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Subject: The Importance of Being Bankrupt rss

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Gareth
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This topic originally arose in this thread about Steam's rise through the ratings. Rather than derail that thread I thought it would be better to move it here.

I began by saying:
Capoeirista wrote:
The games are similar, yes, but not identical. The charm, for me, of AoS was in the brutality - the tension of clawing towards profitabilty while hoping you don't hit the end of the loan track before you get there. My favorite memories are of games where I was sure I would never be profitable, the sense of doom that brought about and the sense of relief when it became clear I was going to scrape through.

While I admire many of the changes made in Steam, I find that the split income/VP track kills the game flat for me. Coupled with the lack of income reduction, the split track means that I can always just sacrifice game position for money by taking more loans and raising fewer victory points later. This creates an illusion of being still in the game when in reality you're not. As a result, I find games of Steam to be less tense and it just doesn't have the draw for me that Age of Steam does.

To which Jim B responded:
jimb wrote:
Capoeirista wrote:
.. the split track means that I can always just sacrifice game position for money by taking more loans and raising fewer victory points later. This creates an illusion of being still in the game when in reality you're not. As a result, I find games of Steam to be less tense

This is entirely correct, and a really important point, imho.

I've been pondering the same issue from the other side of the fence; wondering, 'whats the big deal about having bankruptcy in the game, or not? if you make bad financial decisions, you'll lose VP's, and it will all come out in the end'.

In this sense, it doesn't seem like Steam is less challenging to win.

But I can appreciate that some players just prefer the tenser atmosphere & paranoia, while some players prefer a more relaxed atmosphere.

In Steam or AoS - if you're borrowing too much money, you're going down. In a tense atmosphere, it's bankruptcy; in a relaxed atmosphere, it's a bad score (but possibly, some fun building track while you learn your lesson).


It's funny, the introduction of the split VP/Income track and the removal of Income Reduction are the two things which kill Steam for me. Yet, if the game does go on to surpass it's forbearer in terms of rating, ranking or popularity, I'm sure these same two modifications will have played a very large part in it.

All other changes are largely streamlining, which is probably a good thing. I prefer the predictable production, the easier to calculate track costs and the far, far, simpler end game scoring. I think they improve the flow, while, for me at least, losing nothing of what makes the game fun. Even for the most staunch Age of Steam supporters could probably at least tolerate these changes. Splitting the VPs from the income, however, removes the tension which was at the very core of the game.

The best analogy I can come up with (and, as you'll soon see, it's pretty bad), is learning to swim. Both Age of Steam and Steam teach you how to swim, both even take the approach of throwing you in the deep end to help you get there a bit quicker. However, where Steam gives you a small floatation device to help you, should you get into real bother, Age of Steam instead starts you off with a pair of concrete shoes, drops the water to below freezing and turns the wave machine onto the "Insane" setting. At the end of the day, both will teach you how to swim, but only one of them makes you feel like you really earned it.

So, if it's that bad, why do I say it will help it succeed? Well, it's simple, I think there are more people looking for the floatation device than the wave machine approach. It's clearly becoming the norm for Euro style games to keep everyone in the game up until the end, even if they have absolutely no chance of winning. I think it's part of why I fell in love with Age of Steam so quickly, that it was so unusual to find myself, at the end of the first turn of my first game, only $1 away from being put out of the game altogether!

That said, I appreciate that it's not for everyone. There are plenty of people who prefer the less brutal route, where you get to keep playing even though you can't win. At the end of the day, one kind is better for me, but if you prefer things the other way, that's cool too, go with whichever creates the most fun for you and your group.

On a more positive note, I'm still glad Steam exists. It didn't have to be the same game as Age of Steam, after all, we already have Age of Steam. It's nice that it fills a slightly different niche, and while I may be disappointed that it's not a niche I'm particularly interested in, I'm happy for all those who get to enjoy it who might have not played Age of Steam for one reason or another.

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Great thoughts.

