Seli L
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(Yes, one more thread about balancing the game with less than full number of players ).

There are several threads with people complaining about games with less players being unbalanced because of easily reachable territories with neutral tokens in the south, and there are a number of suggestions how to fix it, many of them suggesting making some specific areas impassable. I have a suggestion which is generic, so it can be used for balancing any setup of players.

If you look at the map with full number of players, you can notice that all players have the same number of mustering points (5) in their naturally reachable territories. At the end of turns 1/2, players usually control always the same territories, Greyjoy has Pyke, Seagard and Flint's Finger, Stark has Winterfell, White Harbour, Moat Cailin and The Eyrie, Lannister has Lannisport, Riverrun and Harrenhal, Baratheon has Dragonstone, King's Landing and Cracklaw Point, Tyrell has Highgarden, Oldtown and The Reach and Martell has Sunspear, Yronwood, Starfall and Storm's End. This even works with 1st edition 5-player map, where there's no Martell and Tyrell has Highgarden (stronghold), Oldtown (castle), The Reach (castle) and Sunspear (castle with a neutral force). Moreover, if a town gives a player an advantage, it has a neutral force token: King's Landing gives extra power, The Eyrie gives Stark 4th town, Sunspear in 5 player gives Tyrell 4th town. This is not 100% consistent, in 5 player Sunspear is a bit too far to be obviously Tyrell's, in 6 player Martell should have a neutral token on one of 4 towns (and it probably wouldn't do anything bad to the game balance if Starfall or Yronwood had it), and in 5 player Baratheon has 6 mustering points because of Storm's End (which probably takes a part in why Baratheon wins quite often in the 1st edition 5-player game). But in general I think it describes the situation pretty well and can be used as a rule for balancing the game with less players.

So the solution could be just to keep this rule. Just make sure every player has the same number of mustering points in their natural reach and roughly equal chances of fighting for more. And neutral forces are not a fight, they are merely a small balancing tool.

Which gives two variants:

1) Simple variant. When playing with less than 6 players, simply remove (make impassable) all territories of players who don't play. Where it's questionable (e.g. Lannister vs Tyrell for Searoad Marches), just use common sense.
- 5 players - remove all Martell's territories, Tyrell and Baratheon can still fight in the Reach, King's Landing, Kingswoord, Dornish Marches area. (EDIT: Specifically, block Sunspear, Salt Shore, Starfall, Yronwood, Storm's End and Prince's Pass, see another post below).
- 4 players - remove Martell's and Tyrell's territories, now Baratheon has to fight the others, just like everybody else (EDIT: Specifically, block Highgarden, The Reach, The Boneway, Storm's End and all lands below this line, see another post below). This doesn't quite work with 1st edition where the removed player is Greyjoy, as removing Seagard would remove one of Stark's routes to the south, but see below. Playing with Lannister, Baratheon, Tyrell and Martell is also an option (EDIT: Specifically, block Pyke, Seagard, The Mountains of the Moon, The Eyrie and everything above this line).
- 3 players - again, removing Greyjoy creates a problem, so play with Lannister, Tyrell and Baratheon, or see below

2) Flexible variant. When playing with less than 6 players, select a combination of houses that makes sense, and make sure each player has the same mustering points in their naturally reachable areas, and can easily fight for the same number of mustering points. Make remaining areas impassable.
Some setups here are (more or less) obviously broken, for example playing with Stark, Tyrell and Martell probably leaves Stark too far away, but it still leaves many possibilities, if they are made balanced. When playing with Greyjoy, Lannister and Baratheon, without additional territories both Greyjoy and Baratheon would have to end up fighting Lannister, but this can be fixed by adding all Stark's territories and Highgarden, The Reach, Dornish Marches and The Boneway. Now Lannister has 2 mustering points from Highgarden and can fight for The Reach plus reachable Greyjoy's and Baratheon's towns, Baratheon has The Reach and The Eyrie and can fight both in the south and the noth and Greyjoy can quite easily take and hold Winterfell and can go after Lannister or can expand more in the north. In general, here one has to be more careful, as the setup could be broken in some way, so check whether each player can attack roughly the equal number of other players, whether the territories in their reach are about equal and whether the number of towns for an immediate win is not too high or low, but otherwise I think this can work quite well. It also gives experienced players new scenarios to try it if they get bored playing the same official setup repeatedly.

I have not playtested this, but the logic this is built on seems good. It does not even require any map modifications in most cases besides using tokens for impassable areas, it shouldn't be that difficult to make something at least as balanced as the out-of-the-box game *cough*, and it allows for more game scenarios, as long as the basic balancing rule is kept. What do you think?
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Zachary Bardou
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They really shoulda just included neutral force tokens for all the houses so people can just use whatever setup they like, while recommending the most balanced for each game size and pointing out that some setups will play more like scripted scenarios. This would have also had the incidental bemefit of drastically improved replayability with smaller games..
 
