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Subject: The 3-Player Experience: Let's Discuss the Drawbacks rss

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Danny Mack
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Let's start with the facts:
1) The game is recommended for 2, 3 or 4 players.
2) The reviewers seem to be pretty unanimous that 4 players is "the sweet spot."
3) If 4 players is the best experience, then logically 3 players makes for a less than ideal game, and 2-players even more so.

What I draw from the facts:
Personally if I design a game and it only really works well for 4 players, I would consider that design not ready or maybe not even viable. But that is not the case with KoS--this game works with 2, 3, and 4 players, as promised. The catch is: it feels like a VERY different gaming experience in each of those scenarios. If you are introduced to KoS as a 4-player game, I believe you will feel dissatisfied when you have to bring out the game for 3 or (God forbid) 2 players. You will want "that game experience" again, not "this game experience".
I believe this is what reviewers are saying when they name the 4 player experience "the sweet spot". In essence, there are 3 games in the box, and we don't like to play 2 of them.

Scaling a game for number(s) of players:
My personal preference (as a designer) is to not just find a way to make a game functional for each varying number of players, but to try to provide a similar "feel" or "gaming experience" in each case. IMO, Stone Age & Puerto Rico both do an excellent job of carrying this out. Stone Age always feels the same, no matter how many people you play with; same for Puerto Rico. And in both cases there are a few little tweaks you as the players are expected to perform. We are used to that idea, and I think even in PR's case where there are a lot of setup tweaks that can be hard to remember or fiddly, we feel it is worthwhile because it provides that consistent feel we are looking forward to. Whether you are removing parts of the board (as in Rattus) or changing rules of placement (as in Stone Age) or subtracting bits (as in Puerto Rico) or adjusting the distance to the finish line (as in Small World), we get it, we don't mind doing it--you could even say we expect it. In every case the arguments are made for how effective/ineffective these changes are at mitigating that change in tension, that change in "feel"--and it's probably mostly subjective. But in KoS, I can't help but think this wasn't even the goal: maintaining function, not tension seems to have been the goal.

My goal with this thread:
I am by no means bashing this game or criticizing the designer. I'm saying I would have done it differently, and I've noticed a pretty homogenous level of dissatisfaction with the game on this particular point. So why are my thoughts not posted in the "Reviews" section? Because I want to brainstorm specifics about what we dislike or at least what we notice being different in the 3-player experience vs. the 4-player experience. Saying, "4 is the sweet spot" is too ambiguous to be helpful to potential buyers, for sure. It also doesn't diagnose the situation.

Diagnosing the situation:
Why do I feel the need to diagnose the situation? Because I want to fix it. But I value other people's input, especially where they have had more experience with a game than I have. I want to pose three questions:
1) What could be done to maintain the tension in KoS, across all 3 player configurations?
2) If changes are proposed, what would be the result(s)?
3) How much more fiddly would the game become, and would the tweaks exceed our normal tolerance level for scaling a game?

So this thread may result in an expansion of some sort, and I will start things off with a few observations...
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Danny Mack
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Observation #1
In comparison to the 4-player experience, the 3-player board feels wide open. There are 18 of the 20 pawns in play (3x6 instead of 4x5), but I control 1/3 of them instead of 1/4 of them. Moreover, now only 2 people can out-position me, instead of 3 people.
THE PRESSURE IS OFF!!! Sure, there is 1 less "power space" available, but I still feel like I can get anything I want, whenever I want it. And I only have to keep back 1 or 2 of my pawns for that last move. (And now I have 1 more pawn than I'm used to! SWEET!)

> Proposed Change: Reduce the number of available spaces we can place pawns into.
> Projected Results: Fewer spaces means the board still "feels" crowded and the placements "feel" pressured. But it's still just resource spaces we are limiting…
> Fiddly Tolerance: Depends on how we limit the board space. Just blocking off a few spaces, as in Rattus, is simple. Is it this the best answer? Probably good fodder for a different thread. What about event cards, as in Shogun--a limited number of random events that change from round to round might be a better solution, (and could be solved with a sheet or two from the file section, a-la-print-and-play.) But would that be sufficient?

> Exploring Proposed Change: Remove regions from play.
> Projected Results: If you just remove the 1 Gold region from play it would force players to find other ways to acquire Gold (building actions, board actions, the market). Would you seed the Market with 1 of each resource? This would result in making the Trader & Thief more hotly contested. Would it change the feel or make those strategies overly powerful?
If not Judah, then which regions? Do we want to cut down areas to place pawns into or stifle the flow of resources or both? It would be easiest to mark one or both of the extremities of the board off limits--Sinai (copper), Tadmor (food x2), Tiphsah (food x2), Hamath (wood), and Yamhad (stone). This removes 4 of the 16 regions (25%) and reduces the buildable regions by 2 (of 11 total).