After only one play of Steam (and many of AoS), I was surprised to find that I liked some things in Steam better. Mainly the way production is handled. There is more AP in Steam, when you have to choose which set of goods to place. But its a HUGE decision. The person taking Urbanization or Goods Growth in the first two turns has the largest decision tree and the most at stake. But the wait while they sort through the choices is going to be a bit dull for the other players.

I have mixed feelings about the change there. Yes, there is room for more strategy since you can plan things much more. But the downside for me is that I think one of the strengths of my play is flexibility and adapting to changes. When an unexpected result or player turn occurs, being able to adjust your plan mid-stream was usually the difference between winning and losing in AoS. With Steam, there's a lot less pressure on players to be able to do that, since the dice are removed from the game for goods growth.

As far as the original post in this thread, I completely agree that the strongest draw to Age of Steam for me was the tension of trying to become profitable and the stress of barely breaking even. I agree that this feeling is diminished greatly in Steam. Its "friendlier" but I don't really want my games to be friendly.

I'm looking forward to more play with Steam. Its a stronger game than I expected. I think I'll ultimately prefer AoS, but I think I might want to pull the goods growth from Steam and leave the rest of the game as it is. We'll see.
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Capoeirista wrote:
It's clearly becoming the norm for Euro style games to keep everyone in the game up until the end, even if they have absolutely no chance of winning.


Hasn't this always been the norm for Euro style games, as opposed to Ameritrash style games?
 
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Thanks for opening the thread - it's an interesting topic. There's some comments above that go beyond just bankruptcy & player-elimination, but here's some scattered thoughts about all of this. In addition to Standard vs AoS, I think many of these issues apply to Base vs Standard too, so I'm going to take the liberty of using that contrast in some of these observations --

- To play Standard well, you need to do your accounting and planning well; this is one feature that strongly distinguishes Standard and AoS, from Base. (In isolation, though, it's not a player-elimination issue.)

- That accounting and planning takes a lot of game-time, in Standard or AoS; allowing that it's another skill, it still needs to be weighed against its effects on game duration: you might finish 2 games of Base, in the same time as 1 game of Standard.

[I'm paraphrasing some other people's comments on the forum there, too.]

- I find that when I can raise capital when I need it (in Base), it can make the return-on-investment issues purer. In that sense - I can focus more on strategy, and less on accounting.

- Player-elimination clearly splits the preferences of social- or relaxed- groups (rare player-elimination) versus more hardcore groups (constant threat of player-elimination or mayhem)...

- But also, in terms of Steam 'accessibility', and why it might succeed: all game play issues aside, I think you have to take the onboard tracks, displays, and accessible rulebook into account (esp. Base rules, but either way). Those things are major strategic/market advantages, imho, that get lost in the details when we're comparing supply systems or financial tension. Along these lines, Steam's Income/Expenses & VP tracks are just better produced and easier to use than the comparable income-track, stock, and income-reduction displays & mechanisms in AoS. Taken together, these 'form factor' issues make Steam significantly more accessible, regardless of the merits of its game-play changes. (That's a bit off-topic, but I wanted to mention it.)

edit - minor
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I very nearly went bankrupt in one of my games, and then came back for a win.
 
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sisteray wrote:
I very nearly went bankrupt in one of my games, and then came back for a win.
Me too. I'm not sure if this is a normal pattern, but it seems that players who go deep red early on (intelligently) tend to slingshot past the conservative players late in the game. Makes for a thrilling finish. Perhaps as folks get more experience and discover more strategies, the 'brutality' that some are missing will appear.
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pastabatman wrote:
sisteray wrote:
I very nearly went bankrupt in one of my games, and then came back for a win.
Me too. I'm not sure if this is a normal pattern, but it seems that players who go deep red early on (intelligently) tend to slingshot past the conservative players late in the game. Makes for a thrilling finish. Perhaps as folks get more experience and discover more strategies, the 'brutality' that some are missing will appear.

Me too. :-) In my first 4-player game with Base, I had to build some track segments in mountains and misc. It got me lots of bypasses and town-links, but was expensive; I got down to about -8-9 momentarily on the expense track, I guess. I knew I was building more track than others, though, and did remind them of the scoring effects. (They built conservatively - there were limited goods, and they placed few tracks, economically, while I was dynamiting the hillsides.)

