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Subject: A Tale of Two Types of Interaction: Dominion as Video Poker Machine rss

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Benjamin Keightley
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Early reports of Dominion have been praising its variable level of interaction. When I began to play it myself, I was surprised to find no traces of interaction in the game. At first, there was cognitive dissonance: Obviously, the game's enthusiastic pre-release fans genuinely believe the game to be full of interaction. This group of fans includes some very smart, experienced players who should be able to know interaction when they see it. Similarly, I don't have any reason to think this group are a bunch of liars who will say anything in order to move copies, hoping that by repeating the lie about interaction enough, people will believe it!

Yet as far as I could tell, there was no interaction to speak of in Dominion. I was able to resolve this conflict for myself when I realized how the word was being used. In Dominion, interaction exists on a mechanical level: I have the potential do do something that will force the other players to do something, because the rules say so.

In other words, Dominion features "interaction" in the same sense that another card game, War, does. Assuming anything better than grossly incompetent play by my opponents, my card purchases and plays have nothing to do with any given opponent's board position or deck condition. This isn't to say I only care about my own deck. I do care about what's happening around the table, but Dominion cleverly and automatically routes all of the important information to the supply stacks. As certain of those stacks dwindle, I will adjust my priorities accordingly. I don't particularly care who bought the cards, or at what point they are in their deck, or what cards they used this turn. I only care about my personal deck and the inventory of the vending machine.

Video poker is a casino game with remarkable similarities to Dominion. Although there is a slightly different set of skills being tested, the nature of almost every one of Dominion's decision points maps perfectly to Jacks or Better. Dominion places slightly greater demands on the player's brain, making him continually reevaluate the odds table, but this distinction is so minor it vanishes at any distance.

More importantly, both games involve the player being given five cards and then asked to make a straightforward purchasing decision based on a memorized or intuited priority schedule. Feedback is quick and direct. Both games play quickly and with almost no effort, yet 'feel good,' especially for players with basic knowledge of good strategy, and thus have an addictive nature. At a certain point, players in both games need to decide when to cash out, either cutting their losses or deciding they've peaked. This decision is based on the same type of factors in both games, and in both cases I'm being generous by pluralizing 'factor.'

Jacks or Better played with optimal strategy offers something like a 99.5% return over time. In other words, just like Dominion, players who are decent at the game should do very well. Just like video poker, it is very, very easy to become a very good Dominion player. The decisions are just not that difficult, the 'combinations' just not that complex, and while the entire system is insanely clever, it's also completely transparent.

Contrasting this game's interactions against those found in Race for the Galaxy feels like I might be stepping into a bear trap,* but I'll give it a shot anyway because I think the differences are useful. In Race for the Galaxy, a game that features very little mechanical interaction, some large percentage of good play depends on a player's ability to gauge the incentives of his opponents. They use this information to make moves that either force hard decisions or steal opportunities, while also setting themselves up to benefit from their opponents' play. Viewed from a moderate distance, this is not qualitatively different from the types of interactions in something like Container. To put it another way, if Dominion is video poker, Race for the Galaxy is seven card stud.

I've played dozens of games of Dominion, and they've all been a blast. The game is a great way to kill some time and feel good about yourself. Dominion stacks the deck to give every player that satisfying feeling of success against a system, and I'm not complaining. However, while there are mechanical interactions, there is no player interaction. You might as well be playing video poker.

* On reflection, this paragraph is full of holes. I've refined my thoughts somewhat below.
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John Earles
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You don't think the Attack cards are interactive?
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Mark McEvoy
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Coca Lite wrote:
I don't particularly care who bought the cards, or at what point they are in their deck, or what cards they used this turn. I only care about my personal deck and the inventory of the vending machine.


At the very least, if Gardens are in play you probably should care who bought the cards. If the Gardens spread out pretty evenly, or if one person is hoarding them, could (and should) affect your decisionmaking.


