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Twilight Imperium (Third Edition)» Forums » General

Subject: Balance is not the real issue for the ISC rss

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Moses Moore
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Hi, folks. This is taken from a note I just sent to FFG.

When people complain that the ISC is unbalanced, I don't think they are articulating their problem effectively. Since anyone can choose the card, it is certainly "balanced." The real problem is that the ISC is very powerful, and generally MUST be drawn if possible, but is NO FUN to actually play.

The game is about building empires, moving ships, researching technology, etc., and all the strategies help you do that EXCEPT the ISC. But selecting the ISC (or at least keeping it out of the hands of leading players) is crucial to winning. So people are really saying that they resent having to draw it when there are more interesting things they could be doing, which is why they consider it to be too powerful.

I really like the "Ancient Throne" rule published on the FFG website:
http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/PDF/ti3variant.pdf

However, in that rule it is suggested that you need to play with the "Age of Empire" variant in the main rules. This does not need to be the case.

I like the mechanism of drawing objective cards through the game. You could amend the "Ancient Throne" to say "draw an objective card, then do (a) or (b)." Since the purpose of the ISC is to reward players who move the game along, this would seem to do that. However, you might want to then say "get one victory point, or two if you control Mecatol Rex" to make the ISC a bit more attractive (to make sure objectives are drawn).

Alternatively, you could just have objective cards drawn during the status phase, so one is guaranteed to be drawn each turn. If you do that you can keep "Ancient Throne" the way it is, or you can dispense with the ISC entirely.

Peet
 
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Matthew M
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Re:Balance is not the real issue for the ISC
Mozai (#466918),

Yes, but balance is the issue behind the ISC. It is impossible to have a strategy card that is designed to be taken every turn to keep the game moving and NOT have it be more powerful than every other card available.

I suppose you could say that this, by itself, is not unbalancing, but the fact that some players will get to select this more powerful card more often than others due only to turn order is.

I would be careful about presuming to know what people resent about the as-published ISC - and even more careful about presuming that they can't effectively articulate the problem. By your logic, a player in the sixth seat should rejoice at not being forced to take ISC more than once. And when that player loses to one of the players in the first couple seats he will pity them for their misfortune over having to accept the extra 2VP freebie that pushed them to victory.

I imagine that people have been articulating their problem just fine. A strategy card that gives a couple players a significantly higher chance at winning due only to turn-order is bunk, not balance.

-MMM
 
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Brian Newman
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Re:Balance is not the real issue for the ISC
Octavian (#467263),

I've only played once, and only with four, but the ISC seemed pretty balanced to us. The one person whom we purposely kept the ISC away from was actually the one who won, having taken ISC on the first and last rounds and fulfilled his secret objective and lots of public objectives between.
 
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bruno faidutti
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Re:Balance is not the real issue for the ISC
I totally agree. The problem with the ISC is not that it's unbalanced, it's that it's boring. Due to its presence, you must take it if available. If not, you must take the initiative if available to take the ISC next turn. This means that 1 turn in two there is no real choice in choosing your strategy card, and that's where the fun of the game ought to be - and is if you reduce the ISC to 1 VP so as to make it a not so obvious choice, but still an interesting one.
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Sami Saarela
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Re:Balance is not the real issue for the ISC
But doesn't ISC create a balance issue, when the first player is guarenteed to get it twice during the game and the sixth player is guarenteed to get it only once?

To me that seems like the players that begin the first turn are in stronger position than the other players. Hence the game is unbalanced in the starting players favour.

I've played a few games without the ISC, but felt the game was lacking something. Our group has now adopted to playing with the Ancient Throne Rules (without the Age of Empire). I'm happy with the ISC as we play it.
 
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Nicholas Jost
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Re:Balance is not the real issue for the ISC
Octavian (#467263),

I don't think he's presuming. I think he's spot on. It was a good idea (limit the playing time) but poorly implemented. Despite weaknesses in other areas, Thunder's Edge had a better count-down mechanic.
 
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Nathan Baumbach
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Re:Balance is not the real issue for the ISC
nickjost (#468555),

I wouldn't say poorly implemented, either.

I would say that the choice to make it a 2 Victory point strategy, which is equal to most of the later objectives, was not thoroughly playtested with a group that had the statistic analysist as a player.

I mean, in most of our games, we don't talk about how often or what the percentage of times one must take the ISC to win the game. I wasn't even aware of this problem until I started playing with someone who does stats in their head. Once that happened, it seems to have cascaded through two entire groups playing it. The ISC in those groups is now only worth 1 VP (2 if you hold Metacol Rex - which may be this Throne variant you are talking about, but I don't look at variants until I'm looking for some newness in games).

