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Subject: Concerns about starting player order imbalance rss

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Alex Rockwell
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Its certainly too early to know anything for sure, yet I am concerned that the starting player order is more unbalanced in Caylus than in Puerto Rico, where it was already significant.

I have a strong feeling that the first player has a large advantage due to being able to get the first building (closest to town), and that players in the end of the picking order are not compensated nearly enough for their disadvantage by the extra buck or two they get. The low on the play order players also have to 'waste' an early action (and at least 1 buck) to get their turn marker up to the front, while the initial first player just had to spend 1-2 bucks to start with it and then gets optimal build location.


I am curious what other people feel about this, and what they think the people late in the turn order should do to compensate.

Its too early to pass judgement, but I feel a need to voice concern.
 
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Dave Eisen
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That was my feeling too. Seems easy enough to bump up the money given to the later players a little more to balance it.
 
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Jeff W
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I have the same feeling too. But I haven't played enough games to make a determination. The first two games I played I went fifth, and it just seemed like a big struggle. The third game I played, I went first and everything just went smoothly.

The first player can also make up for the denier difference by passing first (after taking only one action), which really puts the pressure for the rest of the players to pass. If this happens, then either the fifth player needs to pay 5 denier to go into the stables, or go in the stables the first round (and thus doing *nothing* the first round).

 
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Sean McCarthy
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I had the same impression.
 
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Alex Rockwell
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junesen wrote:
The first player can also make up for the denier difference by passing first (after taking only one action), which really puts the pressure for the rest of the players to pass. If this happens, then either the fifth player needs to pay 5 denier to go into the stables, or go in the stables the first round (and thus doing *nothing* the first round).


Exactly.

A thought I am having on fixing it is that the advantage given to later players needs to be not just money, but something like extra cubes, workers on certain board locations like the stables to start the game, or something like that. A player in a 5 player game I was in described the experience of starting 5th as feeling that they did not ever have a chance in the game and spent 3 hours suffering through it. Not a good thing. Note that in that game, by the time it came to the 5th player's 2nd choice, 1 or 2 people had passed (dont remember if 1 or 2) and the 1 spot in the stables was taken.
 
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Dave Eisen
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I hate to be critical of a game that is so universally liked, but I'm not sure I like the mechanic of a basically unchanging turn order period.
 
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Brian Newman
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dkeisen wrote:
I hate to be critical of a game that is so universally liked, but I'm not sure I like the mechanic of a basically unchanging turn order period.


Whoa, really? We've only played once, but people were in the stables almost every turn. We really liked the fact that you had direct control over your standing in turn order. And with it changing so much, it cycled plenty. On very few turns was the order the same.

Also, we found no advantage for the first player. Sure, you can build the first building, but there isn't that much difference in the selection of the first wood building, is there? Our first player wasn't the winner.
 
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Jay Little
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I was surprised how small the compensation was for players later in the turn order, but after playing, didn't see a real issue -- granted, we were playing 3 players, so many of the problems are lessened since there are still viable options when it comes back around to your turn.

In fact, our first game, the winner (by a wide margin) was 3rd of 3 players, and never changed his turn order position. While the 1st and 2nd players kept jockeying for first rights, we invariably spent actions and money canceling each other out, leaving premium building and resource locations to the 3rd player.

Using the experience gained from our games, that likely would not happen in the same way again, but talking about it afterward, we didn't see it as that huge an advantage.

I think the simplest way to resolve it would be to start everyone out with 10 VPs. You then bid around for turn order before the game begins...
 
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Dave Eisen
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I strongly disagree here. I don't like using auctions to balance things that should and could be balanced by the game designer.

Yes, if the players have the additional information as to what going first is worth based on say the random setup of the pink tiles. Then there is some reason to think bidding for turn order is appropriate. And this is a case that could be made.

But really what you're proposing is to have each player judge what he thinks going first is worth as an inherent part of Caylus and to me that's something that should be built into the game.

I have the same argument with my friend who thinks there should be an auction for the flag at the start of Goa, an auction before the A tiles are revealed.

 
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Alex Rockwell
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dkeisen wrote:
I hate to be critical of a game that is so universally liked, but I'm not sure I like the mechanic of a basically unchanging turn order period.


It felt for us like the turn order remained the smae except that one player moved from near the bottom to the top each turn. Sometimes it was the 4th guy, and then the 5th guy might be faced with the decision to pay several bucks to go 2nd, or stay 5th. I kindof just think the 5 player is bad and has too many players. It seemed to really stretch the resources and make it REALLY bad to be at the back of the turn order.

It seems less bad to be late in the turn order with fewer players, so maybe its just that this is a problem with many players?


 
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Alex Rockwell
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ynnen wrote:
In fact, our first game, the winner (by a wide margin) was 3rd of 3 players, and never changed his turn order position. While the 1st and 2nd players kept jockeying for first rights, we invariably spent actions and money canceling each other out, leaving premium building and resource locations to the 3rd player.


Sounds like they were wasting early actions and money going from 2nd to 1st, and leaving good stuff for the 3rd guy. I'd stay 3rd too if the other two took early actions each turn on the stables. But if they were taking all the good stuff first, I bet he wouldve felt a need to get in the stables 1.
 
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Alex Rockwell
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dkeisen wrote:
I strongly disagree here. I don't like using auctions to balance things that should and could be balanced by the game designer.


I agree that it SHOULD be balanced by the designer.

But its a cure for times when it WASNT balanced by the designer, and it is important to you.

Now, we havent played enough to know for sure if its balanced. At this point, I am just worried, not certain about anything.
 
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Dave Eisen
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I have no problems with a group deciding that the money should be a certain way. House rule changing the balance proposed by the designer.

