at Variant: Draughting Emperor’s Reward Cards in Confucius.

Alan Paull’s otherwise excellent game, Confucius. can seem overly chaotic as the Emperor’s Reward cards start being played late in the game. Ben Keightly and I have discussed this on #bgdf_chat:

[2008-10-01/11:30] clearclaw I am building a bureaucratic
force of extraordinary magnitude


[2008-10-01/11:31] cocadieta Neat, that was the game I played
last night.

[2008-10-01/11:32] cocadieta For my last action I got to
choose whether J R or Dave won.

[2008-10-01/11:33] clearclaw Hehn.

[2008-10-01/11:33] clearclaw I'd love to talk more but have to
run. Back in ~45 probably.

[2008-10-01/11:39] sedjtroll So does Confucius often come down
to such a kingmaker decision?

[2008-10-01/11:39] cocadieta It's easy for it to.

[2008-10-01/11:40] cocadieta This is the first time I've seen
it quite so clearly, but there was nothing terribly special about
this game (other than three new players).

[2008-10-01/11:40] sedjtroll Oh. lame

[2008-10-01/11:46] clearclaw No, in this case that's a
positive quality

[2008-10-01/11:46] clearclaw The entire game is about creating
tied situations.

[2008-10-01/11:46] clearclaw A kingmaker position is merely an
instance of a tied situation.

[2008-10-01/11:47] cocadieta That's how I looked at it. Two
players won. That I had to 'pick' between them isn't really
important.

[2008-10-01/11:47] clearclaw Quite.

[2008-10-01/11:48] cocadieta The money isn't too lucky but the
bonus cards are.

[2008-10-01/11:48] clearclaw If there had been an incentive
created by one of the players for you to go one way or ther other it
would have been more interesting. This was just the degenerate
case.

[2008-10-01/11:48] clearclaw Aye, the Emperor's reward cards
are swingy

[2008-10-01/11:48] clearclaw What complaints I have centre
there.

[2008-10-01/11:49] cocadieta In last night's game, I had a 30%
chance of pulling a card worth 8 points to me (!!!)

[2008-10-01/11:49] clearclaw They're hard to remove cleanly

[2008-10-01/11:49] clearclaw Wowzers.

[2008-10-01/11:49] clearclaw I've not looked hard at the
distribution.

[2008-10-01/11:50] cocadieta The situation was: Hoju was about
to resolve and I saw my position there go from a very safe second to
an impossible-to-fix third.

[2008-10-01/11:51] cocadieta I ran my boats out to Africa and
picked up a bonus card. If it was the Hoju bribery card or one of
the two wilds, I could have knocked someone out and gone back to
second. The VPs in the region were 8/8; I had two markers and a gift
invested in the region.

[2008-10-01/11:51] cocadieta Brutal, but then again, them's
the breaks.

[2008-10-01/11:52] clearclaw Yow. Those forced minister cards
are (overly?) brutal.

[2008-10-01/11:52] clearclaw They haven't determined one of
our games yet but they've come close.

[2008-10-01/11:52] clearclaw They make the navies far more
viable than they appear at first glance,.

[2008-10-01/11:53] cocadieta I'm happy to accept them as
swingy, and also I realize I have to revise my line that the bonus
cards are worth about a point or two each.

[2008-10-01/11:53] clearclaw I think I'd prefer the game
without the Emperor's Reward cards, I see them as something to be
polished out, but they are tightly married to the rest of the
system.

[2008-10-01/11:58] cocadieta I like them though I know why you
aren't crazy about them. I wonder what it would do to the game to
keep them face up and let players pick them.

[2008-10-01/11:58] clearclaw Or perhaps a narrow draught pool.
*THAT* would be interesting!

[2008-10-01/11:58] clearclaw (and face up when drawn)


[2008-10-01/11:59] clearclaw (unless drawn blind?)

[2008-10-01/11:59] cocadieta There are always two cards
available, that kind of thing?

[2008-10-01/11:59] clearclaw Yes.

[2008-10-01/12:00] clearclaw Aside: In our last game we had a
player do 15 fleets at once.

[2008-10-01/12:00] cocadieta I like the sound of that. I don't
mind the chaos and the huge swinginess of the cards--I think that's
perfectly in line with the insane swings that e.g. the students can
have on the game--but the blind draws and secret holdings are maybe
a little much.

[2008-10-01/12:00] cocadieta That's great!

[2008-10-01/12:01] clearclaw Aye. I do like the draught pool
idea.

