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Subject: The “luck” issue: developing a gamer variant rss

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Paulo Santoro
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I’ve read several threads about the “luck” issue in Thebes. Many people tell that the luck factor in excavation is highly thematic. I agree with that. Excavation is fun and exciting in this game, and the luck factor is the main reason for that.

However, the problem is not the very fact that there are luck in digging, but the amount of luck involved. To see what I mean, imagine that there were, in each bag, one 50-points artifact. If one player grab it, he don’t need to do anything else to win, unless another player also grab one.

So it’s a question of balancing. Of course, the designer didn’t put a 50-points artifact in the game. But he did put several 5-7 points that can work almost as a 50-point artifact when a player eventually get 2 or 3 of them.

I'm usually against variants in a game. If I don't like a game per the original rules, I simply avoid to play. I'm here only because Thebes is a very cool game, and this issue is highly shared by a lot of people. Even those that like the game agree that the luck factor play a huge role in it.

So I’ll try to balance the luck factor, trying to not hurt the basic rules a lot, and also trying to be thematic. My first idea is those 3 points I will apply:

1) A player is only allowed to win if he did at least 1 exhibition.
[This seems very thematic to me. Mechanically, one can’t just go for artifacts, but have to plan to get to exhibit.]
2) After each excavation, 1 dirt is kept out of the bag.
[That’s already a often used variant to keep reasonable odds for further excavations, and it’s obviously completely thematic.]
3) Artifacts worthing 5 to 7 points are considered “treasures of humankind”. The player who discovers one gets 2 points for finding it, but he can’t keep it. Instead, it goes to the board near the exhibition cards. Now, when a player want to do an exhibition, he can use one of these treasures of humankind, and then it’s discarded. Example: Player A found a green 6. He scores 2 points (use some cubes), not 6. The artifact goes to the board. Later, player B (could be player A again) wants to do an exhibition: he has all he needs but a green one. He can use that green-6 to fill and the exhibition is done, and the 6 is discarded.
[First, this mitigate the high luck of finding artifacts that score a lot of points. Besides, this makes a little more easy to perform an exhibition, since it is now mandatory. Even a bad lucky player can sometimes use a treasure to score points. Moreover, he can also block other players! Players will look for opportunities to deny an otherwise easy exhibition. Luckier guys can eventually be target of this.]

The rules above will be my first try. Probably it won’t work very well as is, but I’ll be developing. Any comment can be helful.
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Jonathan Powell
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Re: About the “luck” issue
I am certainly in the camp that considers the luck factor in Thebes to be thematic. The only reason I can see for trying to balance the luck factor in Thebes is if it is important to you to win Thebes.

In most games, I play to win, but not always. I don't think I sit down to play Thebes with the goal of winning. I don't think Thebes was intended to be played that way.

The luck in Thebes is not solely in the chit pulls from the bags. I can be bouncing back and forth between Moscow and Paris for the cards I need expending lots of time, while you sit in London and keep picking up the cards you need. It happens.

Mitigating the luck in Thebes sucks the life out of it.

What's more fun for all the players--When I pull the 7,6, and 5 treasures out of the bag or all dirt? I love it when my 7 year old pulls crazy treasure on her turn and we all laugh when all she gets is a handful of dirt.

If the luck in Thebes bothers you, instead of tweaking the game to mitigate it, I'd say just play something else.
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Simon Lundström
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Re: About the “luck” issue
While the bad luck in Thebes have annoyed me in the past, I cannot but agree with Powell. It's the game. It really is.

But that said, your ideas don't seem bad at all. Won't change the game radically, and really bad and really good luck can still be there.

Not too fond of the exhibition idea, though, especially not if you lower the points for the big treasures – seeing other reap the benefits of what you dug up will make it less "my precioussss" when you dig, which is part of that fun.
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Paulo Santoro
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Re: About the “luck” issue
ukraineboo wrote:
I am certainly in the camp that considers the luck factor in Thebes to be thematic. The only reason I can see for trying to balance the luck factor in Thebes is if it is important to you to win Thebes.

In most games, I play to win, but not always. I don't think I sit down to play Thebes with the goal of winning. I don't think Thebes was intended to be played that way.

The luck in Thebes is not solely in the chit pulls from the bags. I can be bouncing back and forth between Moscow and Paris for the cards I need expending lots of time, while you sit in London and keep picking up the cards you need. It happens.

