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Subject: Small World - mixed feelings. rss

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PAUL OCONNOR
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Nice review.

How does that B- compare with your grade for Vinci?
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Darrell Hanning
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I don't like the hidden victory points, and I don't want to show them, so I'm not sure how to be happy with this.


Yeah, bit of a dilemma in other games, too.

Here's my recommendation.

What is the average finishing score? 100? 200? Whatever it is, divide it by four.

Keeping actual count of VPs secret, require each player to announce when they reach one of these quarter-marks. Such as "I have 50 points, now."

This way you have some idea, so the players fighting for last place shouldn't be thrashing each other, as you indicate, but after that 75% point, you don't know exactly who has what, unless you're memorizing it. (And if someone is memorizing it, then they have even more of an advantage when you aren't keeping any track of totals at all.)
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Dan Schaeffer
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WhiteKong wrote:
DarrellKH wrote:
Quote:
I don't like the hidden victory points, and I don't want to show them, so I'm not sure how to be happy with this.


Yeah, bit of a dilemma in other games, too.

Here's my recommendation.

What is the average finishing score? 100? 200? Whatever it is, divide it by four.

Keeping actual count of VPs secret, require each player to announce when they reach one of these quarter-marks. Such as "I have 50 points, now."

This way you have some idea, so the players fighting for last place shouldn't be thrashing each other, as you indicate, but after that 75% point, you don't know exactly who has what, unless you're memorizing it. (And if someone is memorizing it, then they have even more of an advantage when you aren't keeping any track of totals at all.)


I like this suggestion a lot. I think four times might be too frequent, but two might be the sweet spot. Perhaps make everyone announce their victory points (regardless of score) at the 1/3 point of the game and the 2/3 point of the game. I'll probably try something like this out. Thanks for the suggestion.


Interesting thought. Bootleggers has a similar mechanism. The game lasts a maximum of 12 rounds, and at two points during the game -- after the 4th and 8th turns -- all players announce their cash (=victory points). This serves two purposes: (1) it tracks how close each player is to triggering the alternate game-end condition of reaching $100G; and (2) the player in last place gets a specific benefit. If tracking VP in Small World is a chore or you just don't like keeping it secret, this could be a viable answer, but it may lead to the player(s) at the bottom giving up and turning kingmaker (which is not really an issue in Bootleggers).
 
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Gabe Alvaro
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WhiteKong wrote:
The hidden victory coins only exacerbate this problem. If you have folks that aren't really keeping count of who has what, then you can end up with the two last place guys fighting each other because they have no idea who's really ahead. You could solve this by making victory coins common knowledge, but this presents other problems. The entire game becomes "bash the leader" with open points, and that's not that fun either. The truth is, that's just the nature of this kind of game. I don't mind "bash the leader" elements in a game, like the robber in Settlers. But in small world, bashing the leader isn't just an element, it's a mechanic. For this part, it comes down to personal preference, but something about this just doesn't sit right with me. I don't like the hidden victory points, and I don't want to show them, so I'm not sure how to be happy with this. This doesn't mean that there is anything inherently wrong with the game - just that I don't really like this part of it, and I can't put my finger on exactly why.

I also dislike the fixed number of turns. Depending on the length of the game and the races you get, you'll probably control between two and four races during the game - most often you'll control three. After a couple of plays, it becomes obvious that the final decline needs to take place on the third to last, or second to last turn. That way you get one final fresh new army to go stomping around the board with. Once my group figured this out, folks all started going into decline at around the same points during the game. Instead of a constant ebb and flow on new races and fights, the game started to feel like it was just coming to a stop at certain points and starting back up again. I think the thing that would fix this would simply be more turns. I'm not sure how many, but at least two. It's also possible that we were just suffering from a lot of groupthink as to when to decline, but I have a feeling that it was happening more because of the restrictiveness of the game turns. A fixed number of game turns isn't inherently a problem with a game, but in this case I think it channels the all of the declining civilizations into the same ruts, and that hurts this particular game a little.

The good part about a fixed number of games turns is that it keeps the game short and prevents a runaway leader. But if you don't know who has the most victory coins, you don't know if you have a runaway leader or not, and I'm not sure that it matters whether or not you play more turns. Besides, if I'm having fun, it doesn't matter to me whether the game goes ninety minutes, or two hours. From what I read, it seems that most people prefer a shorter game, and if you're one of these, the fixed turn limit may be more of an asset than a liability.