I'm not entirely certain I understand the difference between the interaction of "I play a Witch - hurts everyone but me" "Me neither, I play a Moat!", and any, say, attack in a CCG ("I play Earthquake, everyone takes 5 damage" "Not me, I play Reverse Damage!") or a wargame ("I attack Dusseldorf, I roll 5 attack dice against your two" "No, you roll two as well, I play 'Confusion in the Ranks'). How is interaction in a game anything but "something I do that affects you, and that you may or may not be able to fend off"? If you omit that from the definition of interaction, doesn't that make almost every game short of those with actual physical contact non-interactive?
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Dave Kudzma
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Quote:
You don't think the Attack cards are interactive?


Play the thief, spy, or witch and see how people react....they will definitely feel "interacted with".

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If you omit that from the definition of interaction, doesn't that make almost every game short of those with actual physical contact non-interactive?


If you omit the definition of interaction then there was no point to this thread. wow
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Tom Chappelear
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Coca Lite wrote:
More importantly, both games involve the player being given five cards and then asked to make a straightforward purchasing decision based on a memorized or intuited priority schedule. Feedback is quick and direct.


Choosing what cards to play in from your hand is video-poker simplicity, sure. Choosing what to purchase is not particularly straightforward, however. The strategy in the game is in constructing a solid deck, not in playing each individual hand. Feedback is not at all quick or direct here, as good ratios of combo-actions, treasure, and VPs only reveal themselves with time (and shuffling, shuffling, shuffling). Deciding when to transition from actions/treasure to VPs, for example, depends greatly on what the other players are doing and the timing of the endgame.

Building a house might consist on a basic level of a lot of repetitive hammering; but if you don't have a plan, it's all going to fall down around you.

Hmm, that metaphor didn't work as well as I had hoped...
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"My opponent played the Militia, so I have to discard down to three cards" -> Mechanical interaction.

"Uh-oh, everyone else is buying Thiefs like crazy. I better get another Moat this turn, instead of the Silver I had planned" -> Player interaction.

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Jonathan Morton
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As certain of those stacks dwindle, I will adjust my priorities accordingly.


It almost sounds like I should pay attention to timing the stack depletions to mess with my opponents.
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Benjamin Keightley
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thatmarkguy wrote:
How is interaction in a game anything but "something I do that affects you, and that you may or may not be able to fend off"?

"What is the number of bicycles in China divided by the average weight in ounces of a family in Brooklyn Heights minus the number of marbles in this jar?" and "What is the meaning of life?" are both hard questions, but for very different definitions of 'hard.'

Much like many people would never even consider one of the above questions to be a 'hard' question, I wouldn't think to think of anything that went on in Dominion as interactive. Once I looked at the word from a different perspective--the one quoted above and echoed in other responses--it was obvious that Dominion had plenty of interaction. This article hopes to draw a distinction between that type of interaction, which I don't find especially compelling, and interaction between players, which I do (but is absent in this game). The second type rewards players for paying attention to what other players are doing, and gives them tools to influence their decisions.

As I mentioned, I don't have to pay attention to other players because Dominion conveniently tells me everything I need to know in the size and rate of decrease of the draw stacks. I don't think this is a disingenuous simplification; in fact, I think it's one of the game's central features and primary reason it's so easy to play well. I do think the Garden card is an interesting counterexample, and might be the exception that proves the rule. More likely not, though. My primary timing concern is "when will the game end and how can I score as much as possible before then?" This concern is hardly, if at all, affected by whether Player X is going to make 3 points per Garden or 6.

It's a good thing, too, that I don't need to monitor any of my opponents' behavior, board position, or incentives, because Dominion doesn't give me the ability to do anything with that information. It's that ability that I consider 'interaction,' and this ability is--by design--missing in this game. Every player in Dominion is working 100% for himself and by himself. While I certainly don't see this as a bad thing, I do think it's a central element of the game that has been commonly mis- or unrecognized.
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Steve Duff
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Coca Lite wrote:
I wouldn't think to think of anything that went on in Dominion as interactive.

It's a good thing, too, that I don't need to monitor any of my opponents' behavior, board position, or incentives, because Dominion doesn't give me the ability to do anything with that information.


