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Subject: The "Centauri" Variant rss

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Greg Taylor
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In our experience so far, particularly with new players at the table, poor luck early in a game can really damage a player's ability to get their 'engine' going -- ruining their whole play of the game. This, of course, can be solved by more experience with Eclipse and learning how to play it better, or as the snarky replies will surely suggest -- "just go play TI3" or "The Expansion Solves Everything!"... Ignoring the snarky replies and recognizing that this has been a problem for groups, I've developed a variant (a set of small tweaks, really) that smooth out the game's sometimes extreme swings of randomness.


"Centauri" Explore Drafting

d10-1 During setup, before discarding any hexes, each player may choose a single hex tile from the 2nd or 3rd ring stacks, excluding Supernovas.
d10-2 Continue setting up the tile set for the number of players present, include the tiles chosen in step 1 when counting to determine how many tiles are present in each stack.
d10-3 Place all of the set aside hexes in a separate stack.
d10-4 Players roll to determine the first player.
d10-5 In reverse turn order, players will then secretly select a tile from the set aside stack of tiles and place it face down on the board (following normal rules for wormhole & ring). In the case that they player does not wish to take a tile, they may pass and any unselected tiles will be shuffled back into their respective stacks after the drafting is completed.
d10-6 During the first round, only the player who placed the tile may explore that tile, as their explore action (alien explore powers do not apply). They flip the tile over and follow the usual explore procedure. In later rounds, any player who can legally explore any tiles that are still face-down may do so.


This variant is named after the closest star-system to earth beyond our own solar system. The thematic rationale is that each faction will already have somewhat detailed information about their nearest star-system before they begin their expansion in earnest.

Each player may choose a single tile that will suit their needs well, though, they may not get that tile, as the drafting is done in reverse turn order. This makes up somewhat for the disadvantage to being late in the turn order for the first round (particularly in research availability). This way, at least one of your early explores is likely to be good and prevent a stall early in the game.

For truly new players, the other players should collectively choose a good tile for the new players, tiles with white planets or multiple non-advanced tech worlds (particularly orange economy worlds) without any ancient defenders, make for good choices.

I've found this variant has worked well to smooth out the early game and prevent a bad string of explores from hampering the rest of the game -- particularly with less experienced players.

Edit - To clarify, this is a variant intended primarily for new or less experienced players, to improve early game economy. It has only been tested with all-human games and will likely not work well with alien races (which are not suggested for new players anyway).


"Centauri" Explore Drafting - Alternate

Edit - This is an alternate version of this variant, with very new players. It simplifies the setup process and still achieves similar results in improving early game economies for less experienced players.

d10-1 During setup, before discarding any hexes, the experienced player(s) who are teaching the game select a hex tile for each player from the 2nd or 3rd ring stacks, excluding Supernovas, ancients and reward tiles.
d10-2 Continue setting up the tile set for the number of players present, include the tiles chosen in step 1 when counting to determine how many tiles are present in each stack.
d10-3 Place all of the set aside hexes in a separate stack.
d10-4 Roll to determine the start player.
d10-5 In reverse turn order, players will then secretly draw a random tile from this set-aside deck of tiles and place it face down on the board (following normal rules for wormhole & ring).
d10-6 During the first round, only the player who placed the tile may explore that tile, as their explore action (alien explore powers do not apply). They flip the tile over and follow the usual explore procedure. In later rounds, any player who can legally explore any tiles that are still face-down may do so.


1st Technology Draw

As a separate, but also valuable variant, we like the initial technology draw to include no more than 2 of any particular technology. Any draw that would increase the available stack to 3 is set aside and replacement is drawn. Any set-aside techs are replaced into the bag once the 1st Technology drawing is complete.

We also never keep a technology draw that no player present can research (Space Stations for an all-human game, for instance).

I like this variant because it increases the initial spread of techs for the early game and prevents a few big pile-ups of late-game-only techs from hampering the availability of some of the early and mid-game techs.