> Exploring Proposed Change: Use Event Cards (call them what you will, for theme's sake) that limit players from using certain resource regions/action spaces/etc. in a round. Games seem to last no more than 10-12 rounds, so that would be a good number of cards to create. Each card delineates a unique combination of 3 things that are off-limits in a given placement phase.
> Projected Results: This approach would favor keeping the established balance of viable strategies in the game. From turn to turn players would have to adapt to changing values/availabilities of resources, etc. But we already have to adapt every turn when the new buildings pop out, so not a huge difference. Different regions/actions would be out of play each turn, rather than the same region(s) the whole game. The card would be played at the end of the buying phase in each turn, setting up the limitations for the following turn. (I've already got ideas for some of the cards, hence the mention of an Expansion.)
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Danny Mack
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Observation #2
In comparison to the 4-player experience, the 3-player experience eliminates "shortage" as a viable strategy. It's nearly impossible to wipe out any one resource, and use that as a tool to hold back your opponents' progress. The number of consumers has changed, but the market availability remains the same. You don't have to know a lot about supply & demand to know the game just got a lot easier! As a result, the game also feels more formulaic--I spend 6 moves getting all the resources I need, and then I buy the building I am saving up for. This is a simple exercise outside of the interference that may arise from other players maneuvering past you in turn order before you buy, and using the Thief action space against you. Consequently the game shifts in the direction of those 2 spaces.

> Proposed Change: Reduce the number of available resources--either through (a) making some resource regions off-limits, (b) subtracting cubes from play at the outset of the game, and/or (c) eliminating 1 column in the market (so that only 3 of each resource can be sold there.)
> Projected Results: (a) (See Observation #1 above.) (b)What do we do? Take away 1 cube from each commodity? 25% of the cubes from each commodity? (c) Without taking away cubes, I feel the market reduction idea is insufficient to resurrect the "shortage strategy" on its own. Ditto for removal of regions. I think the trick will be to playtest (or use mathematics) to determine the sweet spot for number of available starting resources, and remove accordingly. The region removal idea is there to address a different problem (see above), but it probably would work fine (in tandem) to tighten up the market, too (provided we eliminate the right regions.) Again, this would require testing, but once we solved that it would be simple (simpler than Puerto Rico) to scale the game for 3 players, removing a few cubes to the box, and placing some kind of marker over the 4th Market column & the off-limits regions.
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Philip duBarry
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You have some good points here and some good suggested fixes. I appreciate the good spirit and look forward to continued analysis. Perhaps I'll join in occasionally . . .
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Ben Bateson
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bandit_boy7 wrote:

3) If 4 players is the best experience, then logically 3 players makes for a less than ideal game, and 2-players even more so.


First off, I have a big problem with this assumption. Why should this necessarily be true?
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Danny Mack
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ousgg wrote:
bandit_boy7 wrote:

3) If 4 players is the best experience, then logically 3 players makes for a less than ideal game, and 2-players even more so.


First off, I have a big problem with this assumption. Why should this necessarily be true?

What? That the game is best with 4? Or that it is "less than best" with 3 or 2? (While the former is subjective indeed, if it were generally accepted as true, why shouldn't the latter statement follow logically? There can be only one "best".)

Perhaps the best place to argue against the "assumption" is in the comments of the reviews that make that assumption. For my part, I agree (unless someone more experienced than me can help me see what I'm missing in the 2 & 3), and having agreed I want to solve what I find to be an interesting problem. I'm not here to defend the logic in my post. If you have something to contribute, please do so.

With that in mind, I cordially welcome you, Mr. duBarry to check in, and share any of your insights. I'm sure you have wrestled with this issue quite a bit during the development phase of the game. I confess I would love to pick your brain!
 
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Ben Bateson
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bandit_boy7 wrote:

What? That the game is best with 4? Or that it is "less than best" with 3 or 2?


That's just misrepresenting what you said. Your initial statement was that 2P < 3P < 4P, which is a completely foundless assumption you have apparently jumped to on the basis of - let me see - yes, 7 peoples' other assumptions. How on Earth are we supposed to explain what you're missing in the 2P & 3P when you've not given the vaguest clue what that might be. Personally, I felt the game with 3 was excellent: it's not pure area control, and there are obviously some strong regions which will be competed over. There have been a couple of unclaimed regions at the end of each of our games, which suggests that there's more going on than just the map.