I think all playtest groups should have one player that always does all the stats and math in his/her head to see if they can determine a broken strategy in the game. Most games that I see this become a problem in are the ones where that player announces how he's going to win using that strategy, then everyone realizes there's a broken mechanic.

 
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Jonas Barkå
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Re:Balance is not the real issue for the ISC
emceekhan (#468856),

You do not look at the varaints even if you find part of the game broken? Doesn't a broken rule qualify for "wanting something new"? Have you ever considered one of the variants could be a fix to this problem???
 
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Jonathan Fried
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Re:Balance is not the real issue for the ISC
Do we have any statistics yet on the ISC leading to victories disproportionately for the 1st and 2nd Player? For example, the 4th and 5th players in Puerto Rico, collectively, win over 50% of the time (30% and 21% respectively) and I don't hear complaints there. Likewise, your country assignment in Diplomacy is going to heavily determine your statistical likelihood of winning the game --

so why the beef here?
 
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Jonas Barkå
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Re:Balance is not the real issue for the ISC
Jonbone (#469414),

You don't hear complaints? I've heard LOTS of complaining.

But the important thing is that those imbalances come mostly from the basic nature of the game. In TI3 one completly unnecessary rule introduce it by itself.
 
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Moses Moore
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Re:Balance is not the real issue for the ISC
saar wrote:
But doesn't ISC create a balance issue, when the first player is guarenteed to get it twice during the game and the sixth player is guarenteed to get it only once?


Not at all. Remember that turn order after the first round is determined by who holds the speaker token, who is the person who last picked the Initiative strategy. Unless you assume that the first player will ALWAYS pick the ISC and THEN the second player will ALWAYS pick the Initiative strategy, there is no guarantee that either of them will get the advantage of turn order again.

The last game I played I decided to always try for the ISC whenever possible in order to test the theory. I got it the first round, and the second round someone played an action card preventing it from being drawn. The third turn I got it again, but my board position was weak enough that at the end of that turn I was about to get my ass handed to me by the Jol-Nar, who had just built a warsun. I could remain alive from then on only by picking strategies other than the ISC.

The ISC is good, but you can't afford to sacrifice your board position to use it.

Peet
 
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Jonas Barkå
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Re:Balance is not the real issue for the ISC
Mozai (#470263),

I do not agree. I belive it to be *very* few occasions when picking it is not the best choice.
 
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David Medley
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Re:Balance is not the real issue for the ISC
I agree with the gist of this post. It's too powerful, too boring, and I've never seen it not get picked. I joined a group after they had realized it's power, and if anyone let the ISC go by I think he'd be smacked by 4 utility belts simultaneously, while the last player eagerly snatches up the ISC. I've never seen the Initiative card passed up as a second pick either, btw.

The only reason we haven't reduced it in some form is the game is too damn long already! If we can start getting our games done in under 8 hours it'll be back up for consideration. It would be nice if the first two picks were open to debate.

P.S., I can't believe you pay Resources for Tech instead of Influence.
 
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Michael Evans
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Re:Balance is not the real issue for the ISC
damedley (#477561),

About resource vs. influence for tech:
The flavor story is that pretty much all this tech has been around before, so reverse engineering it isn't the hard part. Perhaps if you think of it as spending resources to make the new toys and outfit your existing fleet with them (and upgrading your production facilities accordingly as well) it would make more sense to you?
 
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Martin Larouche
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My personal experience and understanding of the ISC and my understanding of it's integration with the Initiative strategy:

Yes, the card is powerful.

Understanding that the ISC is the most powerful card, every player should ALWAYS try to get the ISC.

Being that everybody goes to pick that card, a player should ALWAYS try to block the others from getting it. The way to do it is to take the Initiative card, which will let you take the ISC on the following turn as you will get first pick.

Understanding that, if all players recognize the importance of the ISC, the Initiative card will be taken by the player, in order, just after the one who took the ISC.

Given that, on a given turn, the initiative card AND the ISC should ALMOST ALWAYS be taken by players. The other strategy cards being distributed according to need among the other players.

Given that procedure, since the Initiative stategy is taken by the next person from the person who took the ISC, every player will get the ISC and the card will more or less just turn around the table, giving 2 VPs to every player in consecutive order. The ISC then becomes a card that will put a time limit on the game, as every player will >in turn< get 2 VPs towards the end of the game.

The player who fails to recognize the importance of the Initiative card as a way to get the important ISC will lose the race for VPs in the long term...


At least that's my understanding...
 