The gameplay gets a "C-" for me.

My favorite review for this game so far.

Interesting observations on the fixed number of turns and hidden VPs. Got me thinking. What do you think of this idea:

Set a number of points before the game begins. The first player to hit that number of points will reveal his chips and get extra points. This revelation will begin the last round of play for everyone but the leader.

Seems this way one could control both the time of the game and the bash the leader elements because the leader would be finished scoring points.


(Edit: Whoops. Didn't read your post first Darrell. I got my idea from having played Vinci with a friend. Don't know if it's in the actual rules of Vinci or not.)
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Jay Sheely
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That was going to be my suggestion... tomorrow night we'll try announcing VP's at the 50% point.

Not a perfect game, but really freakin fun so far!
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Seth Owen
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Perhaps the problem of a fixed number of turns causing a predictable pattern of declines would be solved by making the exact end of the game uncertain. There are different ways to do this, but perhaps a player could roll the die to see if the game continues, with certain results allowing a continuation and other results ending the game at that point.
 
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Corin A. Friesen
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WhiteKong wrote:
Despite more than a hundred cardboard pieces, I managed to get them all punched out withing tearing a single one.

Oooh, show me how to do it! cool
 
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Corin A. Friesen
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If you like tons of strategy, and a lot of control, and near-perfect information, then the problems you bring up are valid. But "bash-the-leader" and "don't-know-who's-winning" mechanics also give a certain joy that only comes from "lighten-up" games like this. This game is meant to be "fun" in the lighter sense of the word, which is an advantage especially when non-gamers and children get in on the action.

So I say: Let me have fun just this once, and leave the thinking cap in the Caylus box to be picked up next time we play it!

BTW, hidden VPs is optional if you want.
I say it's good to exercise your memory every once in a while.
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Andy Daglish
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WhiteKong wrote:
The decision making in this game is pretty good. Which race do I choose? When do I go into decline? All require more thought than I had guessed they would require at first look. These decisions are the deepest ones to make, but they are sufficiently important to affect the gameplay. As far as the thinking part of the game, this is the best part.


always avoid Merchant, always take Stout...

Quote:
But who do you attack?


the easiest target and then the most successful one.

Quote:
The races, combos, etc, all work well.


no...

Quote:
But there are a couple of basic problems that really detract from the overall experience. The winner of the game is almost always going to be the one that was attacked the least.


I'd have thought this impossible to judge, and one could say this may be true in the 5% of games where there's a major difference in the amount of strife sustained between one player and another. Or maybe its 1%.

Quote:
There is a lot of "you and him go fight, then I win" in this game. And often times, by the time you realize that you've let someone off the hook, it's too late to do anything about it.


yeah, but the "you" and "him" labels keep moving around the table.

Quote:
If you are bound and determined to make sure that another player doesn't win, you can do this.


but at a certain point does he seem to be the leader no longer?

Quote:
Likely it will also probably mean that you don't win either,


because you are not expanding?

Quote:
but I generally have problems with games where someone is allowed to be a "suicide bomber" and take out another player and themselves at the same time. The only thing you can do to get away from it is to go into decline and get to a different part of the board. But a determined griefer will just go into decline right after you do and force you to fight with them again.


how does he force it? fighting tends to concentrate forces on fewer areas, and it is not always the same thing as expansion, which is usually preparatory for going into decline. The fighter probably won't be declining next turn.

Quote:
And the worst part is, that if you started out the game pretty far behind, griefing is actually one of the only fun activities to pursue. Pick out someone and just start pummeling them.


but then you are likely to stay behind.

Quote:
I tend to prefer games that reward smart play. Small World rewards the player who doesn't get too far ahead early, and doesn't manage to piss off anyone too badly.


yes and no. Sometimes a trailing player is nailed because he is in the way.

Quote:
The hidden victory coins only exacerbate this problem. If you have folks that aren't really keeping count of who has what, then you can end up with the two last place guys fighting each other because they have no idea who's really ahead.


maybe, but can't they be informed by others?