But frankly, that was just my way of entering the discussion. You've also proposed improvements to the game, without at any point sharing what has happened in your experience when playing the game, nor what happened differently after you imposed your suggested 'improvements'. Am I supposed to change the way I play the game based on your game-designer credentials? Given that said credentials seem to consist of a few suggested additional races to Small World and a strategy discussion of Rattus (a game which is predominantly chaotic), I'm inclined not to bother.

Thirdly, and most damningly in my eyes, you have just invited the designer to join in and make a contribution, despite the fact that he has posted to this thread and very politely said 'thanks but no thanks'. If that's not egocentric, I don't know what is.
 
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Danny Mack
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Ben, this is tiresome, but here I go...
My "completely foundless assumption" is based on my own plays of the game and on the plays of others who have shared their discontent, not only in reviews here on BGG but elsewhere in my gaming community. You counted them, so obviously you know they are out there and the assumption is not "mine", strictly speaking. Nor is it unfounded (which is what I think you mean by "foundless") if it has a basis in experience. (Although perhaps one could argue there is some group-think going on, or that the reviewers biased the buyers' outlook.) In starting this thread, expressing my viewpoint, and inviting input (all of which I have a right to do) I am participating in this community. My assumption was that other like-minded individuals who shared an interest in this particular game would see the thread and enter into a positive discussion, focused on the proposed ideas, for the purpose of increasing our mutual enjoyment of this game.

I realize I have also invited "players with more experience" to point out to me what I am missing in the way of fun in the 3-player experience. Clearly that is the role you are choosing to play, and while I am interested in perspectives that differ from my own, you sir have a lot to learn about "entering a discussion". Your initial post seemed to me to be the beginning of an argument and I really don't want one. While your follow-up post does contain some valuable perspective, it also contains personal attack and accusation. Hard to overlook. Not sure why you felt you had to resort to that.

Truth is: I do design games, and I help companies develop and test them, but I don't expect anyone to change anything in this context because of my say-so. I'm sorry if you feel my contributions on this site are insufficient to qualify me for an opinion. I assumed that others who feel the way I do about this issue may want to put our heads together on this thread. Clearly you feel differently. I don't believe that attempting to insult and badger into silence those who disagree with you creates a positive community environment. So I'm asking you to stop.

I have, in fact, given more than "vague clues" as to what I think is missing in the 3-player experience. (Perhaps you read my original post before I posted Observations #1 & #2 beneath it.) The 2-player experience is not the object of this thread, as one can probably tell from the title, but if you'd like to start a thread on that topic it would undoubtedly make for a great conversation between those who are content with that experience as is, and those who are not.

I did not read into the designer's comments the way you did, so I took them at face value. I was just trying to set a welcoming tone and was flattered to have the designer drop in. There is a difference between confident & egocentric. As the host of this thread I take the responsibility for the tone that is set, so as to foster a positive environment that others want to walk into and contribute to...feel free to help me turn this one around.

On to your contributions to the discussion...
ousgg wrote:
Personally, I felt the game with 3 was excellent: it's not pure area control, and there are obviously some strong regions which will be competed over. There have been a couple of unclaimed regions at the end of each of our games, which suggests that there's more going on than just the map.

Saying that 3-player is excellent does not speak to this issue of how different it is from 4-player, but I'm glad you enjoyed it. I never said I didn't. And I can't argue with that last statement at all, there's quite a bit to manage in KoS, regardless of player count. That's one of the best things about the game, IMO.

ousgg wrote:
You've also proposed improvements to the game, without at any point sharing what has happened in your experience when playing the game, nor what happened differently after you imposed your suggested 'improvements'.

Great point. I didn't include session reports of my games in this thread because I felt I had said quite enough already and I had to get up for work in 4 hours. I guess I assumed that if others happened upon this post and the sentiment resonated with them they would not need to hear about my experience--they could either draw from their own or extrapolate from my 2 observations where I was coming from. (Apparently I need to go back and reread everything because I feel like you and I are speaking 2 different languages.) Nonetheless, it's worth mentioning that I haven't "imposed improvements" yet. For now I'm just trying to gather other observations and throw out a few ideas. You could call it a "working hypothesis" rather than all the other things you chose to call it instead.

I hope you have a better day, Ben.
 
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bandit_boy7 wrote:
So this thread may result in an expansion of some sort...

...and we all know how that turned out:

Kingdom of Solomon: Chronicles of the King

Well done Daniel!
 
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