"It's Gotta Have at Least One Gun, Sir"

Please skip the 'why plasma missiles are or are not broken' discussion for one of the many threads devoted to the topic. this is our solution, you don't need to use it.

Our solution to plasma missiles, which unarguably have a high shock value for early players, if nothing else, is to borrow the simplest recommendation I've seen for reducing their overuse in games (I forget exactly who came up with the initial idea, someone on BGG).

"Every ship needs at least one gun"

- this includes space stations
- a 'gun' is a non-missile weapon that can be fired multiple times in a combat round

This variant is very easy to explain, and makes a very small adjustment that leads to more balanced ship design. The slot devoted to a non-missile weapon is then not available for missiles or computers, which reduces the shock and awe missile barrage somewhat. With a dreadnaught it's still possible to stack a bunch of missiles and computers, but the missile-optimized interceptor is much less devastating, as is the missile-heavy space station. It also increases the power needs (generally) of the ship without adding a power cost to missiles themselves.


Those are the variants we use when playing Eclipse, and so far it makes the game a lot smoother and more enjoyable for my gaming groups. I hope they will help other Eclipse fans enjoy this excellent game.

Cheers.

[edits for clarity and formatting]
[edit - added alternate tile selection method, based on feedback in this thread]
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neko flying
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Sounds nice. I think another possibility for the first few games might be to guarantee that at least half of the techs are from the cheap half of the tech tree. One could split them in two halves (the first three columns and the last five) and draw a certain number from the cheap half, shuffle all together, then draw the remaining ones from the whole bunch.
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Greg Taylor
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flying_neko wrote:
Sounds nice. I think another possibility for the first few games might be to guarantee that at least half of the techs are from the cheap half of the tech tree. One could split them in two halves (the first three columns and the last five) and draw a certain number from the cheap half, shuffle all together, then draw the remaining ones from the whole bunch.


I've considered this, but it's a lot of extra sorting on setup.

I've also not had terrible luck on tech draws using the "max 2 for initial draw" above -- usually we've gotten enough low-cost techs to make it work. I think if we got a really horrible initial draw, then (with group consensus) we'd just mulligan an entire draw...

So far, just having more selection on the initial draw, even if they end up on the costlier end of things, still allows people enough choices that they can formulate a strategy with what is out there.


I'm wary to use too many or too complex patches on any game, so I've worked on these to try to make them low impact on setup, sorting, explaining, easy to agree on, etc.
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lindyhopper wrote:
"Centauri" Explore Drafting
I was planning on doing something similar for my next game (face-up draft one hex from tier 3 in turn order, then face-up draft one hex from tier 2 in reverse turn order), but that might end up with too little randomness. I'll keep your variant in mind.

The other option I haven't completely thought through yet is separating the tier 3 hexes into two piles (based on number of planets, or based on victory points; I haven't decided), and having players place a hex from each pile face down next to their home hex at the beginning of the game. If there are only two or three players, you can do the same with the tier 2 hexes. Another option that probably won't work is keeping the hexes in the two piles throughout the game and having players alternate which pile they pick from. The idea is to minimize screwage while still having completely blind explorations.

EDIT: To clarify, the ideas in my second paragraph are probably infeasible, due to extra set-up time and other issues.

EDIT: in *reverse* turn order
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Greg Taylor
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jpeters wrote:
lindyhopper wrote:
"Centauri" Explore Drafting
I was planning on doing something similar for my next game (face-up draft one hex from tier 3 in turn order, then face-up draft one hex from tier 2 in turn order), but that might end up with too little randomness. I'll keep your variant in mind.


Other options I considered were allowing the draw-two-choose-one alien power for all players on explores for the first round only. And another version of the drafting that allowed players to choose two tiles, one in ring 2 and one in ring 3 (but otherwise the same, except for you would do a second draft beginning with the first player for the 2nd tile per player).

