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Subject: increasing balance & decreasing luck rss

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Richard Ham
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Okay, this is one of the most lovely games I've seen in a long time, but out of the box it's so overly luck driven and unbalanced (or at least, so it seems... would love to hear the thoughts behind the design of the game, which is mostly brilliant, but I'm not expecting it ). So I'm thinking about making the following house rules. Some of them are my thoughts, and some are taken from other excellent suggestions made here on the variant boards. Rules bolded, explainations not bolded.

We'll be giving this a try in the near future, and will report how it works. Would love feedback from others as well, because I want to LOVE this game instead of just like it!

RULE CORRECTION
When using the plot action, put the two unused plots on the bottom of the stack (according to designer, the English/German rules are wrong about this, so just listing here for thoroughness).

DICE BALANCE
Since '?' is SOO much more powerful than every other roll result (as is 'cloudy' once the improvements are gone) the following two changes are made:

1) when cloudy is rolled, if all improvements have been already been taken, you can now choose to take one improvement from any plot of land and place it on your playerboard (and subsequently place it on any legal plot of land, as normal). If there are no improvements on any plot of land, you can take one from another player's board. If there are none on another player's board, you can instead opt take a sun, rain, breeze or storm action.

2) when ? is rolled, take the top plot of land from the stack and place it for free, following all the normal rules.


OBJECTIVES BALANCE
Oddly, plot objectives are the most tactically difficulty to complete, and yet are the lowest scoring on average. Panda objectives, OTOH, are the tactically easiest to achieve, and generally score much higher. To address this, we introduce the notion of losing points in the endgame for uncompleted objectives:

Every uncompleted Panda objective loses its full point value.

Every uncompleted Gardener objective loses half its point value rounded up.

Every uncompleted Plot objective loses 1 point.


(NB: this might be too harsh, and we might go for unfinsihed Panda obj's lose 3 points, Gardeners 2, Plots 1)

Also, to make objective selection more strategically rewarding:

When taking the card draw action, players draw one card from each deck (3 in total), and choose one of them to keep. The two not chosen go into appropriate discard piles. When a draw pile is empty and needs to be drawn, the discard pile is reshuffled to create a new draw deck.

Also, I'm not a big fan of the advanced rule to deal with "easy objectives", as it created unwieldy situations like never being able to complete any panda objective. So rather than using that rule, instead I'm thinking the following:

When declaring an objective complete, the player only scores half the objective's points, rounded down, if he himself did not complete an action that triggered the objective completion state. The player ONLY scores full points if he declares an objective immediately after taking one of his two turn actions, with that action directly contributing to the completion of that objective.

Half scored objectives are indicated by being kept face down beside the player board. Fully scored objectives are indicated by being kept face down on the Panda hut on the player board.


That is, if the player draws an objective card and is able to immediately complete it, and chooses to do so, he'll score half points. And if a player starts his turn and the state of the board allows him to complete an objective without taking either of his two actions to make it so (likely because another player changed the board), and he chooses to score it, he gets half points. He only gets full points if he himself uses one of his two actions to make the objective completable. (Using the free sun action does not count, it must be one of the two main actions).

If he likes, when he's in a state where the objective can be completed "for free", he can opt not to complete it, but wait for the game state to change (or change it himself) so that the objective is not completable, and then complete it himself, and score full points.

The thematic explanation for this rule would be: If the King's observers watch you feed the panda the prescribed bamboo type, they are very impressed and report this favourably and you get full credit. If they have to take it on faith that sometime in the recent past, the panda did in fact eat the correct bamboo, they must report it so to the king, and he will not be as impressed.

ENDGAME DEPTH
To make for more intersting scoring possibilies, some additional endgame scoring rules would be:

1) score full or half points for every completed objective (as described in previous section)

2) for every uncompleted objective, lose points, depending on type (as described in previous section)

3) For every three unused improvements, score one point

4) For every two unused canals, score one point

5) For every bamboo still in the panda's belly, score one point

6) for every "set of three" fully scoring objective (i.e. one panda, one plot and one gardener objective), score three bonus points


This gives players the option to horde resources as a viable strategy, and also to strive for variety in scored objectives, creating more challenge (in theory).
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Richard Ham
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Played several games this afternoon, and am now liking the following full set of rules modifications to replace the first pass I did above last night. We're definitely enjoying the game a LOT more now. Still light, but closer to a TTR level of complexity than where it is out of the box, which is good for us.