[2008-10-01/12:01] clearclaw I'll try and write that up later
as a proposal.

[2008-10-01/12:01] * clearclaw will probably dig lightly at
Faidutti.

[2008-10-01/12:01] cocadieta Ha, ha

[2008-10-01/12:02] clearclaw Undoubtedly he likes the chaos.
His style.

[2008-10-01/12:02] cocadieta Yeah, absolutely.

[2008-10-01/12:02] clearclaw This variant will lead directly
away from that quality.

[2008-10-01/12:02] clearclaw I expect it will be accused of
attempting to turn the game into something that it isn't.

[2008-10-01/12:25] cocadieta J C, will your ego be bruised if
I type up that variant as part of a reply to J R's report?

[2008-10-01/12:26] sedjtroll I think JC's ego is impervious

[2008-10-01/12:51] clearclaw I am currently in the process of
putting that variant into an OtherWise post which will be
cross-posted to BGG as a variant proposal

[2008-10-01/12:53] clearclaw Outside of that yes, my ego will
not be bruised.

[2008-10-01/12:53] cocadieta I mentioned the variant in J R's
report. If you'd like I'd be happy to credit it to you as well, it
just didn't seem worth it.

[2008-10-01/12:53] clearclaw I'm not overly worried.

[2008-10-01/12:53] clearclaw (or underly)


Ben’s post to BoardGameGeek:

Ben Keightley wrote:
I really love this game, and I think navigating its insane chaos is a very unusual challenge. I agree that the luck of the money draw really just means players need to be prepared to spend only a little or a lot on any given turn, and there are plenty of cheap as well as expensive things to buy. Poor planning will make anyone susceptible to bad card draws, but a versatile board position and gift pool should ensure that you always have something to do.

After last night’s game, my new feeling is that the bonus cards are a little too lucky. Chaos is the order of the day here, but it’s basically ‘fair’ chaos: I have, at every moment, a very good overview of everyone’s position and incentives (to borrow a word–hi, J C). That is, except for bonus cards, which are hugely variable in worth to every player, randomly drawn, and secretly held. I love the swinginess of the cards, I love the chaos they create, but I don’t appreciate their random draw.

Proposed variant: At the beginning of the game, shuffle the cards and keep them face down. Flip over the top two (three?) cards; when a player wins a bonus card, he selects one, keeps it face up in front of him, and flips a new card to replace it. I feel like this would preserve the crazy chaos of the game but continue to allow each player to have a ‘complete’ picture, letting him make more informed decisions. I also don’t think it adds much, if any, complexity to the game.


I followed that with the following post:

clearclaw wrote:
The more I think about this proposal the more I like it. There are a few questions:

* Does the draught pool refill immediately when a card is taken (this is significant for the cases in which players take more than one card with a single action via the navies)
* May a player draw blind?
* Size of the draught pool

I hadn’t thought these through when I proposed the variant on #bgdf_chat. My general view is that the Emperor’s reward cards as currently implemented are unnecessary complication to be polished out by development. I’ve spent a few hours looking at doing that but the cards are tied deeply into the rest of the system and can’t be removed easily without grossly affecting other key game relationships.

The more cards are in the draught pool the higher the probability that one or more of the cards will be specifically useful to any given player. Additionally the exposure of the cards in the draught pool increases their value for the players as they know what they are getting/competing for. There’s also an argument that the card values are decreased because they are also revealed to the other players, however this value change seems small.

Fleets are the only way to acquire multiple cards with a single action. We’ve had players send 15 fleets out in a single action in more than one of our games, thereby taking three cards at once. I strenuously doubt that any player will ever send out 20 fleets with a single action and thus take 4 cards at once. I’m willing to discount that contingency or cover it with a special rule that the last card is blind. 15 fleets is rare enough as to provide a reasonable outer bound.

Allowing the draught pool to immediately fill as cards are drawn allows such a fleet player to benefit from luck of the draw without any foresight by other players. If not a step backward, this is not an improvement.

Blind draws effectively recreate the (overly) chaotic system which we’re trying to address. Blind draws would be better if the drawn card were then revealed by the player, but that’s a band aide atop the problem, not an actual improvement. Of course the player drawing immediately after another player’s draw may also profit from the blind flip as the draught pool is restocked. This could be prevented by also revealing the next N cards which will be put into the draught pool as other cards are taken. I like this idea but am unsure if the complexity is justified.