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Zachary Bardou
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Players can ghetto rig their board to accomplish this obviously...just seems like an obvious inclusion to consider before they launched the thong...
 
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Zachary Bardou
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Thing...lol
 
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zbardou wrote:
Players can ghetto rig their board to accomplish this obviously...just seems like an obvious inclusion to consider before they launched the thong...


Sounds like a special Lannister siege engine... surprise
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zbardou wrote:
Players can ghetto rig their board to accomplish this obviously...just seems like an obvious inclusion to consider before they launched the thong...


What does "ghetto rig" mean?
 
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Matt Shinners
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kreikkaturkulainen wrote:
zbardou wrote:
Players can ghetto rig their board to accomplish this obviously...just seems like an obvious inclusion to consider before they launched the thong...


What does "ghetto rig" mean?


It means to do something quickly and cheaply, but effectively, by appropriating parts that were designed for something else.
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MattShinners wrote:
kreikkaturkulainen wrote:
zbardou wrote:
Players can ghetto rig their board to accomplish this obviously...just seems like an obvious inclusion to consider before they launched the thong...


What does "ghetto rig" mean?


It means to do something quickly and cheaply, but effectively, by appropriating parts that were designed for something else.


Ah, so I suppose it does not refer to a part of a city where a certain racial, economic or other minority is forced to live in by a totalitarian state or adverse conditions brought upon by income inequality, civil strife and a lack of opportunities? My bad.
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Matt Shinners
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kreikkaturkulainen wrote:
MattShinners wrote:
kreikkaturkulainen wrote:
zbardou wrote:
Players can ghetto rig their board to accomplish this obviously...just seems like an obvious inclusion to consider before they launched the thong...


What does "ghetto rig" mean?


It means to do something quickly and cheaply, but effectively, by appropriating parts that were designed for something else.


Ah, so I suppose it does not refer to a part of a city where a certain racial, economic or other minority is forced to live in by a totalitarian state or adverse conditions brought upon by income inequality, civil strife and a lack of opportunities? My bad.


It is referring to that - it's an (slightly) offensive term. But that's what it means, for those who are not American.
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Zachary Bardou
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If you take ghetto rig to have specific racial implications, there is a chance you're a racist.
 
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Zachary Bardou
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Now if you are poor (in money or even in considerate game design) and you are determined to solve a problem, you may just find a "ghetto rigged" way to do it...
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Jefferson Krogh
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"Jury rig" is the phrase that we used in olden days to describe the same thing.
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zbardou wrote:
If you take ghetto rig to have specific racial implications, there is a chance you're a racist.


No, there is a chance you have read something in your life, you have visited the Venice ghetto and the Warsaw ghetto, visited slums and know what really goes on in there.
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Alex Banks
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Seven Hells, all this in-fighting is just what Lannister wants!

Without taking sides, if you want to discuss the definition and usage of the work ghetto perhaps you should start another topic..?

The original point made I think is valid about blocking off areas. I'm a bit of a stickler when it comes to using official tokens etc. so I think I'd just stick to blocking off the Southern territories and Pyke in my games, with the only possible exception being Greywater and Flint's Finger if Greyjoy isn't playing. I'd probably just use Greyjoy Power tokens to indicate they are off limits.

I like the idea of creating scenarios from the books though Maybe just a different name depending which houses are involved?

*Book/TV SPOILERS*
A Game of Thrones - Stark, Lannister, Baratheon
A Clash of Kings - Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, Greyjoy, Tyrell
A Storm of Swords - Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, Greyjoy
A Feast for Crows - Lannister, Baratheon, Tyrell, Martell
A Dance with Dragons - All houses
The Winds of Winter - ??? + Arryn? + Targaryen?
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Mike Smith
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You don't need "official" tokens Mr Stickler! Relax and just put neutrally-coloured cubes, discs, or even medieval-looking model soldiers to the relevant number in the areas you desire to be neutral. I think that actually looks better than the tokens.
 
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I feel stupid, but since I've been soundly spooked by the unbelievably resounding consensus on the imbalance of the 4/5 player game, I'm going to ask my stupid question in advance of the 4-or-5 player game I've got scheduled for this weekend:

What are "Martell's territories"? What are "Tyrell's territories"? You speak of them as if this is common knowledge, but apparently I live under a rock ;)

At first I thought you meant those territories you listed as falling within the 5 mustering points worth of 'natural grabs' for each House... but then you mention Searoad Marches out of nowhere.

You describe it as "questionable," then advise us to use common sense. But common sense only works when things aren't questionable; that's why it's common.

So I remain confused. Any help on balancing this uncharacteristically unbalanced game (for Fantasy Flight, at least) would be much appreciated!
 
