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Pirate's Cove» Forums » Variants

Subject: Negotiation is an elegant solution to the Cove's problems. rss

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Joseph Arthur Ellis
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It's hard to disagree with Pirate's Cove fans who praise the game's atmosphere and fun. But the game's critics have some good points too, citing a built-in incentive to avoid others and a crippling disadvantage for the pirate unlucky enough to lose a few early battles (especially with 4-5 players).

Some have said the avoidance of battle is an intended strategy and is even thematic, but this is silly. Why put so much work into the battle system if the goal is to avoid it entirely?

The solution: negotiation.

After revealing destinations in phase 1, pirates sharing islands can negotiate peace. The negotiation can (only) involve the booty being earned from that island: cards, fame, treasure, and money. If two ships both want upgrades from that island and their ships seem about even, perhaps they would split the booty. If a weaker ship is desperate for the upgrades on that island, the player could surrender all booty for the purpose of making use of upgrades. If there is one stronger player and two weaker players, they could work together to defeat the stronger player and then split the booty.

Of course, if any one player refuses to negotiate then there is a fight. Fighting can always be initiated at the will of one player.

I think this one small rule change fixes many criticisms of the game:

--There is less incentive to avoid other pirates since it's not a total disaster if you're weaker. And while negotiation is not quite as head-on as a battle, bullying another pirate is way more fun than avoiding each other.

--Fighting is still a good option if you feel you can win, because not only do you get to upgrade, get all booty, and stop the other player from upgrading; you also get a fame point when they lose/run.

--Even fighting when you are inferior can make sense, as getting the $2/card or card/card can be situationally better than only paying for upgrades. Plus, you get to weaken the stronger player during the fight. Besides all that, if you need to the cash on the island to buy the upgrades, then fighting is definitely a better option.

--There's lots more lateral room for strategy, styles, etc. Someone could be more vicious and always attack. Someone else always bullies people out of everything, or attacks. Some people are more democratic*. As a stronger player, negotiating only helps in the short term. Fighting helps in the long term. Many styles and factors to consider.

--Players who are way behind in ship upgrades can sacrifice a lot of booty for a couple turns to catch up, if they choose (and if their opponents let them). Of course, you still need money to upgrade, so you'll have to win battles or go solo sometimes.

--With more players successfully achieving upgrades more often, there will be more fun battles late in the game with two strong players who both feel they have a chance to win. Also, the Legendary Pirates are weakened slightly since players are stronger overall.

--Stronger players will actually try to chase other players because they can elbow them out of booty that the weaker player would otherwise get uncontested.

I believe a simple twist, negotiation, solves all of Pirate's Cove's legitimate problems, and makes Pirate's Cove not just a fun romp but also a really good game.

*edit: Whoops, I meant diplomatic.
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Kevin Shillinglaw
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Sounds very interesting. Have you tried this out?
 
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Joseph Arthur Ellis
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Once, in a two-player game (we each had 2 ships). Worked great. Still need to try it with 3-5 players.
 
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Kevin Graham
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Great idea. Anything that adds more player interaction to a game is a plus in my book. I will definitely have to try this one out.
 
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Dan Bigmore
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I had a similar idea a while back, but was nervous about suggesting it, in case it was pooh-poohed as a load of crap (I'm very sensitive...whistle ). Now where did I put that document I wrote?
 
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Adrian Bartel
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I think you mean parley
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Dan Bigmore
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CaptainCheetah wrote:
I think you mean parley

Hey, that's what my variant was called! I've got it here somewhere...
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Chris Schenck
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I recently picked up Pirate's Cove in a local trade, and I was well aware of the "combat avoidance" incentive of the game thanks so the posts here at BGG.

I'm going to get this game on the table this Thursday at game night, and I think including a negotiation/parley variant like this would give this game a much warmer reception with my game group. However, I have a couple of concerns I'd like some folks to comment on. Understand that I've not yet played the game, so I'm hoping for some comments from folks who have played the game a bunch, and I'd be most interested in the opinions of folks who have played similar negotiation variants.