Later - I was way behind on the VP track even at the end of the 8th turn (my deliveries were finally kicking in, but theirs weren't far behind).

I was kicking myself for waiting one tick too long to go for score/volume.

Anyway, we added up track links for the final VP count ... and I made up all ~11 points of difference in track points; I won by 1 point. :-) (That was mostly their play, I'm afraid; I'm not sure what the moral is.)

PS. I have to wonder - re: the importance of bankruptcy - whether this slingshot effect we're discussing may be exacerbated by a lack of player-elimination. Eg, if you're not showing returns, then investors won't keep giving you money - this ability to get financing freely may let me plan my return-on-investment strategy 'ideally' over the game, but it's not necessarily realistic. Which gets back to the question of whether it does all 'come out in the end' (elimination vs bad-score, just being a difference of style) - or whether actually something is missing without the bankruptcy, that allows would-be corpses to slingshot to victory, when they earned death. I'm quite curious whether this is possible or not, assuming otherwise reasonable play all around.

edit - minor phrasing, '6th' corrected to '8th', add PS
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Capoeirista wrote:
The games are similar, yes, but not identical. The charm, for me, of AoS was in the brutality - the tension of clawing towards profitabilty while hoping you don't hit the end of the loan track before you get there. My favorite memories are of games where I was sure I would never be profitable, the sense of doom that brought about and the sense of relief when it became clear I was going to scrape through.


Eric Martin has commented that you don't play Age of Steam, you survive it. While a little dramatic, there's some truth to the statement. I write in my profile:

clearclaw profile wrote:
-- Unfriendliness. Simply, my favourite games seem to specialise in making their player's game lives difficult. They have absurdly high penalties for failure, they disproportionately abuse early errors and they appear capricious and even arbitrary (despite being perfect information games) until the secret dances and languages are learned. Ideally merely playing the game could be catharsis for deistic sin.


I partly had Age of Steam in mind when I wrote that.
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I have seen many players in AoS going nearly bancrupt, and then barely surviving the rest of the game by selecting Production or shipping that benefit others more than themselves - but without building new tracks (as they have no money).

I find it far better to have these people actually play the game rather than merely trying to 'hang on'.
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Great Dane wrote:
I find it far better to have these people actually play the game rather than merely trying to 'hang on'.

This is one of the reasons Steam is gaining more favour than AoS with me. The unforgiving nature of the early game in AoS put off a minority of players in our group; the trouble I have now is persuading him to join in. However he only went bankrupt once; the rest of the times he played AoS he never got bankrupt but was usually trailing; but what he really didn't like was sitting out of the game - and I agree that isn't such a good thing outside of a tournament scenario.

For players familiar with AoS, bankruptcy is never a problem (I acknowledge some maps may change this); the problem then becomes one of maximising VPs. This generally means taking income to a level at which zero or minimal shares are issued each turn; then from there shipping for maximum income (and hence VP). A player can be noticeably out of contention in the mid-to-late game and still have a good number of turns to suffer. So I cannot accept that AoS is any less a Euro in respect of non-elimination. I guess what I'm also trying to say here, is that while elimination might be a good mechanism from the perspective of somebody not enjoying themselves , it happens a lot less in AoS than is being professed here.

Looking at Steam in comparison, you don't need to worry about bankruptcy in the early game, you probably won't need to in the mid game and in the end game you probably don't care. However, whether a player is out of contention is very difficult to tell until the mid-to-late game, just like AoS.

So essentially the dilemma for me is whether or not I should introduce our objectional minority into playing Steam regularly; at the end of the day it will be up to him, but I have to ask myself if he will like it as much as the rest of us. The fact he prefers RT to AoS doesn't qualify anything here; what he likes about RT just isn't present in either AoS or Steam.
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Don't have time to write a long response, but just wanted to chip in to say that the title of the thread may be leading people astray a little (I just chose it because it sounded funny). I've never actually seen someone go bankrupt and even those who've come close, it's usually been in their first few games. It's less about having people go bankrupt and more about the feeling that you could go bankrupt. I'll try and post more later.