With these rules, basically, players get a lot more to think about because they've generally got (if they want) more objective cards, and the risk of losing points at the end for not getting them played provides great tension, with a little bit of a safety net. Plus, choosing which cards to keep when you draw can also provide a nice bit of risk/reward to think about.

Also, with these rules I'm trying to minimize the amount of "dead actions" the player can encounter through no fault of their own. Now, every roll of the die should have some intrinsic value, if for no other reason that you can score a extra points at the end of the game, but at the same time, no one die roll is radically more powerful than any other one.

If anyone gives these a go, let me know what you think!

1) when taking the plot action, put two unused tiles at bottom of stack (as per the corrected official rules).

2) with the breeze action, you can choose to either do two of the same actions (as normal) OR take one canal. You must decide before you take your two turn actions.

3) with the draw objectives action, draw one from each pile (three in total) and keep TWO. The unchosen one goes in a discard pile for the card type. If one of the stacks no longer has any cards, you can choose to draw an extra card from the other stacks.

4) when drawing cards, if you receive one that can immediately be completed, put it in the discard pile and draw again (for gardener & panda cards) or remove it from the game (for plot cards).

5) the player can have no more than three of any card type (so the maximum hand size is 9). If, during the draw card action, keeping two cards would put the player over this maximum, they only keep one card instead of two.

6) when you roll a ?, you may draw one card from the deck of your choice. You can also (optionally) discard one card of your choice. The normal card drawing rules apply.

7) with the cloudy action, if a given type of improvement is no longer available to draw, players can move this improvement from one plot to another, if any are on the board. (also, I'm thinking about removing the water shed tokens from the game, because they're SOOO much more powerful than the other two, but time will tell).

8) once the emperor card has been taken, all other players get one final turn. On a final turn, the die is not rolled, and instead the player can choose any one of the normal die actions.

9) at game end, players discard one of their uncompleted objective cards (their choice) and lose points equal to the values of the remaining ones.

10) at game end, players get one point for every unused improvement, bamboo piece and canal on their personal board. They can not earn more than 5 points for each of these collections (so 15 points in total).
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Antonio Ferrari
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There are some ideas i like!

rahdo wrote:

RULE CORRECTION
When using the plot action, put the two unused plots on the bottom of the stack


Italian Rules states just this: put unused plots on the bottom.

rahdo wrote:

OBJECTIVES BALANCE

Every uncompleted Panda objective loses its full point value.

Every uncompleted Gardener objective loses half its point value rounded up.

Every uncompleted Plot objective loses 1 point.



I like this idea. I find it more balanced respect to a Variant already proposed in another post on BGG (lost half the points independently from the type).

rahdo wrote:

When declaring an objective complete, the player only scores half the objective's points, rounded down, if he himself did not complete an action that triggered the objective completion state. The player ONLY scores full points if he declares an objective immediately after taking one of his two turn actions...

If he likes, when he's in a state where the objective can be completed "for free", he can opt not to complete it, but wait for the game state to change (or change it himself) so that the objective is not completable, and then complete it himself, and score full points.



I find this idea interesting: you receive more if you contribute directly to the final objective.

rahdo wrote:

ENDGAME DEPTH
At game end, players get one point for every unused improvement, bamboo piece and canal on their personal board. They can not earn more than 5 points for each of these collections (so 15 points in total).


Maybe I'd reduce max points: 3 instead of 5, so that players don't accumulate too many resources.
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Richard Ham
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Thanks for the feedback. I found while playing that some of my first suggestions made the game more cumbersome than it should be and took away a bit of the elegance of the game. Specifically the "did you contribute the final step of an objective one?" and the "different point penalties for different unfinished objectives", so I simplified them a bit in my second revision
 
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Antonio Ferrari
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rahdo wrote:
Thanks for the feedback. I found while playing that some of my first suggestions made the game more cumbersome than it should be and took away a bit of the elegance of the game. Specifically the "did you contribute the final step of an objective one?" and the "different point penalties for different unfinished objectives", so I simplified them a bit in my second revision


Maybe you could mix the things: (1) at the end of the game, you discard an uncompleted objective card; (2) and then subtract half the points for the other uncompleted cards.

