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Subject: How to offset the advantage of going first? rss

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Roman F
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This game has quickly become one of my group's favorites, even if it runs a little longer (1.5-2 hours) than the games we typically play (1 hour or less). It has a good mix of luck and strategy and we like how it's not always clear who's winning, which prevents players from ganging up on the leader as we see in other games we play.

However, one player in my group is obsessed with making all games as balanced as possible and we all prefer balance where possible.

In Stone Age, especially in a 4-player game, the lack of balance comes from the fact that there is a clear advantage to going 1st and we are discussing ways to offset this. Here's one idea:

Player #3 (the one who goes 3rd on the first turn of the game) starts the game with 4 additional food, Player #4 starts with 8 additional food.

That might seem like a lot of food but let me ask this: If you're playing a 4-player game and you can choose to go 1st, 2nd, 3rd with 4 additional food or 4th with 8 additional food, would 8 additional food make you want to go 4th? How much food would you need to make it a tough choice?

The rest of this post is to demonstrate where I came up with 8 food and to deal with the inevitable arguments against the premise that going 1st is an advantage, e.g. "I don't see the big advantage to going 1st," or "going 4th isn't a disadvantage if you know how to play and focus on getting good cards," etc.:

Although there are still good choices for choice #2 and choice #3, choice #1 is best because you get all the choices. You can skip the grain in favor of a great card if you want to. However -- and this is critical -- it's not just having choice #1 that is an advantage, it's having choice #5 and choice #9 as well. You can potentially get grain production with your 1st choice AND a great card with your 2nd choice (choice #5). Also if you go first, you're the least likely to get shut out of your favorite resource (e.g. wood). How big an advantage it is to go 1st can be debated, but there is no question it's an advantage. If I could go 1st every turn, I certainly would and if you were playing against me, you wouldn't like it.

Now, the advantage to being Chief the first turn of the game is not just the quick start but the fact that you are also likely to get more turns being Chief than your opponents. If you're Chief on the last turn of the game, for example, you get to go 1st one more time than everyone else.

Going 2nd is nice because on the first turn of the game, you get 2nd choice, which is still very good, and on the second turn of the game, you go 1st. So in the first 2 turns, you'll go 2nd then 1st. By contrast, the player who goes 1st on the first turn will go 1st and then 4th so going 2nd might actually be better than going 1st. Tough call there.

Going 3rd is not necessarily bad but it's not as good as going 1st or 2nd. Chances are you will not have as many turns being Chief as the player who gets Chief on the first turn of the game, and one less turn being Chief can be the difference in the game.

Going 4th is a clear disadvantage. Again, it can be debated how much, but you will go 4th on the first turn, 3rd on the second, and will not be Chief until the 4th turn of the game. Assuming everyone chooses grain production when they are Chief (not unlikely the first few rounds), you will not increase your grain production until the 4th turn of the game. Meanwhile, the player who went 1st will have collected 3 food from grain production by then, and be getting ready to boost his grain production again on the next turn. By turn 8, your 2nd time being Chief, the player who went 1st will have produced 10 food from grain production while you have produced 3 food from grain production. So there you are, allocating your precious people to hunting while the player who went 1st can focus on gathering resources, increasing his population, etc. It is also unlikely that you will get as many turns going 1st as the player who goes 1st on the first turn of the game, putting you at a further disadvantage.

So by that logic, you will be behind by 7 food by the 8th turn of the game. Also you're making choices #8 and #12 where the guy who goes first is making choices #5 and #9. Finally, you will have the fewest turns where you are the Chief. Weighing all that in, 8 additional food to start the game might not be enough.
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Paul DeStefano
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You seem way preoccupied with food as your determining factor for winning.

As has been discussed numerous times on these boards, just let the buggers starve and you can still win.

If you went first, next turn you go last. That means players noting your strategy can pretty much castrate you on the next turn if you set a clear way you plan to win.

I don't see a huge advantage to going first.
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Martin Jackson
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Good reasoning.