1) The variant as listed in the first post of this thread would allow everyone who stayed at the island to get upgrades from that island. The reasoning given is that it would increase the overall number of upgrades being received during the game and make for more interesting battles and negotiaions throughout. My concern is that the game probably was designed with the intent that only one player could get a particular upgrade each round, and that it was an important game balance issue to keep it so. My suggestion would be to make the upgrade part of the negotiation process, so that up to 5 items are being negotiated at each island: fame, gold, treasure, cards, and the upgrade. Only one person would receive the ability to upgrade, which I think would retain any intentionally designed game balance issues, and would make for more interesting negotiations since there would be more items to negotiate over.

2) The author of this thread stated that he had only played this variant in a 2-player game. I foresee a potential balance problem with more than 2 players through. Imagine if 2 players decide to team up against others. When 3 ships arive at an island, the two players would agree to split the loot just between the two of them. This would be unacceptable to the third person, who would refuse to accept the arrangement, and combat would ensue. The two players who agreed would both fire at the third. Then the third person would have no real choice but to retreat, giving the first two players both a victory point for his retreat, AND the initial plunder they had agreed upon in the first place. After seeing this behavior, others later in a similar situation with these two would likely just "agree" to sit there and take nothing, in order not to be shot at twice and forced to retreat. It wouldn't have to be the same 2 players each time either. During ANY turn in which 3 random players arrive at the same island, two dominant alpha-players would shut out the third. I don't think this effect would serve the game well, and I'm sure it would happen frequently, once the game group discovered the tactic.

Thoughts on either of these points?

I'm much more concerned about the second point than the first, so any input about it would be particularly appreciated.
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Chris Schenck
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Here's a thread bump in hopes that I can get a couple of responses to my previous post before game night tomorrow night.

Man, in this game's heyday I would have received a page of responses within 24 hours. I guess that teaches me to be a late adopter.
 
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Sheldon Morris
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cbs42 wrote:
Here's a thread bump in hopes that I can get a couple of responses to my previous post before game night tomorrow night.

Man, in this game's heyday I would have received a page of responses within 24 hours. I guess that teaches me to be a late adopter.

I don't know, this variant seems to lessen the very heart of the game IMO; figuring out where your opponents are going and where you should go. I've only had the game for about a year but it is quite popular with friends. We've tried several variations thinking the game needed them but we continue to play as it was written since it just plays better that way.
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Chris Schenck
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Well that's certainly something to consider!

I guess maybe it is better to experience it in its original form before monkeying with it. At least that way, I'll have some basis for comparison. Thanks for the response!

The fact that your group tried several variations to try to improve the experience seems to show at least a little bit of an indication that you felt the game lacked something, but you couldn't quite pin down what it was so you defaulted back to the original.

I'd still like to hear balance ideas about the variant though. Since it's such a short game, we'll likely play it more than once, so I'd like to introduce a somewhat balanced variant rather than one with gaping holes.
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Sheldon Morris
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cbs42 wrote:
The fact that your group tried several variations to try to improve the experience seems to show at least a little bit of an indication that you felt the game lacked something, but you couldn't quite pin down what it was so you defaulted back to the original.

In all honesty, we only tried them (and I even posted one myself here) simply because of what I had read here on the BGG. It's true that sometimes a player (or players) fall back in the running, but that happens to varying degrees in nearly every game.

We have actually had many very close games in recent months and that is probably due to recognizing and accepting the way the game is designed to function. I guess that as pirates, we don't want to see any one of us gain much of a lead (all against the leader), keeping us in contention until the time is right to go for the win at all costs.

PS Thanks to whoever gave the tip. *hats off*
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My Baloney
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On CBS2's points..
1)
I think he meant that only one ship can upgrade, so either nobody does or one player gives the other island inhabitants booty to persuade them to allow an upgrade.
2)
I think when you have 3 or more players on one island, and you can't agree there should be combat. Even if you went by the rules, there is nothing to disuade two stronger players from beating up on a weaker player. However if a fight were to happen, then the other two must finish combat or fight until one of them retreats to pirates cove.
Therefore, a weaker player could still cause damage to the other's plans.

I like this game, and I like this solution you're suggesting of using negotiation.

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Chris Schenck
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liquidator8 wrote:
However if a fight were to happen, then the other two must finish combat or fight until one of them retreats to pirates cove.

I like this idea a LOT!

If the players at a given location can't come to some agreement that suits everyone, then they must all fight until only one remains. So either parley completely succeeds and there is no fight, or the standard (non-variant) game rules kick in and they all duke it out to the finish.