Of course it gives you the ability. I know you have something worthwhile to take because I have been watching what you purchase. I reach into your deck, take a card from you, and put it into mine.

In what possible definition is this not interactive? shake
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Mark Brown
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I think this disagreement boils down to the amount of player interaction Dominion has.

I think the original poster has a preference for games that require reaction / counter-action in all decisions. Dominion doesn't have a significant amount of this. There is some - Gardens, Thief, Witch are examples of small reaction effects (both when they are played and when people buy them).

I think something like Race For the Galaxy has a slightly higher amount of this, but not much more. Die Macher on the other hand has a lot of reaction / counter-action. Power Grid has some of that as well.

To me, the player interaction that is important is all participants being involved in what is happening, whether it's just a social aspect of teasing a particular buy choice, or seeing a good combo chain go off or cursing my opponent because they played a witch and I didn't have a moat. The next important player interaction for me would be the reaction / counter-action type of player interaction, because it means that the game becomes much more of a challenge reacting to different strategies, having to adjust plans of attack etc.

What I like most about Dominion is that the social interaction is there, the game strategy has to be adjusted slightly to take into consideration what others are doing and each game can require a completely different strategy based on the kingdom cards.
 
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@the OP, could you give us a counter example then? Of some game which has an ideal level of "interaction"?

As for Dominion, you have to cater your hand to what others have. At the very least, if they buy attack cards, you should be getting some Moats if you anticipate they're gonna affect you negatively overall. If you want to get a certain action card, better buy it before everyone else who's mad grabbing it buys 'em all up. That may not be the interaction some people want, but for me, it works. It keeps the game going pretty smoothly, save for a 2p game where your opponent always plays 6 markets/villages in his turn on top of 5 other cards. Then again, I'm a kind of person who doesn't care much for too much interaction. Bohnanza doesn't hit the spot for me b/c of that, even tho I still play it from time to time.
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K. Bailey
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Coca Lite wrote:
This article hopes to draw a distinction between that type of interaction, which I don't find especially compelling, and interaction between players, which I do (but is absent in this game). The second type rewards players for paying attention to what other players are doing, and gives them tools to influence their decisions.

Redefining terms, the start of many a confusing, pointless argument...

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As I mentioned, I don't have to pay attention to other players because Dominion conveniently tells me everything I need to know in the size and rate of decrease of the draw stacks.

Your definition is too narrow. You want to say that if played perfectly, robotically, purely according to mechanical game information, there is no need for any player-added information in order to play Dominion well. But this is true of many games.

A lot of player interaction is noticing when someone is not analyzing the game information completely; they have not seen or considered a part of it that you have. By supposing perfect play of the game information you are discounting this rich source of player interaction and essentially saying "any game a computer can play well, I label 'non-interactive'", which may have some merit in some context, but has no special relevance to Dominion.

On top of that, you're wrong in the specifics of Dominion. If player A, whom you know to be a medium-ability player, buys a Witch, maybe you don't worry about it. If player B, whom you know to be a good player, buys a Witch, you think about modifying your strategy. The stacks alone aren't enough, even the players decks are enough, you are rewarded for knowing who bought what. If someone gained a Gold on their turn, it's important to know whether they did it by Remodeling a Remodel, paying 6 in coins, or getting 10 in coins but deciding it was still Gold-buying time. If you know some players will go after some card they like, you will guess they won't see the vulnerability of your strategy, leaving you free to try it out. Your Dominion-playing robot might reject that strategy as too vulnerable and lose. And so on.

If you think all the information you need is in the supply stacks, you're wrong. If you think there's no information about specific players (not *just* the state of their decks), you're wrong.

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It's a good thing, too, that I don't need to monitor any of my opponents' behavior, board position, or incentives, because Dominion doesn't give me the ability to do anything with that information.

Yeah, incorrect on all points.

To be sure Dominion is not a high-interaction game. This is not shocking, new, secret information. For some players that makes a game unenjoyable, and I assume for most it is enough to state that, avoid it, whatever.