One possible reason that 8 food might be quite generous is that starting with 20 food could make it too tempting to go for a starvation strategy - that's 4 turns of buffer before the starvation kicks in (assuming no love hut in those turns).
Compared to doing the same from a normal start (12 food), you're saving 2 turns of starvation: 20 points.
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Michael Ho
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Geosphere wrote:
As has been discussed numerous times on these boards, just let the buggers starve and you can still win.

But then doesn't that suggest that the first player has the greatest flexibility in choosing a strategy (conventional vs. starvation) and that the 4th player will more likely be pushed to starvation?
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Russell InGA
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Our group has discussed this a couple of times.

If you want balancing based on starting position my best guess is something like the below:

3rd Player gets 3 extra food, 4th Player gets immediate bump on Farms.

-or-

4th Player gets 3 extra food.

----------------------------------

Commentary...

As stated above going first is really not that great. You get the initial Farm but then are at the end of the line for a couple of turns.

I think going second is probably the strongest starting position. You can take the best of Tools / Baby / or a really good card. (And next turn get the Farm.)

Going third isn't really that bad either. You're picking up the best left over scrap on the first turn (Baby / Tool / Card), and then you're going to get Tool / Baby and Farm in the next two turns.

(SLASH is {exclusive} OR.)
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Tim Gilberg
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Geosphere wrote:

As has been discussed numerous times on these boards, just let the buggers starve and you can still win.

...

I don't see a huge advantage to going first.

The latter statement derives from the first statement. And it's foolish not to go for farms and food if you are first player. Even with the "starvation strategy" being viable, it's still inferior to lots of farms.
 
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Roman F
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Even if going 1st isn't a huge advantage, it's an undeniable advantage over going 4th. You would still rather go 1st than 4th, wouldn't you? Even if I pursue a Starvation Strategy, I can best pursue it going 1st or 2nd.

Where I'd like to get is where, if given the option to go 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th, I'd choose 4th as often as I'd choose 1st. If I get a free Farm for going 4th, I'd probably choose going 4th over going 1st despite some of the other advantages of going 1st. That's a huge bonus.

4th player getting 3 extra food isn't enough IMO, I'd definitely choose going 1st.
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Stoodster
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Rather than giving extra food to the fourth player, you can try giving the players more control over their spot in the turn order. I recently played a 4 player game using the Leadership Circle board from my 5-6 Player Variant which can be found here. I highly recommend it.
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James Faulkner
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Roman Farraday wrote:

In Stone Age, especially in a 4-player game, the lack of balance comes from the fact that there is a clear advantage to going 1st and we are discussing ways to offset this. Here's one idea:

Player #3 (the one who goes 3rd on the first turn of the game) starts the game with 4 additional food, Player #4 starts with 8 additional food.
Based on this I'd be happy to be 3rd player. 4 additional food and being guaranteed one of Farm, Tools or Love Hut for the first 3 turns would be way too much of an advantage and unbalance the game more than it was originally.

In a 4 player game i think the only position that is significantly unbalanced is 4th player. I would personally just adjust the food slightly for 4th seat and leave the other players the same.
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Jeremy Oppenheim
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As you mention in your preamble, "going 4th isn't a disadvantage if you know how to play and focus on getting good cards". This is absolutely true, and there is enough randomness in the game that any advantage is minute at the aggragate level.

If you bias food or resources to the 4th player, you'll just make them win more often. That's no fun for players 1-3. Take equal players, and randomize their starting position, and your final score should only be dependent on the card draws and the rolls of the dice.

There are 4 even choices for the first round of a 4 player game, without even looking at the cards:
1) Field
2) Tool
3) Family
4) 5 people in wood

If you include the cards, then you have to adjust accordingly.

Now of course, the 1 cost resource card 'could be' the 2x people multiplier, giving the advantage to player 1. But it's also just as likely that card is a green symbol with immediate 3 pts, which is terrible 1st turn of game.

On average, the starting card is worth getting, but not necessarily worth spending the first pick on. If instead of buying a card with their first pick, the 4th player places all 5 people in wood, then anyone else hoping for resources has to rely on only 2 folks in wood or more in brick. This is less efficient for card building, which helps offset the other players early picks.