This totally eliminates the type of exploitation of the game system I was concerned about. Excellent idea.

I'm still going to give the original game rules a try first, from Sheldon's suggestion, but I'm also pretty excited about this variant now.
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Chris Schenck
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I wanted to give an update on this variant. We've played it several times so far, and we're going to stick with it. It is a marked improvement over the original rules.


Benefits:

* The runaway leader problem is reduced. In a proper game of Pirate's Cove, the players who are not in the lead need to look for a way to target the lead player. If the players do not play with this in mind, there will likely be a runaway leader with or without this variant. But this variant does mitigate the effect by not forcing combat between trailing players. In a 4 or 5 player game, imagine a matchup of random players at an island. Most of these matchups will not involve the lead player. That means that most of the time it will be a couple of trailing players facing off. In the original game, these two would be forced to fight, and one or both of them would get damaged in some way while the leader sits back and enjoys the show. But with the parley variant, these trailing players could agree to split the loot and both enjoy a slight gain toward the leader. This isn't just a theoretical benefit -- we've seen it happen in our games. The players are grouped closer together on the Fame track until the last few rounds when everyone tries to break away into the lead. The end-game action is notably more exciting when there isn't an obvious runaway leader before that point.

* Players don't feel disengaged from the game. One thing that happens using the original rules is that multiple players can show up on the same island, but only one player advances. If this happens by chance to a player or two repeatedly, it can not only knock away their chance at victory early in the game, but they also feel more removed from the game because they have absolutely no power to stop this from happening. With parley, they have a shot of wiggling out of the situation with at least a small amount of compensation. This keeps players more engaged with the game, and reduces the "hopeless" feeling where a trailing player keeps getting picked on by chance and just ploddingly mopes through the second half of the game, coming away from the game with a very sour experience.

* Increased player interaction. This is a biggie. When negotiation is introduced to the game, people REALLY get socially into the game more. Good-natured threats are made, temporary alliances are formed, and even the folks not involved directly in the parley can have input -- "Do not give Mike those 4 treasures or so help me I will hunt you down later in the game." Arr!
laugh


Notes: (these issues will come up and here's how my group resolved them.)

* If multiple players meet at an island with a Legendary Pirate, the LP combat it resolved immediately. If the LP is killed and there are still multiple players at the island, then those players enter Parley by the normal variant rules.

* Loot CAN be broken up within a category, but the upgrade cannot be split up. Only one player will have the option of using the island's upgrade ability. For example, if there are 3 gold coins available on the treasure card, parley allows for those 3 to be broken up (such as one person getting 1 and the other getting 2), but only ONE person will be able to use the Tavern Island upgrade ability of buying Tavern cards, for example. Even if a player only buys one of the allowed three Tavern cards, no other played can buy the other two cards that round. The upgrade ability cannot be split. It will only go to one person -- all or nothing.
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Your variant is pretty interesting!
Are you sure about not giving the chance to more players to upgrade simultaneously?
The author of the original post had a good point saying:

"--With more players successfully achieving upgrades more often, there will be more fun battles late in the game with two strong players who both feel they have a chance to win. Also, the Legendary Pirates are weakened slightly since players are stronger overall."

That's the only doubt I have, the negotiation variation sounds great ! arrrharrrharrrharrrharrrharrrharrrharrrh
 
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Wade Nelson
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We played with negotiation yesterday with five players. We did:

* Can trade coins and/or treasure between players, make promises, etc.
* Can choose the rewards, the upgrade, or both.
* Can't split the rewards card up.
* The upgrade or island action is available to one person only (except Treasure Island and Pirate's Cove).

It went really well. Quite a bit of negotiation, and a healthy dose of combat. Lots of threats in the negotiation too, i.e. "Well you could give me 5 gold for the rewards or you can discuss it with my cannons. I'm taking the upgrade either way."

I like it, and I think we'll definitely keep playing it this way.
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Kieran Quinn
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If anyone is concerned about too many upgrades unbalancing the late game, like I am, you could borrow from the treasure island rule: if you want to share upgrades, then the cost is doubled (and limited to 1 level). I figure it's kind of thematic too in that working on two boats at the same time should cost each more as the labour and resources that to go into the upgrades are limited.
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