Regardless, this is an interesting discussion, thanks to all who have chipped in so far.
 
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I have found you have to worry about bankruptcy in the middle game if you are a player who takes risks. I think if you are a risktaker, the locomotive is generally your way out of the hole.

Case in point...

Last night I played a two player game against my oldest on the NE USA board, western-most sections. For fun, I figured I'd play this game more risky than I usually do (I had won two or three in a row since my first skid). I was bleeding red almost all game - I don't think I turned a profit more than one turn out of the ten. She played her usual spot-on game and was taking deliveries in New York for three spaces. I had developed locomotive early and often and developed the extreme west to Ottawa - I was blowing money left and right. I had loco #4 by the sixth turn. She received it on the final turn and couldn't use it. On the final turn, I took the first tile. After getting my income to zero, she made some minimal deliveries with her remaining cubes. After tracks were built and the dust settled, I had lost 29-28 - the narrowest of margins.

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clearclaw wrote:
Eric Martin has commented that you don't play Age of Steam, you survive it. While a little dramatic, there's some truth to the statement. I write in my profile, '... my favourite games seem to specialise in making their player's game lives difficult. They have absurdly high penalties for failure, they disproportionately abuse early errors and they appear capricious and even arbitrary (despite being perfect information games) until the secret dances and languages are learned. Ideally merely playing the game could be catharsis for deistic sin.'

Nice. :-)

I think you said you play 18xx more frequently than AoS nowadays; if so, is that because 18xx has more of 'all that' (above), or is there something else about the 18xx games that you crave?

I'm just curious - I haven't played 18xx.
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jimb wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
Eric Martin has commented that you don't play Age of Steam, you survive it. While a little dramatic, there's some truth to the statement. I write in my profile, '... my favourite games seem to specialise in making their player's game lives difficult. They have absurdly high penalties for failure, they disproportionately abuse early errors and they appear capricious and even arbitrary (despite being perfect information games) until the secret dances and languages are learned. Ideally merely playing the game could be catharsis for deistic sin.'

Nice. :-)


Thanks.

Quote:
I think you said you play 18xx more frequently than AoS nowadays;...


I haven't played Age of Steam is more than 2 years. Back in the day I was playing once or twice a week, every week, year after year. I think the max I ever did was something like 15 games over a long weekend. 18xx, and by subtend the Winsome games, currently dominate my play-time and gaming attention. In quick example we've played 18TN four times in the last 6 days and I generally play somewhere between one and five 18xx games per month these days, sometimes a little more. It is unlikely I'll ever sustain the play-rate I had for Age of Steam, but that's more because the games are longer than anything else.

Quote:
...if so, is that because 18xx has more of 'all that' (above), or is there something else about the 18xx games that you crave?


Yes, in some part. There are also other aspects. Quoting a few others from my profile:

clearclaw profile wrote:
-- Relatively strong zero-sum patterns. While I have no interest in Take-That! games, advancement explicitly at the cost of the other player's positions is appreciated. Screwage should be clearly but not dominantly expressed, and must be matched and balanced by personal player self-interest. Arbitrary hosage is uninteresting. Carving on and foiling other player's plans and positions while advancing my own is desirable. On the other side, if I can't positively and negatively affect another player's game fortunes, why am I wasting my time with this pansy activity? There must be struggle, and it is good if at least a portion of that struggle is zero-sum. I am generally not interested in efficiency-race games.

-- Small random effects. This is often thought of as a requirement for perfect control. That's false. I simply find random events/effects uninteresting and even mildly depressing (why am I bothering?). I'm interested in the other players as the source of prediction challenges, not the game. I find no tension or interest or anything but mildly distasteful disinterest in rolling dice or pulling cards to see what whatever comes up. I'd rather go do something actually interesting and have the game tell me what happened later.

...