However sometimes people want more. They want to say their personal taste represents some point of objective truth. So they gussy it up as argumentation, as some tedious pseudo-theory, that proves they are right to dislike the game, and usually they do not fail to go on to imply that people who do enjoy the game are venal liars seeking personal gain, gamers of poor judgement, unimportant/unrepresentative gamers, deluded by hype, etc., because they can't really cope with the idea that some people like the game fair and square.

I hope you're not merely engaged in such an exercise. Cuz that shit's lame.
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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What he's saying (I think), is that it lacks the exact same interaction that RftG players say that RftG has. Since that concept was argued to death on the RftG boards, I'll leave it there and the curious can look up the gazillion threads on RftG and interaction. I don't agree with the OP however. The interaction is very subtle though, but I think that you can win by countering what your opponents are doing and that should count as interaction. In other words, if when the cards were dealt, you had one idea in mind, but since another played played a certain way, you have another idea in mind.

I think the Gardens is the most obvious example of this. If one player is setting up for Gardens, it's very dangerous for that player to get 10 Gardens, he or she will be very hard to beat. And the thing is, it's not all that obvious what the Gardens player is doing until he or she starts really buying Gardens. Then if you start buying Gardens just to stop the other person, but that was not your strategy going out, there's a problem. You may have to change what you were doing. On the other hand, if you are playing a rush deck, then maybe you will still be able to win before the Garden player can get enough cards/Gardens.

This type of thing is what I think makes the game 'interactive' in the sense that the OP was describing. Granted, it may not happen every game but it does happen often enough for the label to still apply.
 
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J C Lawrence
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ZMeston wrote:
The only thumbs-up for your original post is from the guy who started a thread in which he bitches about Dominion's tiebreaker system.


As if thumbs were an actual signal of quality rather than a meaningless sign of ambiguous reaction.

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You haters just keep on hating. I'll keep on playing the best game of 2008.


As will I. Preußische Ostbahn is such a good game.
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As an online poker player, I find it hilarious that this thread has ended (thus far) in a heads up challenge.
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B C Z
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All games interact through their mechanics.

I'm finding it hard to name a game that doesn't.

Some games have various levels of metagame as well. "Reading your opponent" in poker comes to mind, and that is eliminated when playing over an interface such as internet poker or video poker (where there is no 'intent' to read, just the strict probabilities).

So - name a game that doesn't interact via that games defined rules/mechanics.
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Saying the interaction level is low/minimal is one thing, comparing it to Video Poker is another.

If you're a Magic Player, you'll recognize the term, "Goldfishing." Goldfishing is when you draw and play your deck against your pet Goldfish. Try that with Dominion and you will get a feel for what building a deck in a vacuum is. The decisions you make will be similar to Video Poker, you'll be using optimal play strategies. What if the Witch is in your set up? Not a very good action against your Goldfish, he doesn't even have any cards.

Then play the same set up against four players and you will have to adjust those optimal plays to react to what they are doing. Player's 2 and 3 are both playing witches every turn, now you need to throw what worked against your Goldfish out the window.

Player interaction is not Black or White in multi-player games like it is in solitary games.

(Plus try teaching Dominion to my parents who LOVE video poker...)

edit: no to now
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Randy Shipp
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ZMeston wrote:
You think a thread comparing Dominion to a video poker machine is useful commentary? Did you also thumbs-up the thread comparing Shadows over Camelot to Candy Land Deluxe? At least that one didn't have the pseudo-intellectual tone of this one.


OH NOES!!! Someone doesn't like my favorite game pr0n as much as me. What an asshole!!! Also, only people who are faking being smart write more than three lines.

Dude, your fail at argumentation is so epically huge that it can be seen from space. The OP presented an opinion, a theory if you will. You may be totally justified in thinking his theory is all wet. Fine. So explain why. Note that other replies have actually done this, thereby contributing to the discussion. But just calling people assholes makes you look like, well, you know.

