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Subject: How much do you like it as a 2-player game? rss

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Brian Bisignani
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So I've owned Small World since it first came out, and have had a chance to play it several times with each number of players. And over the course of those games, I've discovered something disturbing about the 2-player game.

In a game with more than 2 players, the general strategy is to take the easiest path. Generally, attacking a player at the expense of taking less spaces isn't worth it, since you are damaging both yourself and your target without hurting the other players. So a long streak of empty spaces or undefended territory (like a Declined race) is much better to attack than battering through a heavily defended Active race. This isn't always true, but in general, that's the case.

However, in a two-player game, attacking your opponent is always better than hitting empty spaces, because taking an opponent's space away from them is worth a swing of two points (they don't get it, and you do). If you only take empty spaces, even at a cost of one or two less tokens, you aren't eliminating your only opponent, and therefore, their next turn is huge. If you have the choice to attack 2 empty spaces or 1 opponent-controlled space, you should always choose the opponent's space. And since there is very rarely an occasion where it is just as easy to take 3 spaces over 1 space (3 spaces, even empty, costs 6 tokens, so the opponent would need to stack 5 tokens on a space to make it worth hitting the empty spaces), you should almost always attack your opponent. It's simply mathematics and strategy.

So realizing that, the game turns into a bloodbath, with both players simply beating into one another over and over and over. You choose an Active race, hit your opponent as hard as you can, and let them do the same. It's an all-out battle between you and your opponent, with land changing hands every turn.

My wife and I played one game where, at the end of the 10 turn game, there were still 8 spaces on the board that neither of us ever attacked. On the two player map, that's nearly half the board. She took Trolls, so I took Commando Halflings to take them out, so she took Skeletons to wipe out my Halflings, so I took Orcs to counter the Skellies, and so on. We never bothered to attack empty spaces, because it was always better and more efficient point-wise to attack each other.

We found that the two-player version detracts from the idea behind the game, since a Declined race rarely stays on the board for more than a single turn and since board spaces remain empty for a long period of time. It's not supposed to be an all-out attack game, it's about board position and timing. But the two player game is about slowly grinding your opponent down until they don't have any tokens left. It's kinda boring and not nearly as interesting as the bigger games.

So I was wondering what your impression of the 2-player game was. Do you have the same issues? Do you just not play seriously enough to account for the differential in points, taking the easy path rather than the more worthwhile one? What do you think? Thanks, fellow Geekers!
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Brad Bulkley
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I see what you're saying, and I'll have to pay attention during my next 2 player game to see how that plays out.

Still, I think there are a lot of exceptions to your rule that it's always better to attack your enemy. What about races/powers that get bonus points for certain terrain types? If I'm a wizard, I'm going to look at the wizard spaces first, because those are worth 2 points every turn. The same goes for humans and farms, the swamp power, etc.

Also, what about setting up perimeters to defend your land? If you redistribute your people to defend the perimeter, you can often protect yourself for at least 1-2 turns. The cost of breaking your perimeter is so high that your opponent is better off conquering uncontested land.

And yes, I think my wife and I play more for fun than to win at all costs. I don't generally sit down and calculate the score for every possible move. I have nothing against playing that way, but maybe our style means that we don't run into as many problems.

EDIT: Some more exceptions to the rule that it's always better to kill: races/powers that can take regions for less attack power. I'm thinking of Tritons (taking coastal land is cheap), giants (land adjacent to a mountain you own), commando (take empty regions for one token), berserk (depends on die roll), and some others.

The point is, I think your strategy is a valid one, but I hardly think it's unbeatable. You really have to play the race/power combinations on the board.
 
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Tyler Schmahl
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We have not run into this problem as of yet and my wife and I play this exclusively as a two player game. I understand where you are coming from though. Our declined races manage to stay out more than one turn and we quite frequently use the whole board.

As has been stated it really matters what races come into play. If you come in with mounted ratmen or beserk amazons many time you can far outdo your gain from taking the other players races by cutting through a less contested area and cleaning up stragglers. Granted, there have also been times that we have just slaughtered each other unmercifully to the end. It really depends what is available.

I've also found a fun thing to do is grind your opponents active race down while barely touching a modest inactive race (4-5 territories). Sooner or later they decline the active race and you can see the pain on their faces as they collect 1-2 VP's that turn!
 
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Eric Nolan
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So far I've played one game of Small World and it was a two player game. I'm hoping it gets better with more plays and/or more people because neither I nor my opponent were that impressed.