Mitigating the luck in Thebes sucks the life out of it.

What's more fun for all the players--When I pull the 7,6, and 5 treasures out of the bag or all dirt? I love it when my 7 year old pulls crazy treasure on her turn and we all laugh when all she gets is a handful of dirt.

If the luck in Thebes bothers you, instead of tweaking the game to mitigate it, I'd say just play something else.


I'm not like you. If I want to laugh while playing, not bothering to win, I play Saboteur, Dixit, What's it to ya. Those are party games made to that feeling: they are quick, relaxed and you can have 8 players laughing out loud at a table. Thebes was not built that way: it is a strategy game, only up to four can play, and everything on the board is around making victory points.

So now please understand what I'm saying. This post is in the Variants forum. I'm not here to discuss that anymore, we can found that in several other threads, here I wish to discuss a variant, because this is the variants forum. Please be happy with the game as it is and let me (and other gamers) try to develop a more serious variant to the game.

Thank you very much.
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Jonathan Powell
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Re: About the “luck” issue
PauloSantoro wrote:
I’ve read several threads about the “luck” issue in Thebes. Many people tell that the luck factor in excavation is highly thematic. I agree with that. Excavation is fun and exciting in this game, and the luck factor is the main reason for that.

However, the problem is not the very fact that there are luck in digging, but the amount of luck involved. To see what I mean, imagine that there were, in each bag, one 50-points artifact. If one player grab it, he don’t need to do anything else to win, unless another player also grab one.

So it’s a question of balancing. Of course, the designer didn’t put a 50-points artifact in the game. But he did put several 5-7 points that can work almost as a 50-point artifact when a player eventually get 2 or 3 of them.

I'm usually against variants in a game. If I don't like a game per the original rules, I simply avoid to play. I'm here only because Thebes is a very cool game, and this issue is highly shared by a lot of people. Even those that like the game agree that the luck factor play a huge role in it.

So I’ll try to balance the luck factor, trying to not hurt the basic rules a lot, and also trying to be thematic. My first idea is those 3 points I will apply:

1) A player is only allowed to win if he did at least 1 exhibition.
[This seems very thematic to me. Mechanically, one can’t just go for artifacts, but have to plan to get to exhibit.]
2) After each excavation, 1 dirt is kept out of the bag.
[That’s already a often used variant to keep reasonable odds for further excavations, and it’s obviously completely thematic.]
3) Artifacts worthing 5 to 7 points are considered “treasures of humankind”. The player who discovers one gets 2 points for finding it, but he can’t keep it. Instead, it goes to the board near the exhibition cards. Now, when a player want to do an exhibition, he can use one of these treasures of humankind, and then it’s discarded. Example: Player A found a green 6. He scores 2 points (use some cubes), not 6. The artifact goes to the board. Later, player B (could be player A again) wants to do an exhibition: he has all he needs but a green one. He can use that green-6 to fill and the exhibition is done, and the 6 is discarded.
[First, this mitigate the high luck of finding artifacts that score a lot of points. Besides, this makes a little more easy to perform an exhibition, since it is now mandatory. Even a bad lucky player can sometimes use a treasure to score points. Moreover, he can also block other players! Players will look for opportunities to deny an otherwise easy exhibition. Luckier guys can eventually be target of this.]

The rules above will be my first try. Probably it won’t work very well as is, but I’ll be developing. Any comment can be helful.


Your post inspired me to play a game of Thebes with the family. Here are our scores:
51 for my 10 year old daughter (she had 5 congresses)
46 for my wife
45 for me
40 for my 7 year old daughter

Somehow no one was able to claim an exhibition. Mine small exhibition fell off the board and I was out of time to claim the large one.

Here are my thoughts on your variant rules:
1. Not a bad idea, but what happens if the one exhibition you qualify for either doesn't appear, is claimed by another, or rolls off the board? You might have to line up all the exhibitions off the board since they would be used differently.
2. Sounds fine and, as you say, can even be justified thematically.
3. Not sure about this one. The big treasures can make a difference, but so can the congress cards. I would be more inclined to just change all the 5-7 chit values so that all treasures are worth 1-4 points. I'm not ready to put the sharpie to my chits yet.

edit-forgot to mention our scores
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Paulo Santoro
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Re: About the “luck” issue
Thank you, Jonathan!