Quote:
You could solve this by making victory coins common knowledge, but this presents other problems. The entire game becomes "bash the leader" with open points, and that's not that fun either. The truth is, that's just the nature of this kind of game. I don't mind "bash the leader" elements in a game, like the robber in Settlers. But in small world, bashing the leader isn't just an element, it's a mechanic. For this part, it comes down to personal preference, but something about this just doesn't sit right with me. I don't like the hidden victory points, and I don't want to show them, so I'm not sure how to be happy with this. This doesn't mean that there is anything inherently wrong with the game - just that I don't really like this part of it, and I can't put my finger on exactly why.


and if there isn't a clear leader?

Quote:
I think the thing that would fix this would simply be more turns. I'm not sure how many, but at least two.


I think the same effect would be noticed.

Quote:
It's also possible that we were just suffering from a lot of groupthink as to when to decline, but I have a feeling that it was happening more because of the restrictiveness of the game turns. A fixed number of game turns isn't inherently a problem with a game, but in this case I think it channels the all of the declining civilizations into the same ruts, and that hurts this particular game a little.


say you can't afford to decline on turn 7 or 8? also the Stout power may alter this effect. A new combination isn't going to do much stomping in one or two turns, and again you may be back at the "fighting or expansion?" question..

Quote:
The good part about a fixed number of games turns is that it keeps the game short and prevents a runaway leader.


short yes, runaway leader no.

Quote:
But if you don't know who has the most victory coins, you don't know if you have a runaway leader or not, and I'm not sure that it matters whether or not you play more turns. Besides, if I'm having fun, it doesn't matter to me whether the game goes ninety minutes, or two hours. From what I read, it seems that most people prefer a shorter game, and if you're one of these, the fixed turn limit may be more of an asset than a liability.


yep

Quote:
My head tells me that there is something missing.


a slight lack of crapness perhaps
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Andy Clautice
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WhiteKong wrote:
I like this suggestion a lot. I think four times might be too frequent, but two might be the sweet spot. Perhaps make everyone announce their victory points (regardless of score) at the 1/3 point of the game and the 2/3 point of the game. I'll probably try something like this out. Thanks for the suggestion.


The variant I'm working on right now is announcing your score whenever you decline a race. You flip all your guys, collect for the regions you are in, then declare your total. If your group does in fact tend to follow the same rise-and-fall pattern, it will put the markers in similar places. (It also can lead to a strategic decision -- if someone else declines, do you eke out one more turn with your current active to avoid telling them your score, which could possibly entice them to enter the board on top of you?)
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Mik Svellov
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Ambrose wrote:
WhiteKong wrote:
Despite more than a hundred cardboard pieces, I managed to get them all punched out withing tearing a single one.

Oooh, show me how to do it! cool


That's pretty easy - just buy any game manufactured by LudoFact in Germany. cool
While I agree the quality is good, there is actually nothing special about it. It is the norm!
 
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WhiteKong wrote:
The decision making in this game is pretty good. Which race do I choose? When do I go into decline? All require more thought than I had guessed they would require at first look. These decisions are the deepest ones to make, but they are sufficiently important to affect the gameplay. As far as the thinking part of the game, this is the best part.


always avoid Merchant, always take Stout...

Quote:
But who do you attack?


the easiest target and then the most successful one.

Quote:
The races, combos, etc, all work well.


no...

Quote:
But there are a couple of basic problems that really detract from the overall experience. The winner of the game is almost always going to be the one that was attacked the least.


I'd have thought this impossible to judge, and one could say this may be true in the 5% of games where there's a major difference in the amount of strife sustained between one player and another. Or maybe its 1%.

Quote:
There is a lot of "you and him go fight, then I win" in this game. And often times, by the time you realize that you've let someone off the hook, it's too late to do anything about it.


yeah, but the "you" and "him" labels keep moving around the table.

Quote:
If you are bound and determined to make sure that another player doesn't win, you can do this.


but at a certain point does he seem to be the leader no longer?

Quote:
Likely it will also probably mean that you don't win either,


because you are not expanding?

Quote:
but I generally have problems with games where someone is allowed to be a "suicide bomber" and take out another player and themselves at the same time. The only thing you can do to get away from it is to go into decline and get to a different part of the board. But a determined griefer will just go into decline right after you do and force you to fight with them again.


how does he force it? fighting tends to concentrate forces on fewer areas, and it is not always the same thing as expansion, which is usually preparatory for going into decline. The fighter probably won't be declining next turn.