And what do you think about your proposal: take more if contribute directly?
 
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Richard Ham
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TBH, after a few more plays, I've decided to trade the game away In the end, I just realized it wasn't a game for us. It's clearly for families with young children, which it's perfect for as is, and as much as I might struggle to make a round peg fit a square hole, in the end there's just too many games out there I'd rather play, even if they don't have adorable pandas...
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Clyde W
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This is odd, it seems that the designer and I believe scoring the plot objectives is the easiest. Why are we wrong, in your view?
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Richard Ham
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Mostly because we were playing with the "advanced" rule that means you can't score for things that are already completed. So either you're getting plot cards at the beginning of the game, when you have to draw the right colours and you have to place them in the right configuration, AND you have to make sure they're all watered is be *far* the most action consuming path you can take (having to spend multiple turns drawing water canals, etc.). And later in the game when a lot of plots are placed, if you try to draw to score them, if they're already on the board, you have to discard the card and draw again.

At least, that's how it seemed to us. The panda tiles are fast and easy to score (especially since there's the bonus action to scare the panda anywhere you want on the board, making it even easier), and the gardener cards can either be really easy or really hard - luck of the draw
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Clyde W
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Plots must be watered to complete the objective? Been playing that wrong.
 
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Richard Ham
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Yup, if it wasn't for that, they'd be easy peasy lemon squeezy, but instead they're difficulty difficult lemon difficult!
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Clyde W
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Why not houserule that then?
 
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Richard Ham
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TBH, it never actually occured to me actually Good idea though!
 
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Lucas Piccoli
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I've also found that Panda objectives are the ones most easily achievable while providing the most point value. Opposed to that, plot objectives, which take time to achieve, can be lost if the pattern you were creating gets messed up by other players actions, it takes time to irrigate the plots, and the point values for those cards is small.

I've been browsing the forums and there are two variants that I like because they can fix this problem while being elegant and easy to implement.

- Limit maximum two objectives per type on a player's hand.
- Award 3 bounus points for each set of different types of objectives at the end of the game.

My one concern with these changes is that it forces variety too much instead of allowing strategies where players prefer to focus on one or two types of objectives.

Another alternative is to award +2 points for each plot objective. (A 3 point objective now is worth 5 points, etc). The thing with this rule is that it's not printed on the card and may confuse players.

In another topic, it was discussed that if houseruling that you don't need to irrigate the plots in order to fulfill plot objectives, players care less about irrigating the garden and the game becomes unbalanced. So this house rul may be a bad idea.

Unfortunately the balance of the game is like clockwork. Any modification to that complex system can have unexpected consequences on other parts.

It has also been said that every strategy can be countered by other players. If one goes too heavy on Panda, then go heavy on Plots. (They've made a comparison to rock-paper-scissors).

I love this game and it's been one of my gateway staples now. But the panda cards being unbalanced is the one thing that bothers me about it.
 
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Mike M
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Just played this again with my wife after a long break (we were too tired and brain dead for most games, and this was the perfect fit).

The low points for plots and high points for pandas bothered me again, as usual. I did take a variety of cards just to make the game more interesting, though it still seems the best way to win would be to just take panda cards.

Thus, next time I think we're going to try this simple house rule: You must keep your completed objectives as even by type as possible. Meaning I can't complete 2 of one type before completing one of each, and can't complete 3 of one before I have 2 of each, etc. Might have to up the hand limit slightly to compensate. We'll try it soon (maybe!) and see how it goes and report back here...
 
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Chris Stavaas
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I got this game before the weekend, and after reading some og the houserules in this thread and playing around with different combination of rules, me and my husband found the houserules that suited us best (at least in a 2p game)

1. Sets of three different objective types give 3 bonus points.
2. Unfinished objectives are penalized as follows: Panda -3, Plots -2, Gardener -1.
3. When taking new objectives you can decide (before you look at any cards) if you wanna take one or two new cards.
4. Question mark on the dice means you put out the top hex of garden.
5. If you roll a cloud and there are no upgrades left, you can move an existing upgrade.
6. You can only score objectives that you are directly contributing to on your turn.

When we played Takenoko vanilla with out of the box rules, the game just bored us to death. After employing these 6 rule changes we loved it!


Thank you Rahdo for putting us on the right track!
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