In a 4 player game, wood is a tight resource. If player 4 capitalizes on an early production gain, then they effectively put themselves in winning position.

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Tony Fanchi
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A couple ideas come to mind for reducing the possible advantages of going first. The first would involve only the way the game starts. You could have all players "bid" food from their opening store. The player who bids the most goes first, but gives up their wagered food to the fourth player.

Another option would be to use a "snaking" or "serpentine" play order for the turn. Turn order would go 1-4, then 4-1, so player 4 takes both the 4th and 5th actions, and player 1 takes actions 1 and 8. You could also do this for the passing of the chief (so player 4 is chief two turns in a row while player 1 has to wait 6 turns to become chief a second time).
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Jason Gische
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Roman Farraday wrote:
Even if going 1st isn't a huge advantage, it's an undeniable advantage over going 4th. You would still rather go 1st than 4th, wouldn't you? Even if I pursue a Starvation Strategy, I can best pursue it going 1st or 2nd.

You are completely ignoring the effects of helping other players when you starve from early position. Let's look at the worst-case scenario - you go 1st and decide to starve. Player 2 now gets farms on turn 1 AND turn 2. That's handing p2 a huge advantage to start the game, one you are seriously unlikely to overcome.

Quote:
Where I'd like to get is where, if given the option to go 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th, I'd choose 4th as often as I'd choose 1st. If I get a free Farm for going 4th, I'd probably choose going 4th over going 1st despite some of the other advantages of going 1st. That's a huge bonus.

4th player getting 3 extra food isn't enough IMO, I'd definitely choose going 1st.

I understand your desire to even them out, but I think you are way overcompensating. Giving 8 food to player 4 would make that a painfully obvious choice to me. Take the extra food, decide to starve, and have a points engine ready to go before I even take my first 10 point negative. The only reason I might not do this is if you also gave me the choice to get 4 food as player 3, which sounds like it might be as good.
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Roman F
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Let me rephrase: It's not about the advantage of going 1st so much as the disadvantage of going 4th. Player 4 needs something to offset this disadvantage like some food or a free Farm or something. We've discussed the "serpentine" option which I also think is viable.

If you don't think it's a disadvantage to go 4th, then you wouldn't mind going 4th in every game you play, right?
 
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Roman Farraday wrote:
Let me rephrase: It's not about the advantage of going 1st so much as the disadvantage of going 4th. Player 4 needs something to offset this disadvantage like some food or a free Farm or something. We've discussed the "serpentine" option which I also think is viable.

If you don't think it's a disadvantage to go 4th, then you wouldn't mind going 4th in every game you play, right?

Exactly, I have absolutely no problem going fourth, even every game that I play. The fun of playing games is being able to adapt to the situation that you find yourself in.

Have you tried keeping track of how many wins come from each position? I think that is the first step that should be taken before you change a game to correct what may simply be a perceived imbalance.
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Jason Gische
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Roman Farraday wrote:
Let me rephrase: It's not about the advantage of going 1st so much as the disadvantage of going 4th. Player 4 needs something to offset this disadvantage like some food or a free Farm or something. We've discussed the "serpentine" option which I also think is viable.

If you don't think it's a disadvantage to go 4th, then you wouldn't mind going 4th in every game you play, right?
I never said it wasn't a disadvantage to go fourth. I said that your "fix" was worse than the status quo.

If there is a fix needed, I would say it is something along the lines of additional food to players 3 and 4. Probably +1/+2 or +1/+3. I think any more than that overstates the disadvantage.