Quote:
And the worst part is, that if you started out the game pretty far behind, griefing is actually one of the only fun activities to pursue. Pick out someone and just start pummeling them.


but then you are likely to stay behind.

Quote:
I tend to prefer games that reward smart play. Small World rewards the player who doesn't get too far ahead early, and doesn't manage to piss off anyone too badly.


yes and no. Sometimes a trailing player is nailed because he is in the way.

Quote:
The hidden victory coins only exacerbate this problem. If you have folks that aren't really keeping count of who has what, then you can end up with the two last place guys fighting each other because they have no idea who's really ahead.


maybe, but can't they be informed by others?

Quote:
You could solve this by making victory coins common knowledge, but this presents other problems. The entire game becomes "bash the leader" with open points, and that's not that fun either. The truth is, that's just the nature of this kind of game. I don't mind "bash the leader" elements in a game, like the robber in Settlers. But in small world, bashing the leader isn't just an element, it's a mechanic. For this part, it comes down to personal preference, but something about this just doesn't sit right with me. I don't like the hidden victory points, and I don't want to show them, so I'm not sure how to be happy with this. This doesn't mean that there is anything inherently wrong with the game - just that I don't really like this part of it, and I can't put my finger on exactly why.


and if there isn't a clear leader?

Quote:
I think the thing that would fix this would simply be more turns. I'm not sure how many, but at least two.


I think the same effect would be noticed.

Quote:
It's also possible that we were just suffering from a lot of groupthink as to when to decline, but I have a feeling that it was happening more because of the restrictiveness of the game turns. A fixed number of game turns isn't inherently a problem with a game, but in this case I think it channels the all of the declining civilizations into the same ruts, and that hurts this particular game a little.


say you can't afford to decline on turn 7 or 8? also the Stout power may alter this effect. A new combination isn't going to do much stomping in one or two turns, and again you may be back at the "fighting or expansion?" question..

Quote:
The good part about a fixed number of games turns is that it keeps the game short and prevents a runaway leader.


short yes, runaway leader no.

Quote:
But if you don't know who has the most victory coins, you don't know if you have a runaway leader or not, and I'm not sure that it matters whether or not you play more turns. Besides, if I'm having fun, it doesn't matter to me whether the game goes ninety minutes, or two hours. From what I read, it seems that most people prefer a shorter game, and if you're one of these, the fixed turn limit may be more of an asset than a liability.


yep

Quote:
My head tells me that there is something missing.


a slight lack of crapness perhaps


Great answers... ..or NOT!
 
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Nathan James
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WhiteKong wrote:


Wow. It seems that you get your kicks being disagreeable and attacking people for no apparent reason. Instead of just saying, "no...", why not expand on what you mean? Why the hell even make the comment "no..." if you're not going to elaborate AT ALL.


I was tracking right along with on this, Brad. The other fellows post seemed rather childish and of little benefit as I read it. Certainly it was short, not very polite and seemed to say little other than 'I contradict you!'

Still I think you took it too personally. The rest of the paragraph was perhaps not a short as his but neither was it even AS polite. I myself was consiering pointing out how unhelpful the "no..." was. But since it has been massively overdone...

WhiteKong wrote:

I was seriously thinking of calling you a ...


Over-the-top.

I did enjoy and thumb your review.
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Tony Chen
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I played 2 games today. Griefing wasn't a problem. I guess it depends on who you play with. I won both games. In the first game, I felt I received my fair share of attacks. In the second game, not nearly. But that was because my first declined race was Trolls with lairs. And my second race was Sorcerer, so people didn't want to overextend themselves in my direction and expose their single tokens. And they almost always attacked me if the cost was at least equal. But it wasn't equal, because I'd have 2 tokens or a mountain region for 4 defense, instead of the 3 defense in other regions that they could conquer instead. I abandoned regions to move to other ones for no net gain, to make it more costly for them to reach/hit me. For example, swap a plain for a mountain. Or, evacuate a region to move away from a rising active race, while shifting towards a declined one. But even so, when it seemed like I was running away with it, they took me out in the end even though they could've gotten other areas for cheaper. My point is, it's not exactly random who gets attacked and who doesn't.