Ultimately, I determined that the lighter tweak would be best for my group. The goal is to prevent a complete stall out in the first turn, and to do that, you really only need one good solid explore.

Anything beyond that is nice, but isn't as critical to preventing a stall. So the single draft of a good tile is a nice fit for my goals. Just a nudge to help all of the players get off to a better start.
 
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Jim Richardson

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Why not just extend Draco's power to everyone in an extremely limited fashion? Like - until a player places their first hex (other than home system) they have the "draw 2 choose 1" ability for rings 2 and 3. (Planta may be excluded if desired.)

This eliminates any special setup, works even in extreme cases where someone would discard both, doesn't nerf Draco much, doesn't give Orion center advantage, and seems to accomplish just about the same thing.
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Greg Taylor
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ParticleMan wrote:
Why not just extend Draco's power to everyone in an extremely limited fashion? Like - until a player places their first hex (other than home system) they have the "draw 2 choose 1" ability for rings 2 and 3. (Planta may be excluded if desired.)

This eliminates any special setup, works even in extreme cases where someone would discard both, doesn't nerf Draco much, doesn't give Orion center advantage, and seems to accomplish just about the same thing.


Well, I did consider it, as I mentioned in the above post:

lindyhopper wrote:
Other options I considered were allowing the draw-two-choose-one alien power for all players on explores for the first round only....


But as I noted, I felt this was a bit too strong in some cases, and too weak at solving the problem in others. To ensure that 'good start', you'd need to fish out a good world on your X attempts that you were allowed to have the bonus double-explore power. But that's not going to guarantee a good world, just improve the likelihood. As you increase X, the likelihood improves, but with it, you also allow other players X sifts through the stack, which could lead to them getting several great worlds off the start -- unbalancing things in the other direction. You could add additional rules to stop the benefit once you determined that they had found a sufficiently good world...but now it's getting complicated again.

Having each player select a tile, means that the set of tiles contains a tile that each player likes, for whatever criteria they feel is valuable. The reverse-turn order draft then allows the last player first pick from this set, so they are likely to re-choose the tile they selected to to add to the pool. But they also get to see the tiles that the other players chose, and perhaps change their mind based on the fact that they now know they are going in last place in the turn order. The reverse turn order draft offers some nice subtle benefits to the players who lose the turn order roll, which helps make up for some other problems associated with the initial turn order.

This solution nicely improved on two areas of the first round of play that I felt needed a bit of smoothing, with only one patch.

You could do a simpler draft by determining turn order prior to selecting the tiles, and then draft and keep a tile in reverse turn order. This has some benefits, for one, it prevents players from 'poisoning' the pool with an intentional poor choice, which would be the only one left for the 1st player. I'm not sure I'm so concerned about the poisoning case, and it does add something spicy for the metagame for who goes first and what their perks are.

Surely, you could do as you suggest, and extend the Draco power in a limited way, but I felt the drafting of a single 'good' tile was the best way to solve the specific problem I was trying to solve, with the least amount of additional collateral damage to the balance of the game.


Your mileage may vary, and certainly I don't think everyone should play this way. But it's worked out well for the games we've played this way, so I thought I'd share.
 
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John Smith
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Concerning the draft hex variant:

A Draco Player would almost always want to select a powerful double ancient tile in the beginning that no one else wants to draft. A tile like 203 is clearly better than everything else as first explore thus giving the Draco Player a guaranteed head start that would normally be possible but unlikely.

The same concerns apply for Orion or Eridani as well, though they are less likely to exploit the variant like Draco.

Without having tested this variant myself I would suspect that the luck of draw would certainly still impact future explores, screwing some with "bad" systems and granting double-planet tiles to others. I feel like the first explore is not bad or good per se but it encourages certain early-turn strategies.
Surrounded by ancients? Go for military tech and upgrade your ships to give you great value for your discs in the long run and threaten your neighbours.
No planets just discoveries? Use those benefits immediatly like quickbuilding dreadnoughts after a +6 ressource or outfitting your ships with (good) alien tech to go player/ancient hunting (and use tactical bankruptcy!)
Or are you granted with multi-planet systems? Prepare to turtle and leverage your higher incomes.
Of course these heuristics are fallible and must be adapted to individual game situations.