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Jeremy Friesen
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deedob wrote:
Given that procedure, since the Initiative stategy is taken by the next person from the person who took the ISC, every player will get the ISC and the card will more or less just turn around the table, giving 2 VPs to every player in consecutive order. The ISC then becomes a card that will put a time limit on the game, as every player will >in turn< get 2 VPs towards the end of the game.

The player who fails to recognize the importance of the Initiative card as a way to get the important ISC will lose the race for VPs in the long term...


At least that's my understanding...


That is an accurate assessment of the ISC, however, there are two issues that occur due to the power of the ISC. First, and foremost, the person that starts the game will most often have access to the ISC more frequently than any other player (if the game goes 7 rounds, the first player will get the ISC twice). The sixth player would probably never get it twice.

The second issue is that it is such a heavy meta-game card. If you can take the ISC, you are practically obliged to do so (after all, it gets you 1/5th of the way to winning). If you can't take the ISC, then you need to take Initiative so that you can take the ISC next. This creates a heavy meta-mechanic. Some people really dislike this, because it feels like the game is playing them. Other people believe that the ISC is just fine, and its the goal of everyone else to try to entice someone to skip taking the ISC (maybe they really really need Diplomacy).
 
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Sebastian Bleasdale
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FullTinCan wrote:

That is an accurate assessment of the ISC, however, there are two issues that occur due to the power of the ISC. First, and foremost, the person that starts the game will most often have access to the ISC more frequently than any other player (if the game goes 7 rounds, the first player will get the ISC twice). The sixth player would probably never get it twice.


Choosing a not-so-random example, in the last game I played, I was the start player. I got to use it the ISC once - there were four rounds, in which the other players used it once each. I used it again, and played an action card to stop other people taking the speaker card. Then I used the ISC a third time. That gave me the game, despite other players having much better positions.
 
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Mikael Ölmestig
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I think the Initiative - Imperial order is plain boring and leads to a strategy centered around one card. In a recent PBEM game, I had the option to take the initiative card, because I felt like having another card and we will see how it turns out, if choosing the tech card instead of initiative was a good choice. I don't like scripted actions in games.
 
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Carl Phillips
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I agree with most of what's been said against the ISC. Using Imperial as the 'Ancient Throne' variant - or even removing it all together - fixes the problem. Even initiative then becomes a viable strategy ("diplomacy, warfare or initiative, well, at least I get a useful selection next turn" *takes Initiative*). Of course, then you raise another problem: games taking more than 12 hours. I, personally, don't mind this, but one rarely has the time for this.

The main problem with the ISC - and it's been said before thousands of times - is that it's boring, and is anathema to actual strategy. Some people don't like being forced to take it, some think it's unbalanced and others - like myself - think it's boring. In any case, it leads to situations like the one we had a week or so ago. One poor guy won the (4-player) game because the rest of us stopped caring and kept foisting it on him. He cursed us afterwards, because it was his first victory but it didn't count.
 
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Peter Card
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At Manorcon last month, a UK con, I saw a (5-player, I think) game in progress where the Imperial Strategy had 2 bonus chips on it. Two!! I kid you not.

Mind you, they seemed happy, building fleets and killing things ...
 
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Michael Johnson
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I think what needs to be done to settle the question of ISC balance is an analysis of how often the first player wins, since his access to the ISC is the crux of the issue.
 
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Michael Johnson
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PeterCard wrote:
At Manorcon last month, a UK con, I saw a (5-player, I think) game in progress where the Imperial Strategy had 2 bonus chips on it. Two!! I kid you not.

Mind you, they seemed happy, building fleets and killing things ...


I've seen this too. People get so intent on what they're trying to achieve on the board that they sometimes forget the ISC and take the more active cards.
 
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Carl Phillips
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Mike_J wrote:
I think what needs to be done to settle the question of ISC balance is an analysis of how often the first player wins, since his access to the ISC is the crux of the issue.


A nice idea, but I sincerely doubt that it would fix the problem. It's easy enough to still beat the first player if your strategy is much better than theirs, and things like this can't take everything into account. Ultimately, being first player gives you an advantage unavailable to everyone else: the onus is on that player to capitalise on that fact. The real balance issue is that that advantage, and who gets it, is decided by a roll of the dice, and there is no way to claim it for yourself or to offset it, excluding blind luck or ganging up on one player. Also, it doesn't solve problems with the 'feel' of Imperial, which are about half the arguments against it. Personally, I'm going to wait and see what the expansion does with its promised 'alternate strategy cards.'
 
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Michael Johnson
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Maybe the rule should be worst player goes first. laugh
 
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Carl Phillips
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Heh, in some cases that's not such a bad idea!
 
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