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Seli L
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Eunomiac wrote:
What are "Martell's territories"? What are "Tyrell's territories"? You speak of them as if this is common knowledge, but apparently I live under a rock

At first I thought you meant those territories you listed as falling within the 5 mustering points worth of 'natural grabs' for each House... but then you mention Searoad Marches out of nowhere.

You describe it as "questionable," then advise us to use common sense. But common sense only works when things aren't questionable; that's why it's common.


By "Martell's/Tyrell's/etc territories" I meant territories which will be held in a "usual" game by that house after 1 or 2 rounds. Their natural territories, spheres of influence, if you will.

Questionable territories are those where you cannot say clearly, e.g. Searoad Marches is halfway between Lannister's and Tyrell's home territory, so you cannot definitely say that it's Lannister's or Tyrell's territory.

Specifically, for a 5-player game I would block off Sunspear, Salt Shore, Starfall, Yronwood, Storm's End and Prince's Pass, but not The Boneway. This would give Baratheon and Tyrell 5 mustering points within their natural territories, just like everybody else, and they would have to find others for more, just like others. Prince's Pass and The Boneway fall into the questionable category, the reason I'd do the blocking this way is that it would create a 2-territory-wide corridor between Tyrell and Baratheon, if The Boneway was blocked, The Reach would be a choke point.

For 4-player game, in addition to what's blocked in a 5-player game, I'd also block Highgarden, The Reach, Oldtown, Dornish Marches, Three Towers and The Arbor. In the case of a 4-player game it might make more sense though to try some other selection of houses than the one officially recommended, the map would probably play better with Martell+Greyjoy removed (discussed above) or Stark+Greyjoy removed (Pyke, Seagard, The Mountains of the Moon, The Eyrie and everything above this line removed).
 
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Ryan West
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Thank you very much for the clarification (and, after rereading my post, for so graciously ignoring my snark, for which I apologize!)
 
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Seli_L wrote:
... In the case of a 4-player game it might make more sense though to try some other selection of houses than the one officially recommended, the map would probably play better with Martell+Greyjoy removed (discussed above) ...

Which territories are removed when playing without Martell & Greyjoy? (I can't seem to find the discussion you mention.) I'm very new to this game so am wary of balancing it myself, and you seem to know your stuff!

Also, you left out mention of Starfall: Is that closed off when Martell is removed, or is it left open as an option for Tyrell in 5-player? And, in a 4-player game excluding Stark and Greyjoy, is The Eyrie blocked?

My players are very anxious to experiment with other house combinations, so adding Stark/Lannister/Baratheon/Tyrell and Lannister/Baratheon/Tyrell/Martell as options in 4-player would be fantastic!
 
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Seli L
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Eunomiac wrote:
Which territories are removed when playing without Martell & Greyjoy? (I can't seem to find the discussion you mention.)


I guess I meant to add more specifics about removing Greyjoy but didn't fully, beyond mentioning some basics. So, removing Martell has been explained already. Greyjoy's territories would be Pyke, Flint's Finger, Greywater Watch and Seagard, but there's the already-mentioned problem that blocking off these territories (and especially Seagard) would block one route up to Stark. I'm not sure what the best way to solve that would be, there are some options:

- Leaving Seagard available - that'd possibly give Lannister two more easy mustering points
- Leaving Seagard available, but ignoring the stronghold there - that would make Seagard a choke point that would be hard to break through because of siege engines not working there
- Leave Seagard available but downgrade Seagard and Riverrun from strongholds to castles - that would seem a reasonable compromise between the two and the one town added hopefully wouldn't matter (e.g. Martell in 6-player also has an easy access to 1 stronghold and 3 castles).

Eunomiac wrote:
I'm very new to this game so am wary of balancing it myself, and you seem to know your stuff!


Actually I've never played 2nd edition AGoT in less than 6 players, so although this seems to make sense to me, it's still just a theory.

Eunomiac wrote:

Also, you left out mention of Starfall: Is that closed off when Martell is removed, or is it left open as an option for Tyrell in 5-player? And, in a 4-player game excluding Stark and Greyjoy, is The Eyrie blocked?


I forgot Starfall, added (it's Martell's natural mustering point, so blocked). The Eyrie is primarily Stark's, so in a game excluding Stark it should be blocked according to this guideline.

Eunomiac wrote:

My players are very anxious to experiment with other house combinations, so adding Stark/Lannister/Baratheon/Tyrell and Lannister/Baratheon/Tyrell/Martell as options in 4-player would be fantastic!


Well, just try it and see, it's a theory until somebody tries it in practice and sees how it works. Really, just try to follow the guideline of everybody having the same number of mustering points within their reach and easy access to about the same number of mustering points from other players. If you want to quickly test a particular setup, I think it would work just to get the board, create that setup and very quickly do 2 turns with all houses and see what it looks like. If everybody controls the same amount of mustering points and has more than one obvious way to expand, it should be a good setup and then it's only about trying it out in practice.
 
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