We both attacked each other as much as possible. We both thought it was far better to attack an enemy held area instead of a wild tribe for example. We also thought it was better to attack an enemy active race instead of a declined one assuming there were no other factors involved. At the end of the game we had multiple spaces with Wild Tribes still in place but no empty ones.

It seemed to us (first game remember so we could be wrong) that position on the board was not that important and the tactics for maximising the points difference with your opponent were quite basic. The real decision making was in the race choices I think and we didn't have enough experience to do a good job on that.
 
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Best part of a 2 player game - it's quick.

Almost filler quick.

A good way to start off the night while you wait for people to show up for the bigger stuff.
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Brian Bisignani
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Thanks for the replies. I have a couple responses to them, though.

First of all, even if your race gets a bonus for a terrain (like Swamp or Hill), it is still more worth it to attack your opponent. Think about it this way: if you take a Swamp region and leave your opponent alone, you get +2 on your turn but leave your opponent a 1 point space on theirs, which is only a swing of 1 point in your favor. However, if you attack your opponent’s space, you get a +1 on your turn and take away a point from your opponent, a 2 point swing in your favor. In order for it not to be worth it to attack your opponent, you need to be able to take 3 points worth of terrain at the same token cost it would take to attack one of your opponents spaces. In other words, consider every region controlled by the opponent as worth 2 VP, while every empty space is worth 1 VP if you get a bonus for it and 0 VP otherwise. It is almost always – and I do mean ALWAYS – in your favor to attack your opponent, rather than attacking empty spaces. It really detracts from the game.

And the problem is that if your opponent is only attacking you, you can’t possibly counter it. I have tried many times to ignore the fact that my wife spends her whole turn attacking me. Quite literally, she will take a stack of 10 new tokens and attack my Active race, even if it only gets her two spaces. In one particularly cruel game, she had a Declined race of 6 Wizards one on side of the board, and she used Dragon Master Amazons to continually hit my Active race. She would even pull off the board completely (she did it twice during the game) to hit my race from a different angle. I had to spend every turn either retaking the spaces that had belonged to me, which meant I didn’t hit her Declined race at all, or attacking somewhere new, which meant that I didn’t hit her Active Amazons, who would rout me on the next turn. She beat me by 40+ points, only because she got to go first and counter my moves for the rest of the game.

We both just feel that the two-player version just isn’t as good as the other versions. We love 3, 4, and 5 player, and with those numbers, this game has quickly become one of the top two to pull out. But 2-player just doesn’t do it for me.
 
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Brad Bulkley
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survivorfan wrote:
First of all, even if your race gets a bonus for a terrain (like Swamp or Hill), it is still more worth it to attack your opponent. Think about it this way: if you take a Swamp region and leave your opponent alone, you get +2 on your turn but leave your opponent a 1 point space on theirs, which is only a swing of 1 point in your favor. However, if you attack your opponent’s space, you get a +1 on your turn and take away a point from your opponent, a 2 point swing in your favor...


That math only holds up for a single turn, and it assumes that your opponent is only defending the region with one tile. If the region is defended by multiple tiles (let's say two), it will cost you three tiles to take one region. Alternatively, you could take an uncontested region with a bonus for two tiles, and then use the reinforcement die to try for another region. Then after the first turn you still get your 2 point advantage, and by the second turn that turns into a 4 point advantage.

Even if you don't get the second region using the reinforcement die, you still end up with higher point production, and after 2-3 turns you have more points that you would if you attacked.

And what if you have flying? You can place your units anywhere, out of reach of your opponent. Halflings and Heroic? Make your perimeter invincible. Triton, Giant, Mounted? Take two uncontested regions for the price of one, doubling your point production. If you do it on the opposite side of the board, your opponent can't attack you unless they abandon all their regions and start a new first conquest. You're telling me that will never work?

I still get what you're saying, but I think your strategy is shortsighted. It seems to me that you're only thinking one turn ahead. Granted, the inability to fight back means you can't guarantee that a longer-term plan will always work, but you can do a lot of things to make it hard for your opponent.
 
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Brian Bisignani
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No, my logic is entirely correct. Let me run through a specific example. Say your opponent (we'll call her Allie) has a Declined race with 4 spaces and an Active race with 6 spaces. You have a Declined race with 5 spaces and a brand-new Hill Tritons race coming onto the board, complete with 10 tokens. Three of Allie's Active race tokens have a long token on them, and the other three have 2 tokens on them.

For sake of argument (I don't have the board sitting in front of me), let's assume that Allie is sitting on two Hills, and that four of Allie's spaces are next to water. Let's also assume that, on the other side of the board, there is a bare patch of ground with two Hills and four spaces next to water.

