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Subject: 2 variants on the investment phase rss

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Thibaut Palfer-Sollier
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Hi fellow geeksninja

Like many of you, I think that the investment phase is not much interesting the way it is. It is not broken, but it has a strong "that much for so few" feeling. Its mechanisms are useless most of the time (no blocking, turn order unimportant) and it is played almost automatically (invest the highest amount you can).

The idea is to :
- either oversimplify it to make the game even more accessible and fast at a very low cost in terms of gameplay
- or make it more interesting at the lowest possible cost in terms of accessibility
In either case, I can't see how it could hurt the game considering how the investment phase is currently designed.

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Family game - completely overrides the current rules

Each player will have to invest money (by steps of 5£) to earn victory points. On the 3 first turns, each player has to invest an amount such that he is left with 13£ to 17£. On the last turn, each player has to invest as much money as possible.
Spend the correct amount and use your investment cubes to keep track of your VPs on the money track. Add the VPs you just earned to the ones you earned on the previous turns (of course, everyone starts with 0 VP). Use the investment table to compute the amount of VPs earned.

The game is now even more accessible and a bit faster at very low cost - the situation enforced by this rule is what happens most of the time whatever the case.
Players can concentrate on the action phase and know how much money they will get on the next turn - they can integrate that into their decisions.
It may even be interesting for advanced players.


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Expert game - modifies the current rules

In the action phase, put your time tracker on the first free spot of the turn order track starting from the right side (instead of the left side in current rules) when you do pass. In other words, you'll start the investment phase last if you pass first during the action phase (and so on).

The investment phase plays like the action phase regarding turn order and active player. Each 5£ invested costs 1 unit of time. The time trackers will be put back on the time table. Start with the lowest line. If you reach the end of it, go on from the beginning of the line just above, and so one. You can then track investments up to 200£. If multiple trackers are on the same time spot, pile them up in the right order.

Each investment in itself is done as in the current rules (put cubes on the investment table, limit of 2 cubes per spot, immediate spending, 12 cubes for the whole game) with the addition of the time spending.

The active player can choose to pass and hence not invest anymore for this turn. If he does so, he puts its time tracker on the first free spot of the turn order track starting from the left side (as the current rules for the pass action). In other words, you'll start the next turn first if you pass first during the investment phase (and so on).

This phase will now be interesting at each turn and in each configuration because it will determine the next turn order. It's more interesting to start last because you know what other players have done and can do. You have the most control at this moment, which can be very important for the turn order.
It should also leave players with much less automated choices regarding optimal moves (blocking, amount to invest). And I can't see how it would hurt the game.
Finally, the mechanism used is strictly the same than the one used in the action phase. Not much to explain...


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What do you think ?
I would be very grateful if some of you could try them !

Thank you very much
 
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Geeky McGeekface
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Here are some quick thoughts.

For your "family game", I would remove all restrictions and just let each player invest as much as they liked each turn, in 5 pound increments. Use pencil and paper to keep score and have a running total of the VPs each player earns each round. This makes it much easier to determine who's winning than squinting at the cubes on the Investment board and doing the math in your head. As you say, this is what happens the vast majority of the time anyway. Incidentally, this would be my preferred way of playing.

For the "expert game", I have mixed feelings. Tying your investment strategy to turn order is interesting, but it does so at the cost of taking away the tension from the turn order determination during the Actions phase. That could be a serious loss. Besides, if I happen to sell a lot of ore during my turn, I'm certainly going to want to invest the bulk of that money--why should that necessarily doom me to going last next turn? More to the point, will players often give up VPs just so they can go earlier during the next turn? If the answer is "no", then I think you've removed interest from the game.

Another problem is that while it's an advantage to go last from the point of view of knowing what your opponents have done, you'll also lose all ties (i.e., if Tom invests 30 and the logical thing for me to do is to also invest 30, I'll go after him in turn order; I could invest 25 instead, but it'll cost me VPs). So you've taken the clear advantage of going first based on when actions are finished and turned it into a mixed bag.

If I had my druthers, I'd accept that Martin overdesigned the investment portion of the game and just use the simple scoring method I outlined in my family game thoughts. It makes things go quicker, is much easier to explain, makes leader determination simpler, and does very little to change the way the games invariably play out.
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Thibaut Palfer-Sollier
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Larry Levy wrote:
Here are some quick thoughts.
Thank you very much for that

Larry Levy wrote:
For your "family game", I would remove all restrictions and just let each player invest as much as they liked each turn, in 5 pound increments.
When I look at the kind of players who would benefit from this simplification, it seems worth it to remove the burden of computing how much you want to invest. Even more when the experience shows that players end up more or less in the same area regarding money at the beginning of the turn. And they know exactly how much money they will get on the next turns, which can be beneficial I think.
What do you think is the added benefit of letting the player choose the amount to invest in the context of this variant ? To me, it is minor enough to remove it.

Larry Levy wrote:
Use pencil and paper to keep score and have a running total of the VPs each player earns each round. This makes it much easier to determine who's winning than squinting at the cubes on the Investment board and doing the maths in your head.
My proposal was to use the money track also as a score track instead of using the investment table. Its only use in the family variant is to help compute at each turn the VPs you score. But you track them on the money track using 2 investment cubes (the other 10 are useless).
Would you rather do it on paper or was my original proposal not clear enough on this point ?