Or, you can just play it with 2 players.
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Tony Chen
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You can definitely make yourself a less attractive target, but ultimately there's nothing you can do to prevent someone from taking you out of the game...because "Hey remember in Age of Empires III when you had the Spanish shoot all of my colonists in Florida? Remember how I vowed revenge? Well, here it comes. DIE TROLLS!!!"

Well yeah...if it's like that then there's no way to avoid it. Actually, if we are talking about metagaming here, there is a way to avoid it. Just don't play with them in the first place. That'd be my winning strategy.
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Mikael von Knorring
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Nice review! I share your mixed feelings, but I think I'll enjoy this a lot as a game that is played for the laughs about races attacking each other and not for the flow that comes with learning how to read a game like Agricola or Settlers. A bit like Blood Bowl: since it's fun losing, and you still do get to make interesting decisions, the fact that the best player doesn't always win is quite OK. Small World is also short enough that losing "unfairly" won't feel like a big deal.

At least that's what I hope - I'll have to play it a bit more to know!

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Brad

I enjoyed your review. I have played it several times so far, but only with my kids, who find it hilarious, yet it keeps me entertained enough to want to keep playing with them.

I have the same main misgiving as you - I find the limited number of turns means that most people time their declines at similar times (particularly the last one) simultaneously which can lead to some odd "quiet" turns.

aforandy is big enough to respond for himself (but you should also see his early minireview of Small World if you haven't spotted it) http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/396662). As it happens I played my first game of Vinci F2F with aforandy and 4 others just after that review. I really liked Vinci but the last turn illustrated several posters' problem with Vinci: everyone could pretty much calculate whether or not they could win which then influenced their own final turn.

For what they are worth here are my thoughts on the comparison between Vinci and Small World:

Vinci: more "grown up", deeper strategy, longer to play but the open scoring increases the possibility of kingmaking

Small World: more fun (and great with kids), not as much strategy but not devoid of it, race and ability combinations seem to be more unbalanced than with Vinci and games are shorter

Seems to me there's room for both!
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Dan Schaeffer
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These discussions make me wonder if the answer to the Vinci/Small World turns vs. points problem might not be the one used in Bootleggers, which I mentioned previously: Have dual game end conditions, a turn limit and a VP target; and have spot-checks at about the 1/3 and 2/3 mark to keep everyone aware of how many points everybody has. You could even give the trailing player a bonus of some sort, such as an extra token of his active (or next active) race. If the game were 12 turns or X points (based on the number of players), with checks at the end of turns 4 and 8, would the problems be avoided?
 
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Dan Schaeffer
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You may be right, although I am not convinced that the point differential is so small and the benefit from a single extra token so great that people would really try to hang back. And any time you attempt that sort of strategy, you risk hanging back too far and being unable to make up the difference.

Next time I play, we may try to implement one of these ideas.
 
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Dave J McWeasely
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I liked both your original review, and aforandy's response. That's just the way aforandy communicates.

All the negatives you give are true. I find that particularly in 5-player, with its 8 turns, there is a almost rote formula:

turn 1: race 1
turn 2: race 1
turn 3: decline
turn 4: race 2
turn 5: race 2[/COLOR]
turn 6: decline
turn 7: [BGCOLOR=#FFCCFF]race 3

turn 8: race 3

The things that break this up, ever so slightly, are race powers. Commando Amazons on an open map probably should go into decline after one turn. Alchemist Wizards should stick around and milk it for an extra turn. So if you take a 'slow' combo, you have to find a 'fast' combo to pair up with it. Yeah, its formulaic, just like you said.

You're absolutely right, a 9th turn would fix this right up.

@aforandy: With Merchant Tritons doing the heavy lifting, my haul the other night over the last three turns was 17 + 17 + 19 points. Tonight Merchant Elves did the work of two races, and did it very well. Merchant most certainly does not suck!!!
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Aaron N. Tubbs
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Echoing what a lot of folks have already said, but great review. Played it once tonight, so I don't have a ton of experience with the game, but we found the hidden victory points very frustrating. Maybe we've been playing too much Age of Steam and Chicago Express lately, but it had that feeling of "those with great memories have an advantage."

I understand the concerns about the "bash the leader" approach, but I'm not convinced it's as simple as that. There may be ways to get a better marginal return on victory points than going after the leader directly; there are some interesting combinations that come up in the game, and I'm not bothered by games that are brutal in terms of being punished early for mistakes. Whatever the case, I think I'm going to house rule it to be open VP (probably with poker chips, since the scoring chits are irritating to pick up), and see how that goes.