What I like about the explore system is that your draws guide you to make decisions in the face of the vast options the global game system gives you. Every explore is exciting in the beginning as they set you up for your early turns. You have to think on your feet, exploit your race advantages and consider the options of your future allies/enemies. So right away from the first actions the game gets going and immerses you into the theme and mechanics and every game is different and unpredictable. Those qualities certainly would take a hit in your variant.

Sincerly,
shoox
 
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Jelle Kaptijn
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I agree with the criticism on your variant, but i think most of the flaws are overcome if you use this variant only in plays with all humans and with people who play it for the first or second time. After that this variant will get boring.
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Greg Taylor
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Cirdan14 wrote:
I agree with the criticism on your variant, but i think most of the flaws are overcome if you use this variant only in plays with all humans and with people who play it for the first or second time. After that this variant will get boring.


Fair enough. We almost always have new players, and thus almost always play human. The variant is designed to combat the problems new players have at adapting to a poor economy in the early game stifling their growth and ruining their first play(s) of the game.

So of course experienced players can overcome an unideal tile draw, as some criticisms have mentioned. But I was quite clear in the description of the variant that this was meant for primarily new and inexperienced players.

Cheers,
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Greg Taylor
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shoox wrote:
Concerning the draft hex variant:

A Draco Player would almost always want to select a powerful double ancient tile in the beginning that no one else wants to draft. A tile like 203 is clearly better than everything else as first explore thus giving the Draco Player a guaranteed head start that would normally be possible but unlikely.

The same concerns apply for Orion or Eridani as well, though they are less likely to exploit the variant like Draco.

Without having tested this variant myself I would suspect that the luck of draw would certainly still impact future explores, screwing some with "bad" systems and granting double-planet tiles to others. I feel like the first explore is not bad or good per se but it encourages certain early-turn strategies.
Surrounded by ancients? Go for military tech and upgrade your ships to give you great value for your discs in the long run and threaten your neighbours.
No planets just discoveries? Use those benefits immediatly like quickbuilding dreadnoughts after a +6 ressource or outfitting your ships with (good) alien tech to go player/ancient hunting (and use tactical bankruptcy!)
Or are you granted with multi-planet systems? Prepare to turtle and leverage your higher incomes.
Of course these heuristics are fallible and must be adapted to individual game situations.

What I like about the explore system is that your draws guide you to make decisions in the face of the vast options the global game system gives you. Every explore is exciting in the beginning as they set you up for your early turns. You have to think on your feet, exploit your race advantages and consider the options of your future allies/enemies. So right away from the first actions the game gets going and immerses you into the theme and mechanics and every game is different and unpredictable. Those qualities certainly would take a hit in your variant.

Sincerly,
shoox


Thanks for the feedback.

I would say that, by the time players are familiar enough to play well with alien races, this sort of variant is not needed. It's focused primarily on assisting players establish working economies to prevent an early game stall -- something I've seen several new players fall into and have a miserable time.

So yes, once you are experienced enough with Eclipse to know how to work any sort of tile draws into your strategy, this sort of variant is really not for you.

If, for some reason, you wanted to adjust the variant to accommodate aliens who can gain an unbalanced advantage from this sort of drafting, you could set additional restrictions on the legal tiles to select (no tiles with rewards or no defended tiles, for instance).

I don't believe that this should be the new standard rules for Eclipse. But I have had good success with it in providing new and less experienced players with a more gentle introduction to the game.