-- Emergent strong player incentive structures. The ability to control, direct and even dictate other player's interests, as well as to have my own interests similarly declared by other players is wonderful. Frequently this manifests as either explicit negotiation or implicit negotiation via board play (moves that make offers to other players). Quite possibly the one pattern I enjoy more than any other in gaming is to setup another player so that their primary in-game interest is to help me win (or to be setup that way myself). In short, Set it up so that the best way to improve your game position is to help me win.


And the 18xx certainly deliver all that. The largest attraction however is that along with those pleasant traits, I also simply don't understand the 18xx and how to play them well. I'm getting there, laboriously, but at best I currently aspire to mediocrity. This isn't too surprising: I've only played a few hundred games. I like that I have a lot to learn.

Quote:
I'm just curious - I haven't played 18xx.


The 18xx vary widely in their brutality, but yes, those traits of the 18xx are highly attractive to me. Some of the 18xx lend themselves to far more aggressive play than others. There is also an element of group-style involved. Some groups (and players) are far more aggressive than others, and thus create far more violent games than others -- but that's not unique to the 18xx. I am certainly not the most aggressive player I play 18xx with, not even close, but I'm learning to be.
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Thanks for the followup. I just poked around the 18xx (1830), Chicago and Silverton groups to get a better overview. I can see why 18xx would appeal to you - I think I'd miss the emphasis on rails, and struggle with the detailed economic elements (& tracking), but those tracks look absolutely fantastic. meeple
 
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jimb wrote:
Thanks for the followup. I just poked around the 18xx (1830), Chicago and Silverton groups to get a better overview. I can see why 18xx would appeal to you - I think I'd miss the emphasis on rails, and struggle with the detailed economic elements (& tracking), but those tracks look absolutely fantastic. :meeple:


Hehn. I'm a little biased.

All of the games (Chicago Express, the 18xx, etc) are extremely heavily patterned. They reward patterned play, and they particularly heavily reward patterned analysis. In turn this encourages strong heuristics. The problem and the delight is that there they have a LOT of patterns, tons of them and more, layers upon layers, some long and some short. It is possible to iteratively analyse the games, but it is quite unrewarding for insight and game-progress. Start working the patterns however and the games start to flower, revealing layers upon layers, and then yet more, often on what seem on the face of it the most trivial of decisions. And the correct answer to those questions...is unstable and ambiguous, dependent not only on your predictions but on the pattern combinations that emerge across the other players. Harking back to another discussion, there are frequently shocking points of clarity that stretch far into the future...sitting right beside morasses of uncertainty.

It is possible to get lost in there.
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Interesting; I like Go for many of those reasons (the patterns, depth, and heuristics), but I do gravitate to games with relatively simple and/or well-integrated mechanics. (Caylus was overly mechanical to me; Empire Builder well past.)

The main exception seems to be more thematic games (whether historical or fantastic); then, I'll tolerate the mechanics to that end, but it's still irritating when they're plain (eg, gate-rifts in Kingsport/Arkham).

That bias comes out, in this case, against the complexity in accounting and extra game-phasing in Standard or AoS. (I have no problem with player elimination...)

edit - minor wording, typo
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clearclaw wrote:
All of the games (Chicago Express, the 18xx, etc) are extremely heavily patterned. They reward patterned play, and they particularly heavily reward patterned analysis. In turn this encourages strong heuristics. The problem and the delight is that there they have a LOT of patterns, tons of them and more, layers upon layers, some long and some short. It is possible to iteratively analyse the games, but it is quite unrewarding for insight and game-progress. Start working the patterns however and the games start to flower, revealing layers upon layers, and then yet more, often on what seem on the face of it the most trivial of decisions. And the correct answer to those questions...is unstable and ambiguous, dependent not only on your predictions but on the pattern combinations that emerge across the other players. Harking back to another discussion, there are frequently shocking points of clarity that stretch far into the future...sitting right beside morasses of uncertainty.


A brief note if reading the above caused you concern: You are not aphasic. Clearclaw is babbling. Clearclaw is not aphasic either, which is why his babbling is always of such high quality.

clearclaw wrote:
It is possible to get lost in there.

Indeed
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