Also, I think going with serpentine selections only on turn 1 would hamper p1 a ton (since they get to move 1st/8th, followed by 3rd/7th, 2nd/6th, etc...) If you think that player 2 is also in a very strong position in the rules as written, then they are hindered somewhat in round 1 but then get the full benefits of going 1st immediately following.
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Roman Farraday wrote:
However, one player in my group is obsessed with making all games as balanced as possible
hey, this could be me!

anyways, to retain the balance of start resources, you shouldn't add additional food at game start. if you feel the need to give the 4th player a 4 food advantage, give him only 3 food instead and have everyone else start with 1 food less. or just have 2nd player pay 2 food to 4th player at game start.

with experienced players, it would be best to bid VPs on starting positions. that lets everyone choose for himself, how much it's worth to him.
 
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Sky Zero
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For 3 and 4 player games, try this...

Player 1 = 12 food
Player 2 = 12 food
Player 3 = 13 food
Player 4 = 14 food

It's just enough to soften the blow of having to go third or fourth in a 4 player game. They key thing is that it doesn't give an advantage, it just helps "a little". Try it out!
 
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Jochar Flyingwomen
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I agree that the 4th player in a 4 player game of Stone Age is at a huge disadvantage.

Currently, The fourth player most likely won`t get a farm until round 4. The Farms and tools are your engine. Player 4 cannot start his/her engine until round 3 when he/she finally have a tool.

By the end of round 3, player 1 had already 3 free food, player 2 had already 3 use of a tool and 2 free food, player 3 had 1 free food and 2 tool use, and 4th player is just able to have 1 tool use. This disadvantage continues throughout the game as the players who started the game earlier, continue to add to their engine before player 4 can.

Also, for the first round, you are always last to choose. so the other players are more likely to take cards that might help you.

I suggest for each rounds, the turns should be taken catan style. Turns are player 1 then 2, then 3, then 4, then 4, then 3, then 2, then 1 until all actions are complete.

The game would also be more balanced if the fourth player started with more food. 8 is reasonable. The third player should also start with a bit more.
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jochar wrote:
I agree that the 4th player in a 4 player game of Stone Age is at a huge disadvantage.

Currently, The fourth player most likely won`t get a farm until round 4. The Farms and tools are your engine. Player 4 cannot start his/her engine until round 3 when he/she finally have a tool.

...

Also, for the first round, you are always last to choose. so the other players are more likely to take cards that might help you.

...
Why is the fourth player not getting a good card? If everyone else places in the village, he gets the best card.
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Alex Drazen
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crambaza wrote:
Why is the fourth player not getting a good card? If everyone else places in the village, he gets the best card.

If the cards stink, and everyone takes the village spot, this may not be best. Also P4 will likely have to roll for Brick for that card, not Wood. So P4 can realistically only hope for the first one or two cards. If they stink, P4 is rolling five guys for wood and hoping for better luck next round.

What I most commonly see is P2 go for a Starvation strategy, because if P1 takes farms, they can to get 7 people automatically and won't take a negative penalty until Round 3 (or Round 4 if they can get their hands on the 7 food card), and at that point they will have a decent engine going. P2 and P3 are in the best position to do this (if P1 or P4 try it, someone is going to block the love hut, or at least they should).

Personally, I tend to take a really good card as P3, rather than a village spot. Especially if I see P2 doing Starvation - now I can get 2 early farms. Three if it was a +1 Agriculture or if I got lucky on a "roll for bonus" card.

Speaking of which... the thing I find the most messed up in Stone Age is those roll for a bonus for everyone cards. If the player on your left gobbles them up, it can sink your play, because all you're getting is four or five sticks (you can buy them, but that may stop you from doing other things). If the player on your right likes them, you're doing a happy dance because you're getting a huge bonus.

This kind of thing is frequently a problem with any fixed turn order game (Craftsman in Puerto Rico, first player in Lords of Waterdeep, the "basic" first player auction in Railways of the World, a weak player on your left in Terra Mystica before variable turn order was introduced, having someone on your right who uses the Administrator way too often in Thurn and Taxis, going last in Can't Stop...)

For the Stone Age roll-for-bonus cards, I would fix it by saying that for the first one you have, the person on your left chooses second. For the second one, the person TWO seats to your left chooses second. And for the third one, the person THREE seats to your left chooses second, etc., with it going around the table this way until it resets for the next rotation.
 
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