Option A: You hit the bare, empty patch with your Tritons, taking 7 spaces with 10 Tritons (4 @ 1 token and 3 @ 2 tokens), including two Hills. You immediately score 14 points (9 with the Tritons and 5 with the Declined race.) But on Allie's turn, she could take one additional space and score 11 points, 7 for her Active and 4 for her Declined (assuming, of course, that her Active race earns her no bonuses for terrain, and that she doesn't decide to attack you...maybe your Tritons are out of her reach and she doesn't pull off the board to hit you.) You came out of the turn 3 points ahead.

Option B: You hit Allie's Active race with your Tritons. You only have 10 tokens, but you can take two of Allie's weaker-defended spaces and two of her stronger-defended ones, including the two Hills that she is guarding. Now, you only score 11 points, three less than before. But you've also taken those three points away from Allie. So on her turn, she can take the same three excess tokens she had above and take one space. Since she only had 2 spaces to start the turn, she now only gets 7 points on her turn. You come out 4 points ahead.

This is a very rudimentary example, but you can see where I'm coming from. It would need to be 3 times easier to hit an empty space over your opponent's to make it worth it in order to do so.

I apologize for all the math-talk, but my wife and I are both high school math teachers and we think in terms of numbers. Straight strategy dictates that it is always far better to beat your opponent into submission than it is to take empty spaces, even at 2 VP apiece.

And if you think the strategy can be beaten, I encourage you to play against my wife sometime. Every turn, she will take all the units she has (including, almost every turn, abandoning a space) intent on the sole purpose of knocking down your Active race. She will hit you over and over again, until you have no tokens left and are forced to decline. If you avoid her, she'll pull off the board and hit you again. Trust me, it's unbeatable.

Here's the thought that we had, which might make it make it more enticing to hit empty spaces. What if, in 2-player only, you needed an additional token to hit an Active race? So Declined races/Lost Tokens are relatively weaker than Active ones, and empty spaces are wonderfully easy to take. We might give it a try and I'll post how it went.
 
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Richard Johnson
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I prefer the two player game to any other number. Yes it is usually better to attack your opponent than run off by yourself. Also I think the defensive races get a nice boost as a result.
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Nathan Ward
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I've been playing the two player game with my wife and we find very little reason to attack each other. The only time we seem to attack is either for easy pickings or to gain some bonus from our powers etc...

I enjoy the game, but I'm not so sure my wife is that interested as there is not that much for her to think about. I think adding a few more players to the mix would make it a bit more interesting as there is greater potential for feuds to break out and hopefully more tactics to consider (?).
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Joe Brock
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Brian’s analysis is quite intriguing, but I think there is a bit more to it. The idea of creating a two point swing in your favor by taking over another players space really only occurs if the other play has no way of fixing the discrepancy during their turn before scoring without seriously slowing down their progress. In this game, the cost to take over another players space is relatively high, while the cost to fix the lost caused by losing the space is relatively low. Also, remember scoring happens at the end of your turn. So, you score points for spaces you have at the end of your turn, even if your opponent later takes them over during the same turn.

For example, suppose we take two equal races that have no special powers. (I know this will never happen in this game, but stay with me). Let’s say each race has ten counters. One race is pacifist and never fights, while the other race is aggressive and can’t wait to mix things up. We’ll let the pacifist go first, since otherwise only exacerbates what I’m demonstrating (i.e., the pacifist could start far enough away to avoid conflict for several turns). We’ll also forget about the reinforcement die roll, assuming luck would smile on each race equally nullifying the effect. Assume they leave 2 counters in front line spaces for defense after redeployment.

Turn 1
Pacifists take over 5 empty spaces and score 5 points.
Aggressives take over 2 pacifist spaces (at four counters each) and one empty space to score 3 points.
Total --- Pacifist 5 Aggressives 3

Turn 2
Pacifists start with 3 spaces (2 lost last turn) leaving 5 counters available for further conquest(2 died in fighting). They take over 2 additional empty spaces and score 5 points

Aggressives start with 3 spaces leaving 7 counters available for conquest. They take over 1 pacifist space (four counters) and 1 empty space to score 5

Total --- Pacifist 10 Aggressives 8

Turn 3
Pacifists start with 4 spaces (1 lost last turn) leaving 3 counters available for further conquest (1 died in fighting). They take over 1 additional empty space and score 5 points

Aggressives start with 5 spaces leaving 5 counters available for conquest. They take over 1 pacifist space (four counters) to score 6

Total --- Pacifist 15 Aggressives 14


At this point either race can go into decline. For example, if both go into decline the Pacifist score 4 and the Aggresives score 6.