Randy...
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Benjamin Keightley
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Coca Lite wrote:
Contrasting this game's interactions against those found in Race for the Galaxy feels like I might be stepping into a bear trap, but I'll give it a shot anyway because I think the differences are useful. In Race for the Galaxy, a game that features very little mechanical interaction, some large percentage of good play depends on a player's ability to gauge the incentives of his opponents. They use this information to make moves that either force hard decisions or steal opportunities, while also setting themselves up to benefit from their opponents' play. Viewed from a moderate distance, this is not qualitatively different from the types of interactions in something like Container. To put it another way, if Dominion is video poker, Race for the Galaxy is seven card stud.

This comparisons and contrasts in this paragraph don't really hold up under any serious scrutiny. My plays in Dominion can force hard decisions, steal opportunities, and benefit from my opponents' future buys just as they can in Race for the Galaxy or Container. The degree to which this is possible certainly varies from game to game, but it was inaccurate of me to say it existed in only two of the three.

That's not to say I was being purposefully disingenuous. I just didn't follow my line of thought to a solid enough conclusion, stopping instead on what felt right at the time. My real point, and what makes Dominion different from most games, dovetails nicely with my somewhat disconnected video poker analogy. The point is, in most games, players are expected to pay and are rewarded for paying close attention to each of their opponents. Most of what I've read about Dominion indicates that people feel that this game is no different; examples are all over this thread, in most reviews, and in plenty of the game's personal comments.

I think the game is different. Rather than having an interest in individual player positions, I am only interested in my opponents as a unit. "What is likely to happen to me on other players' turns during the next run through my deck?" and "How quickly will this game end?" are the types of actionable questions players will be asking. These questions can be answered by looking at the vending machine's contents and its individual stacks' rate of decrease. It is not helpful to know where those cards are (except that you should obviously know the contents of your own deck). These questions can be acted on by adjusting purchasing and, to a certain extent, action-playing strategy.

Routing all of the player's relevant information to the vending machine is sort of a major accomplishment, and I can't think of any other game that does this so effectively. I soured quickly on Agricola at large scales because tracking each player's demand graph was way too hard. Race for the Galaxy with four players is manageable after 25 hours' worth of experience with the cards, but players have to deal with a lot of information every time they play. When I play Dominion, I have to look in only one location.

All of the important information a player needs to play an excellent game of Dominion is in the vending machine, and the only non-mechanical interaction a player has with his opponents is through making purchases from the machine. This distillation represents the pinnacle of elegance in game design this year, and I think players do a disservice to it by insisting that it's essential to monitor each individual opponent's position.
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Early reports of Dominion have been describing it as a card game. When I began to play it myself, I was surprised to find no traces of cards in the game. Now card games are pretty popular and I certainly hope that nobody was being purposely dishonest by trying to tap into the huge popularity of these types of games by mislabeling Dominion.

Yet as far as I could tell, there were no cards to speak of in Dominion. I was able to resolve this conflict for myself when I realized how the word was being used. You see the way I believe cards must be defined is that they must fit standard card sleeves and have a linen finish. These two critical elements are absent from the thin over-large tiles that Dominion uses. I suppose that mechanically you are certainly shuffling something but it is dismaying to see normally intelligent experienced gamers continue to refer to this game as a "card game" although I can understand how Rio Grande Games might feel that the Card Game genre overshadows the Tile Laying Game niche and want to market it a certain way....


Spoiler (click to reveal)
Ah the fun we can have once we depart from commonly accepted definitions and try to force our own...
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Alex Rockwell
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Some people apparently dont think there is interaction in a game unless people are physically stabbing each other in the back...with real knives.
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J C Lawrence
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Alexfrog wrote:
Some people apparently dont think there is interaction in a game unless people are physically stabbing each other in the back...with real knives.


Peeling player onions
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Seth Jaffee
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Coca Lite wrote:
Coca Lite wrote:
Contrasting this game's interactions against those found in Race for the Galaxy feels like I might be stepping into a bear trap, but I'll give it a shot anyway because I think the differences are useful. In Race for the Galaxy, a game that features very little mechanical interaction, some large percentage of good play depends on a player's ability to gauge the incentives of his opponents. They use this information to make moves that either force hard decisions or steal opportunities, while also setting themselves up to benefit from their opponents' play. Viewed from a moderate distance, this is not qualitatively different from the types of interactions in something like Container. To put it another way, if Dominion is video poker, Race for the Galaxy is seven card stud.