1. Yes, it can be a problem. Maybe this rule would demand another change: 3 small exhibition cards should start the game already on the board. I will think about it, I don't know.

3. The congress cards can be directly disputed, just go for them. My concern is when a player gets several 5-7 artifacts poinst, becoming unstoppable. My first idea, and someone had the same idea in another thread, was to halve the artifacts points. This would work almost perfectly, but the tokens are printed and I don't like to change this. Nevertheless I still can try it.
 
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Dan C
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Re: About the “luck” issue
I think the title of the thread "About the luck issue..." seems to invite a discussion about luck in this game. Yes it is in the variants forum, but if it just pops up in subscriptions people could read that into it. Maybe add the word variant or something to indicate you don't want to talk about it. Just a suggestion to take or leave.
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Paulo Santoro
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Re: About the “luck” issue
I think you are right, thank you!
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Kevin B. Smith
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I am intentionally going to refer to "randomness" rather than "luck", because the latter has emotional implications that it favors one player or another.

What was your goal with forcing every player to have an exhibit? I enjoy the "multiple paths" with the original rules, where you can score big points from: Conferences, dug artifacts, majority knowlege, and exhibits. Requiring an exhibit detracts from that a bit.

Removing dirt from the bag would have the side effect of increasing the value of later draws. The game really is designed to have a tension between digging early (lots of treasure in the bag!) and digging late (more knowledge so more pulls per time spent!).

As has been discussed elsewhere, the simplest way to eliminate the randomness of the draw is to eliminate the variable point values. Every chit you draw, you keep, and it's worth one point. If the goal is to reduce randomness, that's your best bet. Dig more and longer, and you get more rewards.

Alternatively, if you are merely concerned with the high-value artifacts, you could have some kind of "flattening" algorithm, like: Any artifact of 1 or 2 is worth an extra point above what it says, and any artifact of 5 or more is worth one less point than what it says. Or maybe 1-2 = 2 points, 3-4 = 3 points, 5-7 = 4 points.

But this has a problem, because each site is carefully constructed to have the same total value, but with different configurations. One has tons of low value and a few high, while another has a few at each level. Most players probably don't get to the skill level of choosing their dig sites, or before that, choosing which knowledge to grab, based on those odds. But a gamer's variant should allow that expert move.

To me, the main point of the game is managing your time, especially with the digs. You want enough knowledge to not have to spend so much time, but you want to get there first (bonus artifact), and certainly before someone else has cleared out the artifacts. When you arrive at a site, deciding how much time to spend is critical. Too little and your dig will be inefficient, putting you at the mercy of randomness. Too much, and you lose ground in Europe picking up Conferences and other valuable cards. You also have to watch the calendar and time your digs around the year boundary.

So I guess my advice would be to go back and think through very clearly what your real concerns are. Have you played enough to really understand the randomness mitigation aspects? What amount of randomness are you really targeting, and where (cards or digs)? Is the big problem dirt, or artifact values?

Have you actually written down everyone's digs and results through a game, to see to what degree the results did or did not correlate with the "skill" in setting up good digs?
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Brian M
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While I like Thebes as is, if you wanted to "flatten" the treasure values without having to mark them up, what about awarding points for majority scores rather than the straight up value of the token?

Scoring something like 15/11/7/3 would leave the total points available the same, but someone getting a fantstic dig would be limited in how many total points they could get out of it.

Just random brainstorming.
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Mika R.
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StormKnight wrote:
While I like Thebes as is, if you wanted to "flatten" the treasure values without having to mark them up, what about awarding points for majority scores rather than the straight up value of the token?

Scoring something like 15/11/7/3 would leave the total points available the same, but someone getting a fantstic dig would be limited in how many total points they could get out of it.

Just random brainstorming.


I also thought about this idea! The total value of dug treasures would be used to compete on the "most valuable excavator" rank and the victory points would be fixed values based on the ordinal positions of the excavators. Might dampen the swings a bit. But would it still be exciting?
 
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Jozsef Hajdu
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Hi, at the beginning it bothered me the luck factor. But, when I thought about this concept in Thebes, that you are an archeologist and you make some digs, well, in real life a person like this needs luck, too. If you have larger knowledge, then you can have the odds on your side just like in real life, and if you substract only 2 tokens from the bag, you have big chance to get only dirt. Although I might try your suggest of rules to see how it works. Thanks!
 
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