So, as you can see, it's actually a fairly even score no matter whether you’re passive or aggressive.

However, this analysis changes significantly when racial and special powers are added. Powers that add points for occupying spaces tend to help out pacifists while powers that provide extra points or counters for attacking help Aggressives. For example, dragons, amazons, commando, etc. tend to make conquering your neighbor the best strategy for you. On the other hand merchants, woodland, elves, fortresses, wizards, etc. tend to make being a pacifist better.

So, I believe Brian’s strategy is good when using attacking type races and powers, yet I believe an aggressive strategy can be defeated in a two player game using a pacifist type race with the correct special powers.
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Craig Rose
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Without worrying about the maths involved, I prefer playing 3 and 4 person games. They are simply more fun. Once they add some additional races and powers, I'll have as much fun with 5 person games.
 
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Alex Rockwell
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You're correct, the 2 player IS all about slaughtering each other as much as possible.

Its different from 3+ player but also good.
 
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Paul Couch
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The 2 two player games my flat mate and I played both had me attacking like crazy (with the skeletons in both games). I cottoned on to the attack strategy. I won both fairly easily, at one point (just before he came back in), I had literally every territory on the board with either my skellys or my declined race. He is a great Vinci Player, but does not enjoy this so much.
 
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Gary Bradley
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survivorfan wrote:
Think about it this way: if you take a Swamp region and leave your opponent alone, you get +2 on your turn but leave your opponent a 1 point space on theirs, which is only a swing of 1 point in your favor. However, if you attack your opponent’s space, you get a +1 on your turn and take away a point from your opponent, a 2 point swing in your favor.


OK I've never played this game so I could be talking crap, but the above statment makes the assuption that when you attack your opponent's space, you always "win" it, to get your +2. Yes, I am thinking Risk here, where attacking an empty space = you always take control of it; BUT attacking an opponent's space = a mini battle ensues which you might lose.

Not sure if this is relevant here.
 
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Eric Nolan
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Wildspaceace wrote:
At this point either race can go into decline. For example, if both go into decline the Pacifist score 4 and the Aggresives score 6.

So, as you can see, it's actually a fairly even score no matter whether you’re passive or aggressive.


I think there is a flaw in your argument here. Why would the aggresives even consider going in to decline? They still have every token they started with.

Turn 4:
Pacifists go in to decline. They score 4.

Aggresives have 6 regions and 4 tokens available for attack. They take one pacifist space and could take another one (1/3 chance) but let's assume they don't. They score 7.

Total - Pacifists 19, Aggresives 21

Turn 5:
Assuming the Pacifists get the same test case race out and there is enough empty territory for them to keep snapping up they score 8 (5A+3D)

Aggresives have 7 regions and three tokens for attack. They attack a declined race token and take it. Score 8.

Total - Pacifists 27, Aggresives 29

Turn 6:
Pacifists have 5 tokens for attack they taken two regions and score 9 (7A+2D).

Aggresives now cannot expand without relying on the reinforcement die so they decline and score 8 (0A+8D)

Total - Pacifists 36, Aggresives 37

Turn 7:
Pacifist have 3 tokens for attack and therefore take one additional region and score 10 (8A+2D).

Aggresives arrive with 10 tokens and (out of sheer bloodthirstiness) attack the Pacifists strong points and take them both (requiring 8 tokens) against their nature they take one of the unlimited number of empty spaces for a gain of three regions. They score 11 (3A+8D).

Total - Pacifists 46, Aggresives 48

Turn 8:
Pacifists control 8 regions and have no tokens for attack. They must decline. They score 8 (0A+8D)

Aggressives have 7 tokens available for attack so they take two regions and score 13 (5A + 8D).

Total - Pacifists 54, Aggresives 61

I think you were right that it's close but in the situation you described aggresive play will always win. However you are also right that this scenario won't happen in reality. If your race is a VP gainer and your opponent is a Defensive one then you probably should be passive. If your race is an Aggresive one and your opponent is a VP gainer then you probably should be aggresive.

I think the basic rule of thumb is that Aggresive has the edge in two player. When choosing your race try to go for aggresive ones since it's the better strategy. If you can't get an aggresive race then go for a point gainer if your opponent is also one and a defensive one if your opponent is aggresive.
 