Initial conclusions:

* Draught pool is three cards wide
* Draught pool is not refilled until after the player’s turn
* Emperor’s Reward cards may only be taken from the face up draught pool
* Players must keep their Emperor’s Reward cards revealed to all players

Possible extension:

* After player turns the draught pool is refilled in order from an additional set of face-up cards


Having thought about it a bit more since that posting, I like the conclusions and extension above. I have yet to play with this variant. I’ll try to get it on the table today.
 
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J C Lawrence
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Building on the previously discussed variant Ben Keightley proposed a twist on #bgdf_chat:

[2008-11-07/14:02] cocadieta JC, you around? I had a flash of
inspiration this afternoon re: Confucius.

[2008-11-07/14:03] cocadieta The bonus card drafting variant
(unplayed!) sounds good but really pushes the main problem further
up the pipe--say two people are in line to run ships out to sea, the
second person could either luck out or get hosed by the card draw.

[2008-11-07/14:04] clearclaw That's why the variant shows the
pipeline of cards as well as the current draft set.

[2008-11-07/14:05] cocadieta Idea: At the beginning of the
game, shuffle the bonus cards and deal five to each side of the
board. The left side are the bonus cards available to military
conquests, the right side to boats.

[2008-11-07/14:05] clearclaw Oh cute!

[2008-11-07/14:07] clearclaw So there's the possibility of
the 6th fleet getting stuck.

[2008-11-07/14:07] clearclaw There are only 3 possible army
cards

[2008-11-07/14:07] cocadieta Nahh, if the stock of 5 runs
out, players can pull from the other side.

[2008-11-07/14:09] clearclaw So players pull any of the face
up 5?

[2008-11-07/14:09] cocadieta Exactly.

[2008-11-07/14:09] * clearclaw ponders.

[2008-11-07/14:09] clearclaw> That makes ER cards FAR more
valuable

[2008-11-07/14:10] cocadieta They're already that valuable,
just at random times.

[2008-11-07/14:11] clearclaw But now it is perfectly
controlled and can be timed to a nicety.

[2008-11-07/14:11] clearclaw In particular it makes the bribe
cards even stronger

[2008-11-07/14:11] cocadieta A game where all of the bribe
cards got dealt to the left of the board would be much different
than a game where they were all dealt to the right. Definitely.

[2008-11-07/14:12] clearclaw Not just that, but the certainty
that you could get the bribe card you wanted exactly when you wanted
it

[2008-11-07/14:17] cocadieta The bribe cards are already the
most valuable cards in the game. It seems inappropriate to hide them
behind random draws of any kind.

[2008-11-07/14:18] clearclaw There's some truth there.


I like this change.
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Ron K
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I very much like the idea of having all the cards set up in a random sequence which is revealed (cards are lined up face up). From this line of revealed cards, the first 3 are used to form the draw (drought) set.

In this way everyone can see what favors are currently available and what favors will become available as the currently available ones are taken. This will lead to maneuvers and action sequencing to get another player to take a favor in order to bring a better one into the draw set.

This complements the overall theme of the game where you're trying to limit the other players options to those that favor you. I'll try this the next time I play.
 
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Benjamin Keightley
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The bonus cards can be individually swingy but more importantly, they're wildly uneven in value. Most importantly, the value of any given card doesn't change that much from player to player, game to game. In other words, the two 'bribe anywhere' cards are almost strictly better than anything else. The bribe cards for particular areas are the only cards with really flexible value.

Just to spell it out: For the two 'bribe anywhere' cards, demand approaches perfect inelasticity for every one of the players. They are amazing and if given free choice, they will be the first cards to go every single time. The free gift, free extra action, and free money cards are in a second tier. The free army and the spend one army to win two points cards are pretty terrible, though the former can be good in certain situations. The values of the three specialized bribe cards are the only ones that will be all over the place from game to game.

The fairly inflexible values of the bonus cards makes a free selection unreasonable. It will lead both to stereotyped play in the beginning of the game and, ironically, too little manual control over ministry resolution. I hoped that splitting the cards into two halves would help, but it doesn't narrow the selection enough to combat the cards' inflexible values.

I keep coming back to the draft pool. With three out of ten cards available and the pipeline completely visible, players will have to make the best out of what's available, but will also be able to anticipate and deal with potential problems. For example, I'm heavily invested in Hoju and only a bribe card can disrupt my position. If I see one coming down the pipe, I have time to either ensure I grab it for myself, abandon ship and focus my efforts elsewhere, or manually bolster my position to dampen the effect of the bribe.