Definitely not feeling like an exceptional game so far, in terms of mechanics. Still, worth a few more tries to see how it works out. I've gotten too fond of variable turn ordering; the sequential turn nature of the game is irritating. I may house rule that too. Maybe I'm just getting overly fond of variable turn order for fixing binding issues, but the actions feel a bit deterministic in this game; the only really interesting choices are a) when to go into decline (usually a relatively easy choice, though) and b) what race/power to pick.

I liked how quick it was to teach; the player aides are incredible, and make it a 5-minute affair to get anybody playing the game. Production quality is very high (best chits I've ever dealt with, perfectly die cut and exquisite alignment), though the counter tray is more irritating than helpful; will swap this out for a Plano, I think.
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Andy Daglish
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MrWeasely wrote:
@aforandy: With Merchant Tritons doing the heavy lifting, my haul the other night over the last three turns was 17 + 17 + 19 points. Tonight Merchant Elves did the work of two races, and did it very well (see session report "Evil versus Good"). Merchant most certainly does not suck!!!


They most certainly do; the trouble is they blow as well, and the design can't withstand the pressures developed in either direction. The quoted scores prove something in the room had failed. Merchant was left in my last game until someone took it for the money at the end. The success of a race-special ability combination depends on factors other than those in the rules, such as the board you are playing and the game position at the time they enter.
 
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Dan Schaeffer
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aforandy wrote:
The success of a race-special ability combination depends on factors other than those in the rules, such as the board you are playing and the game position at the time they enter.


I'm not sure if you're saying this is a problem or not, since it seems like a truism that success of any strategic element may depend on something outside the rules (including, for instance, the strategic options available to other players in the game). Which would seem to undermine your contention that a particular strategic element sucks per se. Indeed, if Merchant+ combinations were universally terrible, we would expect them to fail under all circumstances, which MrWeasely's experience shows is just not the case.
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Seth Owen
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What we may also be seeing here is the contrast between euro-style strategies and wargamer-style strategies (of course there's plenty of overlap).

Basically, Euro-style play seems geared towards maximizing your own moves and values efficiency. It often seems almost puzzle-like. The goal in euro play is to win as much possible based on your own skill and random elements often seem reluctantly accepted only insofar as they help avoid stereotyped play. Euro gamers often like to evluate a game assuming best-possible play by each player.

Wargame strategy accepts that life is unfair and not all situations or players chances will be even. It accepts and expects chaos and sees the ability to cope with the unexpected as a good thing. Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you. It's not always important that your move be the best, just that it be better than the opponents. Wargamers tend to be skeptical of "perfect plans" because of the relatively high impact of fortune in their games and the fact that their type of game often doesn't have best-possible moves. In a wargame it can make often sense to make a less-than optimal move if it catches the opponent by surprise.

Small World, while obvioulsy appealing to eurogamers, is essentially a wargame. The fact thay some combos are probably less efficent than others is simply something to be worked around through proper strategy. Particularly in a multi-player situation. You're playing the other players. It would seem to me that if your opponents, for example, can be expected to follow a certain schedule in the timing of declining a race then you should seek for ways to turn that knowledge to advantage.
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Andy Daglish
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Golux13 wrote:
aforandy wrote:
The success of a race-special ability combination depends on factors other than those in the rules, such as the board you are playing and the game position at the time they enter.


I'm not sure if you're saying this is a problem or not,


if it were, would not the game be in serious trouble?

Quote:
since it seems like a truism that success of any strategic element may depend on something outside the rules (including, for instance, the strategic options available to other players in the game). Which would seem to undermine your contention that a particular strategic element sucks per se. Indeed, if Merchant+ combinations were universally terrible, we would expect them to fail under all circumstances, which MrWeasely's experience shows is just not the case.


we need to examine the issue with a tad more resolution than "all or nothing", and I note the superlatives and sweeping statements that pepper other posts in this thread. A small number of Vinci situations don't work well. The six-player is not always successful. I'm looking at the frequency of failure of various element of SW, and asking if some are too high too often. Merchants are kicked off the board with dull perseverance, & Merchant Elves are too powerful.
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