Since the game has been out for some months now and the GG competition just finished, I thought I'd write one article explaining the valuation system I used in creating the game and balancing the building set.
I came up with the following valuation system for the resources in the game, which would help in determining building costs/yields, and resource swaps:
Silver = 1
Wood = 2+
Food = 3-
Steel = 4
Gold = 5
Copper/Livestock = 6
Trade = ~1.25+
Point = 2
Worker = 4+
+ indicates it is slightly more valuable than this (versatilty), - is slightly less (food is limited and requires Trades to be useful).
Now, this value does not necessarily dictate the item's usefulness to you at a given point in the game, simply what you generally have to pay in order to get it. For example, early in the game, I would much rather have 2 silver than 1 point. Late in the game, I would generally prefer a point to 2 silver. Food is given a value of '3-', but without a Trade chip it pretty much does nothing.
Generally, uses of a Trade chip provide you a net gain of about 1, but the cost of a trade chip is somewhat more than this. The additional value of the trade chip represents its versatility, for which you pay a cost of around .25 to .5
Lets look at how this valuation system works for trading.
All transactions involving a trade net you roughly +1 in exchange for the trade.
3 Silver (3) + Trade (1) = Steel (4)
Steel(4) + Trade (1) = 3 Silver (3) + Point (2)
The point, valued at 2, is the balancing mechanism that allows buys and sells to be balanced. Without this, either buying or selling something, or both, would always be terrible, depending on how it was priced. At the given costs (which are 1 less than the resource values), selling without the Point for compensation would be a poor strategy in general.
For building balance, each building provides a certain return on investment on the cost paid for it, based on how many turns are expected to remain in the game when the building is build. If less turns are expected to remain in the game, then a higher return on investment rate is given. The turn at which I expect a building to be built is based on the average turn in which it will be built. As a result, if you build a building as soon as it is possible to build it, you tend to get a higher rate of return than if you build a building which could have been built much earlier. (A building that is expected to be built on round 3 will give a much lower rate of return than one expected to be built turn 7, because it has many more turns to pay you back).
From a strategy perspective, this means that you will tend to get more value by targetting to get a certain building as soon as it is possible to do so. A turn 3 Ranch is excellent, a turn 5 Ranch is okay, and a turn 7 Ranch is pretty unexciting. Fairgrounds on turn 5-6 is amazing, while on turn 8 its less valuable. A turn 1 Farm is quite decent. On turn 3-4 you arent getting as good of a value anymore, because the buildings that it is now possible to build that cost resources you cannot have had on turn 1, give a higher ROI. Additionally, a building which is more 'difficult' to create will provide better ROI than something that is simple, to reward the more difficult strategy. (Of course, this formula was used to give a baseline building, after which a lot of tweaking was done based on usefulness, etc. Also, buildings that provide endgame points and income both are more complicated).
Therefore, there is a lot of skill in figuring out what sequence of plays will get you to a certain building as soon as possible. Most players will probably figure out pretty quickly that the fastest way to the Steel Mill is Pass->Build Steel Mill (buy the Gold with the Trade from passing).
To develop a strong strategy, a player will want to string together several of these purchases at a time before the building might 'normally' be purchased. Trying to find the fastest way to get a building of significance will tend to yield good strategies.
Of course, in actual play, flexibility is important. Sometimes the auction tile you need for your plan doesnt exist, so you need to be flexible, you need to know the backup plans as well.
Sometimes someone else will outbid you too high on what you need, and you need to figure out what the best plan would be for the item going cheaply, or for passing at this point. How much worse is this secondary plan? Is it still worth overbidding, or is the backup plan almost as good? A plan that uses the guaranteed tiles o ncertain rounds is more reliable than one that would rely on random tiles.
Once you become very good, you might be able to figure out your opponents plans and see that they will be targetting certain types of buildings on certain turns. Are you going to need the same buildings?
If so, prepare for a bidding war! Would it make more sense to go a different way, or at least prepare a good backup plan? Would it make sense to begin the bidding on that round with a high bid on the key item, such that the opponent would have to overpay significantly to win it? Do you need to start at 7, or at 9?
Some people feel that Trade tokens are critical to play, and to a certain extent they are correct. They provide a lot of versatility. However, this comes at a cost. You pay more for a buildign that makes Trades than what you would get, if you built a building that made the exact thing you need. Because of this, a path that involves using many trade chips to get to the right combination of resources for a building, often gets to that point LATER than another strategy which involves less Trades! However, the more powerful direct strategy is less versatile, and can be more locked in to what it needs to do.
Striking the right balance is important.
Hopefully some will find this interesting, and could use it as a starting point to investigate different strategies.
Nice to read this... Gives both an interesting insight on the design process as well as open up some strategic possibilities.
I quite like Homesteaders. I bought it with only a bit of information but have come to like more and more as I play.
Thanks for having designed it and also for the article.
I got my first game in this weekend. It was very enjoyable. Sky taught me and I came in 2nd out of 4. The bidding was vicious because nobody was going to let anyone get a cheap buy. Nothing sold for less than 5 (except for the first turn). Consequently, we all built up mountains of debt.
I didn't know any of the buildings, so planning for the future was a little challenging. I just went for value buys on buildings, focusing on ones that did not require a worker, and strengthening my production diversity.
On the final two phases I was a little surprised that there were no buildings that convert a good directly into VP's, so I ended with a surplus of wood and food (and to a lesser extent cows, even though they're worth 2vps each at end). I did take advantage of the auction that also allowed a cow to be turned into 4vps and did this once (I would have liked to have done that with my other cow as well).
I really liked the colorful bits. Mad props on the cows! The only little thing I would have recommended would be more saturated color on the cards (I think you were going for a sunbleached style), and possibly a more exciting name for my farm apart from 'green player'. X-Bar, Tombstone, Ponderosa, Joad family. Something that makes me 'feel' my homestead.
Congrats on your game!
A turn 1 Farm is quite decent. On turn 3-4 you arent getting as good of a value anymore, because the buildings that it is now possible to build that cost resources you cannot have had on turn 1, give a higher ROI.
Well, call me mad disagreeing wiht Alexfrog in his own game, but I think Farm is the buildiong which you could build turn 1, that is better later. It needs workers to work properly, so turn 1, its simply worse than Market. I'm ok to buy farm turn 3-4.
In the end loan = gold = 2 points. Assume you have been getting loans at reasonable rate (=you pay every, except maybe 1-2) and that, if you pay all your loans you are left with gold (and no cash) <- another quite reasonable assumption. This leads to loan = 2 points means every loan taken at the start costs 2 points. So silver at the start is worth a point. At the end 5 silver is worth 2 points (gold). That aligns rightly with Alex's rough price thoughts for points.