The impedus for developing the variant was to try to coax some players back to the Eclipse table. They'd been soured on the game by particularly unfortunate tile draws for all of their explores, got boxed in on a meager economy, and had a miserable, lingering time of it. Having a variant which makes the new-player mentality work a little smoother is not a bad thing. Certainly not for all players or all groups, but it does serve a purpose.

Cheers.

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David
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I'm going to offer my wife the chance to draft an explore hex next time we play - she grumbled at her lot in our last game.
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Greg Taylor
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loofish wrote:
I'm going to offer my wife the chance to draft an explore hex next time we play - she grumbled at her lot in our last game.


thumbsup One really solid hex makes a huge difference to getting off the ground.

It's all the boost my grumpy players have needed to enjoy the game.

I hope it works well for her!
 
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I think this *could* be useful for newbies first trying the game, but more than anything I think this can become a crutch. Part of the challenge of Eclipse is working with what you have. There's been plenty of games where I drew crappy sectors. But I find that things end up balancing out after a point. For instance, in a 2 player game, my rival drew some mediocre tiles but was largely surrounded by ancients that he couldn't yet fight. Meanwhile I was drawing plenty of hexes with materials or research, but no money. In the end it actually balanced out, even in terms of discovery tiles.

When I first started playing I did find this a bit frustrating and luck-heavy. But then, I'm the type of player that enjoys a challenge and working with what I have (it goes without saying that Twilight Struggle is one of my favorite games, precisely because of this). In general I find this type of stuff makes you a better player, and eventually you will discover strategies to help get you out of a rut.

In no way am I trying to rain on your variant. I think for certain groups of new players it could help. But I also think its important to not become dependent on this.
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Peter O
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Essentially just reserve 201 and 210 for the new players. These are the most clear cut and basic of hexes. If you have more than 2 new players grab the Tier III versions of these two. Just be sure they know they're getting a variant meant to simplify and stabilize their early game and the experienced players can play without "guaranteed" hexes. I would limit this to game 1 only so as to not create a dependence.
 
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demonhanz wrote:
I think this *could* be useful for newbies first trying the game, but more than anything I think this can become a crutch. Part of the challenge of Eclipse is working with what you have....


There is enough to learn with Eclipse that it can fall under the realm of 'too much' to work out in a single play, particularly for some players. The challenges due to these random events become 'screwed by this totally random game' and they write off the game completely after a single (or a few) plays.

I think there's nothing wrong with it being a crutch or training wheels, as it were. To get a handle on how the all of the pieces of the game fits together and how to cope with challenges that come up. I've intentionally chosen a fix that only affects one explore. The remaining explores will need to be sorted out and solved in the normal way. Even if you played with this variant for many games, you'd still be learning how to solve these hard problems. So you'd still be learning the skills you need to play without it and you could stop using it once the group has their bearings. This usually occurs about the time groups want to play with the alien races, and this variant is really best suited for all-human games, so you'd likely want to revert to the standard rules when you moved to an alien game.

How you learn and grow with a game can create very different impressions of the game. The goal with all of the variants I posted in the original post, is to smooth out some of the game's randomness and shocking elements; particularly those which overly challenge players who are not ready to cope with those challenges yet. Sure, some gamers are hard enough core to push through them, but others just see 'random screwage' and sign off in frustration. I'm trying to help those gamers along in making it through the learning curve to really learn to enjoy Eclipse.
 
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lindyhopper wrote:
Our solution to plasma missiles, which unarguably have a high shock value for early players, if nothing else, is to borrow the simplest recommendation I've seen for reducing their overuse in games (I forget exactly who came up with the initial idea, someone on BGG).

"Every ship needs at least one gun"



"Computers does not affect missiles chance to hit".
Is it an feasible ideea to reduce missiles power?



 
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Mathue Faulkner
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humeniuc wrote:


"Computers does not affect missiles chance to hit".
Is it an feasible ideea to reduce missiles power?

If you mean that Missiles will ONLY hit on 6s, then that is way too much of a nerf. It would essentially make Missiles pointless for the cost.
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