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Jon Quinn
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5 games played so far, of which 4 were 2 player and 1 was 3 player.

2 player games are fun for us, and are played very quickly, but 3 player adds to the fun factor but took a little longer.

I hope to play a 4 player game (or 5 player) soon.
 
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Brad Bulkley
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Hivemind wrote:
I think there is a flaw in your argument here. Why would the aggresives even consider going in to decline? They still have every token they started with.


I don't think there is a flaw. I would go into decline on that turn as well. What's the point of leaving one active token defending most of my regions when I can leave one declined token, bring another race onto the board, and score points for both races? If I can only conquer one new region, I'm likely to go into decline.

I think all of this is something of a moot point anyway. We all seem to agree that it can be beneficial to take uncontested regions, and in a two player game those generally only appear at the start. By turn 3 or 4, the map is usually completely filled. That's the beauty of having boards specific to the number of players. I know you mentioned that in your games you've had regions go uncontested the entire game, but I think that's more a factor of the race/power combinations than anything else.

In other words, you're supposed to attack. The boards are designed to ensure conflict is inevitable. You just played games where attacking was beneficial earlier than expected and stayed that way. It doesn't mean that's the best course of action every time.

That said, I do think 3 and 4 player is more interesting. I still enjoy two player (very much so), but it's just more fun when there are more options for attacking and defending.
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Brian Bisignani
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The specific numbers don't actually matter. The easiest way to say it is this: It is twice as good to attack and take an enemy space as it is to take a space not occupied by the opponent, because you get the point either way and deprive them of the point on their next turn. So unless it is more than twice as easy to attack a space not occupied by the opponent (a rarity, since it costs so much just to take empty and since Declines tokens are as easy to attack as Lost Tribe tokens), you should ALWAYS attack your opponent, on every turn.

I wouldn't care so much if this was an attack-driven game, but I feel that it detracts from the mechanics of the game. My wife and I rarely have a race survive more than a single turn In Decline, since it gets attacked immediately. We pull our entire race off the board at least two or three times a game, to access each other's races on the other side of the map. And, like I said above, we often have half of the map left untouched the entire game. It really makes the game drag out.

Thanks for all the replies, I wanted to see what exactly you guys thought. I much prefer the 3+ player games better, because there are far more decisions and actual strategy that goes into the game! Thanks, Geekers!
 
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Mark Brehob
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So far I've only played it as a 2-player game. We both picked up quickly on the fact that attacking each other was the preferred action, but we also saw reasons to spread out. For example, I had skeleton with the power that requires 1 less token to attack and was going to put them in decline next turn (he had a small number of spaces well defended with heroes and large stacks). So I spread out trying to get down to 1 skel per space.

He had merchants and took a small number of unoccupied spaces to get the 2x bonus as best as possible.

I had skels (same game) and attacked a number of NPC spaces to get the bonus skels.

He had the ability to take water spaces early and stretched to take those spaces right away (rather than attacking me) so he could get all 3 spaces as a bonus once in decline and there wasn't much I could do about it.

So I think there are optimal things to do that don't involve pounding each other. But in a 2-player game that certainly seems to be the default plan.
 
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Jason Oman
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If you want to make the 2 player less aggressive i suggest disallowing voluntary abandoning of regions.
Much of the wanton aggressiveness seems to stem from this ability to:
1. Attack with a full force again and again.
2. Attack from another angle.

If troops committed to territories had to leave one behind, races would naturally run their course and players would have somewhat more security in their maneuvering on the board.

I think this simple rule, just for 2 player would take the edge off the aggressiveness enough without ruining the game.

If alternatively others like the aggressive play for something diff, then play as is.
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Brad Bulkley
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BamH1 wrote:
If you want to make the 2 player less aggressive i suggest disallowing voluntary abandoning of regions.


Damn, that's not a bad idea. I might try it.
 
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Guido Gloor
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I played some 2 player games with my wife, and I quite like the game in its 2 player incarnation. Yes, it is more aggressive than with more players, but that doesn't necessarily make it worse.
 
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Merchants power does encourage one to attack empty regions, at lower cost in troops.
If your opponent is Trolls, the cost of attacking them is quite high.
If he has Halflings + Heroes, he can completely block any attempt to attack him (if you cannot fly or move from cave to cave).

Of course, having only one opponent leads to more directly agressive strategy (you don't have to watch behind you as much as in a multiplayer game). But that is a general law when comparing 2-player and multiplayer games.

I would say that each number of players leads to some different effects.

One can prefer this or that mode of game.

I personally like each type of game.
 
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