Larry Levy wrote:
Tying your investment strategy to turn order is interesting, but it does so at the cost of taking away the tension from the turn order determination during the Actions phase. That could be a serious loss.
The tension should be here if the turn order in the investment phase is of interest. And I think it is (see below).
But I completely agree on the fact that it shouldn't be harmed in the process.

Larry Levy wrote:
Besides, if I happen to sell a lot of ore during my turn, I'm certainly going to want to invest the bulk of that money--why should that necessarily doom me to going last next turn?
You scored more VPs than the other players, you get to play last. It balances the fact that you are probably ahead regarding VPs, at least for this turn. In other words, it helps loosing players to catch the winning one.
To me, it is a good thing. But you (and others) may disagree.

Larry Levy wrote:
More to the point, will players often give up VPs just so they can go earlier during the next turn? If the answer is "no", then I think you've removed interest from the game.
The question most of the time will be : is it worth it to loose 6/5/4/3 VPs to play early in the next turn with 5£ more ? My guess is that there is no right answer and it will depend on circumstances. But the "yes" seems very tempting whatever the case.
In other words, it seems to be an interesting choice.

Larry Levy wrote:
Another problem is that while it's an advantage to go last from the point of view of knowing what your opponents have done, you'll also lose all ties (i.e., if Tom invests 30 and the logical thing for me to do is to also invest 30, I'll go after him in turn order; I could invest 25 instead, but it'll cost me VPs). So you've taken the clear advantage of going first based on when actions are finished and turned it into a mixed bag.
To me, turn order control is far more important than a potential 6/5/4/3 VPs loss. The first player may well have invested 30£, but he doesn't have any control on what other players invest (until they have invested at least as much as he did) and on when he will get his first move on next turn. To me, it even adds another interesting choice : do I invest a lot right now to give me the edge on ties or do I invest the lowest possible to get control back as quickly as possible ?
To be more specific, you control 2 turn orders by playing last (and being the active player afterwards) : the one of the current investment phase and the one of the next turn. The first one can really make a difference at blocking other players and spending more than them in the end. The second one doesn't need any comment, I think.

However, I hesitated on letting the player choose his position regarding turn order when he passes during the action phase. I didn't see the interest of it back then, but maybe it is a better idea.

Larry Levy wrote:
If I had my druthers, I'd accept that Martin overdesigned the investment portion of the game and just use the simple scoring method I outlined in my family game thoughts. It makes things go quicker, is much easier to explain, makes leader determination simpler, and does very little to change the way the games invariably play out.
Maybe.
But before making this call, I'd like to try to make something out of it
 
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Geeky McGeekface
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By all means give your expert variant a try and tell us how it plays. My only point is that just because a designer inserts a mechanic that doesn't seem to deliver on its promise, we don't necessarily have to fill the void with an alternative. We can choose to prune away the offending rules instead. Sometimes Addition by Subtraction is the best option.
 
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Seth
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Family game:

All the tension in the investment phase comes from deciding how much to leave yourself with, and I've found that (quite often) spending more than you've suggested is correct. There are certainly games where I spend down to 15 pounds, but I usually find myself in the 7-10 pound range to start the next phase. Of course, understanding the order that improvements will be taken is vital here. If you like the idea of simplifying the game for new players ... well, this isn't too bad, but I wouldn't use this after the first round. They should pick up on this fairly quickly.

Expert game:

I agree that tweaking the investment phase would make for a more fulfilling game. As Larry suggests, the cube-blocking mechanism doesn't deliver. Scoring points early is good, if I sacrifice additional actions in the action phase I want that to be tied into my turn placement in the next action phase.

The spirit of the investment phase is that you should be able to aggressively reduce your opponents options to invest. With rules as written this is impractical (except in a few rare instances, I have seen games where players earned so much on copper stockpiles in round 4 that the amount of money was greater than the maximum possible investment that could be made by players), so my fix would be to make the competition for spaces more fierce.

It would perhaps be too brutal to limit spaces to 1 cube instead of 2, but perhaps a middle ground exists? What if no more than 3 cubes could be played in any two adjacent (within phase) square?

In the real game (using X for a cube and [] for a space) a position like:

...[X][X]...

permits the next player to block either square (provided he could afford them), but my suggestion would allow him to block both by investing in either.

...[XX][X]... or ...[X][XX]...

This could be interesting as early as turn 1 if the game is close. It would also mean that this position:

...[X][X][X]...

allows a player to block out 3 spaces with a single placement. I still suspect turn order would be vital with this rule, so perhaps investing would have to go in reverse VP order instead of action/pass-order.

Alternatively, I think the actual mechanic might work if you removed the 40/50 pound columns from the investment table altogether.

Overall I don't think that your `Expert variant' is bad, I just think it would have too great a change on the game.
 
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Thibaut Palfer-Sollier
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Having thought a bit more about it, I think my expert variant IS bad.

Generally speaking (and like Larry suspected), it is a bad idea to link turn order determination and the investment phase for 2 reasons :
- It degrades the interest of the pass action too much, hence degrading the action phase itself. A player who knows he will invest sensibly more (or less) than the others has no interest in passing.
- It makes the game much more about computation, and a painful one. Turn order is determined by money (roughly) instead of time. Money computations are obviously much harder to do.

Turn order determination should be left as is.
I have another completely different idea that looks much more promising. I will say more about it when I'll have some time to post it and, hopefully, to test it.

Anyway, thank you very much for all your messages !
 
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