I like this proposed variant a lot. I think it rewards careful timing in a manner consistent with the rest of the game, and surgically removes the game's only unpleasant random factor.
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Seth Jaffee
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Having finally played Confucius I can finally partake in the discussion.

I like the 'deal 5 cards to each side of the board' idea much better than a draft pool, only I think it should be 6 and 3, with an unused card. In fact, I'd like to say there should be more cards (not the bribe ones, but another copy of the others, or a few new ones that are not as strong as the bribe cards) so that the available mix is more different each game (but set at the game start and known). Perhaps just remove one of the 'bribe anywhere' cards every time, since they're ridiculous.

I have only played ounce, and I'm not really sure ANY variant is really necessary... but I need to play again because when the game was explained, I was asked not to look at the cards ahead of time (because people didn't want to wait for me to read them I guess), their action wasn't explained to me, and in fact I was specifically told that the only way an unsecured bribe could be taken over was through the 'Give the Emperor a Gift' action... which is clearly not true. So I (a) stopped going for the race to cards (I could have had an early card if I'd continued that path), and instead got unsecured bribes, which were of course dismantled as soon as another player got a card. Very irritating, so I'd like to play again (sans variant) knowing what the cards do!
 
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J C Lawrence
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sedjtroll wrote:
...I was specifically told that the only way an unsecured bribe could be taken over was through the 'Give the Emperor a Gift' action... which is clearly not true.


The player aid contains a clear list of the actions which can be used to remove gifts. It is on the bottom toward the right side.

Quote:
So I (a) stopped going for the race to cards (I could have had an early card if I'd continued that path), and instead got unsecured bribes, which were of course dismantled as soon as another player got a card. Very irritating, so I'd like to play again (sans variant) knowing what the cards do!


Unsecured officials are usually removed by students, not cards or gifts.
 
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sedjtroll wrote:
I have only played ounce, and I'm not really sure ANY variant is really necessary... but I need to play again because when the game was explained, I was asked not to look at the cards ahead of time (because people didn't want to wait for me to read them I guess), their action wasn't explained to me, and in fact I was specifically told that the only way an unsecured bribe could be taken over was through the 'Give the Emperor a Gift' action... which is clearly not true. So I (a) stopped going for the race to cards (I could have had an early card if I'd continued that path), and instead got unsecured bribes, which were of course dismantled as soon as another player got a card. Very irritating, so I'd like to play again (sans variant) knowing what the cards do!


The interplay of mechanics in this game make for a complex decision tree. I think you need to get in a couple of more games in order to appreciate the merits of each of the favor cards. I do agree that they are not balanced and that is why I suggested an open sequence.
 
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Seth Jaffee
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clearclaw wrote:
sedjtroll wrote:
...I was specifically told that the only way an unsecured bribe could be taken over was through the 'Give the Emperor a Gift' action... which is clearly not true.


The player aid contains a clear list of the actions which can be used to remove gifts. It is on the bottom toward the right side.

I don't know if i read that. I did read the card actions, and they were unclear - it sounded to all of us like you could upgrade your OWN unsecured bribe. Which frankly didn't sound so hot. You can do that as an action anyway. I figured the card was supposed to be a free unsecured bribe, or a free action if you wanted to secure one of your bribes. It wasn't until the card was played that I found out you could secure someone else's bribe. :/

Quote:
Unsecured officials are usually removed by students, not cards or gifts.
Yes, I was aware of that, and played accordingly. I got kicked in the nuts when all of a sudden a card wrecked my house when I not only didn't know it could, but was under the impression that it could not.
 
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Neil Christiansen
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Someone should design a game aid that has the 3-card drought and a 2 card pipeline!
 
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Curt Carpenter
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Just for a data point. I also didn't really like the idea of drawing totally blind. We tried a pool of two to choose from, with the next card to become available face up. This seemed to work well.
 
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Chris Shaffer
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Perhaps you could simplify the description of the variant and state it in terms of basic rules? It's hard to read the dialogue above and figure out exactly what is being proposed.

On another note, if bribery cards are too powerful, why not handle them like Die Macher? Instead of paying to replace, pay double with one payment going to the player who is kicked out and one payment going to the bank.
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Yani
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Has anyone tried the very simple variant of keeping the 10 ER cards face up in a line, with only the first (rightmost) card available to the player?

I believe this opens up an additional and very interesting planning/negotiating/playing_chicken decision space, while, in contrast to the earlier drafting proposal, keeping the width of the combinatorial explosion due to player choices manageable.

Any thoughts on this (assuming anyone is still playing the game)?
 
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