This comparisons and contrasts in this paragraph don't really hold up under any serious scrutiny. My plays in Dominion can force hard decisions, steal opportunities, and benefit from my opponents' future buys just as they can in Race for the Galaxy or Container. The degree to which this is possible certainly varies from game to game, but it was inaccurate of me to say it existed in only two of the three.

That's not to say I was being purposefully disingenuous. I just didn't follow my line of thought to a solid enough conclusion, stopping instead on what felt right at the time. My real point, and what makes Dominion different from most games, dovetails nicely with my somewhat disconnected video poker analogy. The point is, in most games, players are expected to pay and are rewarded for paying close attention to each of their opponents. Most of what I've read about Dominion indicates that people feel that this game is no different; examples are all over this thread, in most reviews, and in plenty of the game's personal comments.

I think the game is different. Rather than having an interest in individual player positions, I am only interested in my opponents as a unit. "What is likely to happen to me on other players' turns during the next run through my deck?" and "How quickly will this game end?" are the types of actionable questions players will be asking. These questions can be answered by looking at the vending machine's contents and its individual stacks' rate of decrease. It is not helpful to know where those cards are (except that you should obviously know the contents of your own deck). These questions can be acted on by adjusting purchasing and, to a certain extent, action-playing strategy.

Routing all of the player's relevant information to the vending machine is sort of a major accomplishment, and I can't think of any other game that does this so effectively. I soured quickly on Agricola at large scales because tracking each player's demand graph was way too hard. Race for the Galaxy with four players is manageable after 25 hours' worth of experience with the cards, but players have to deal with a lot of information every time they play. When I play Dominion, I have to look in only one location.

All of the important information a player needs to play an excellent game of Dominion is in the vending machine, and the only non-mechanical interaction a player has with his opponents is through making purchases from the machine. This distillation represents the pinnacle of elegance in game design this year, and I think players do a disservice to it by insisting that it's essential to monitor each individual opponent's position.

I think this post is very interesting - in a much more useful way than comparing the game to video poker. I'll add that I think you're right where it comes to action cards - though the rate of change you mention depends on how many other players are buying certain cards (not just how many players are in the game). However when it comes to the VP cards I think it's often important to know which player is taking them, not just how many are out.
 
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Shorter Coca Lite wrote:
Now that my argument has been destroyed, I will pretend to admit to that, yet merely restate it (in a slightly different way) and bet that no one will give enough of a hoot to knock it back down.
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Randy Shipp
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ZMeston wrote:
rshipp wrote:

OH NOES!!! Someone doesn't like my favorite game pr0n as much as me. What an asshole!!! Also, only people who are faking being smart write more than three lines.

Dude, your fail at argumentation is so epically huge that it can be seen from space. The OP presented an opinion, a theory if you will. You may be totally justified in thinking his theory is all wet. Fine. So explain why. Note that other replies have actually done this, thereby contributing to the discussion. But just calling people assholes makes you look like, well, you know.

Randy...


Your overuse of Internet memes is so epically huge that it renders your entire post null and void.


I'm sure the debate team coach would be proud. Here, let's do an experiment. Below, I'm going to repost my initial comment, sans Internet memes. Let's see if you suddenly gain the ability to respond to its content, or whether you continue to be a whiny fanboy.

rshipp wrote:
Oh, no! Someone doesn't like my favorite game as much as me. What an asshole! Also, only people who are faking being smart write more than three lines.

You seem unable to participate meaningfully in an actual argument. The OP presented an opinion, a theory if you will. You may be totally justified in thinking his theory is all wet. Fine. So explain why. Note that other replies have actually done this, thereby contributing to the discussion. But just calling people assholes makes you look like, well, you know.
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