Just seems weird to me to turn it into an auction each time the game is played.
 
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Alex Rockwell
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dkeisen wrote:
I have no problems with a group deciding that the money should be a certain way. House rule changing the balance proposed by the designer.

Just seems weird to me to turn it into an auction each time the game is played.


I agree that figuring out a set, balanced way to start it is better than an auciton. But the auction is for when you havent figured out the balance yet, and people have differing ideas of how valuable going early is.
 
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Alex Rockwell
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I think another way to do the auction would be to start everyone with X money (I suggest 9), and have them do an Vegas Showdown style bid for turn order. (I wouldve said Evo style bid, but in that when you are overbid you bid again immediately, which is less fair. I wouldve said Amun Re, but in that game, you cant overibd on the same space youre on. So Vegas showdown combines the two). But you'd have $1 increments all the time of course.
 
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Clark Millikan
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I agree that going 5th is the worst position, but I don't see it as a severe situation. I have only played 7 or 8 games so far, so I might be judging it too early. I'm also willing to give the game the benefit of the doubt, because I think the buildings are balanced so well. In a game with so many 'buildings', or options giving various effects, it is common to find one, or a few, that are too strong, or too weak. I haven't found that with Caylus, so it looks like the designer/developer put a lot of thought into the costs, and benefits of all the parts. I would think the default compensation for turn order would be 1 denier per position. The fact that they use 1/2 denier per position makes me think they arrived at this after a fair amount of testing. Of course, it is possible they just got this one wrong, but I'll have to play it more to find out.
 
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Alex Rockwell
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I think $1 per position would seem much more fair than the current situation. However, I also feel that there is a big disparity between 1st to 2nd, that is worth more than $1. It is the option to build a building first,without having to spend an action to take the stables first.

The benefit of getting the building first and closer to the town is probably going to make it be used a couple more times during the game than the average player's first building, which is worth a couple points. And the action and buck saved by the stables are worth something. So it seems like going first is worth an action, a buck, and a couple points over going in the middle. Which is more than a buck.

And 5th just sucks, because with that many people, the 4th guy will often want to take the stables before you to get out of the cellar in turn position.

My current thought on how it should be is something like:

1st player: $4
2nd player: $6
3rd player: $7
4th player: $8
5th player: $7 + a bonus cloth cube

The extra cube for 5th makes it feel less bad for them to put the initial worker on the stables.
 
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Clark Millikan
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I'd rather stick with monetary compensation, or if you insist on a cube, make it a food or wood. A cloth cube 'reserves' the jousting field for the 5th palyer on turn one, or gives him a head start on the castle favor, which seems too strong compared to 4th position.

If you want to go the auction route, it might be interesting to auction off a couple extras at the start in addition to turn order postions. Like a cloth cube, a stone cube, maybe even a favor, just to see what people think they are worth.
 
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Todd Walker
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It seems to me that the best solution to this problem is to keep a statistically significant record of starting positions and relative end game scores. Eventually, a pattern will emerge, and you’ll know for sure if a certain starting position is disadvantaged. You’d get a very precise indication of what it means to go 1, 2, 3, etc.

As compensation, just award victory points to the various starting positions to compensate for any statistical variation in end game scores.

It seems the geek is an ideal place for such endeavors . . . as the sample size could be huge (and thereby very accurate).

Re auctions, sometimes they are a necessary evil. However, I agree that the auction is less elegant solution than a fixed starting position fix. First, how are we to auction accurately, when we don't have any idea of the real worth of the various starting positions? And if we DO have a sense of the worth, then why not just make a set fix?

To add auctioning cubes and favors, only widens the gap between what we know and what we don’t. Any solution that requires a decision will only complicate our problem and take us farther from a clear obvious solution - which is a balanced start.

Finally, auctions award those who are more experienced in a certain game. Because experienced players already have several advantages, it is seems more fair to find a solution that does not punish a player for not understanding the precise value of starting position that might come from playing many games.

Auctions do work very well with very experienced players who have wildly different, yet informed opinions. In such instances, an auction translates the opinions into a specific game value.
 
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We haven't found this to be a problem. Last night in our 4 player game the 3rd person won with me (the 4th person) getting second. Our first player ended up last. All of us had played the game before. We have plenty of people paying to change turn order with usually the 3rd or 4th person paying to go first and the other paying to go to the inn.
 
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Alan Kwan
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I feel that, the main reason the game is balanced as now, rather than the later players starting with more money, is this: if the first player passes first, he will have less control on the Provost. Depending on the random neutral building shuffle, this can be significant. If the first player plays a worker near the bailiff and then passes quickly, the other players can probably knock that worker out.
 
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Ryan McLelland
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In my 8-9 games I think first player has the lowest win percentage. Obviously thats not a large enough sampling, but I think these concerns are based a ton on the group think of those you play with. There are so many balancing mechanics in this game that it really is up to the group to use those they feel best meets the situation. If the first player is grabbing one building and then passing, make them pay for it at the bridge. If they are jumping on money early and passing, kill them with a few early points in the castle. There are just so many ways to score, and so many different commodities in the game that to think that one turn unbalances the game is kind of ridiculous. Money is important, but so are resources, prestige, favor, etc... If the first player gets an early advantage in building, you can make life difficult elsewhere. The fact that you have direct control over your turn order makes the arguement pretty easy. If you think it sucks to go 5th, then its obviously better to use the stables, even if that means only going second. I have played games where turn order shifted a lot, and games where it hardly ever shifted. Knowing when going first is in your best interest is a huge part of the game. There are turns when going first won't help you much, and turns when it will mean winning or losing. Pick your battles.
 
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Anthony Simons
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Alex,

I must have missed this article over Christmas; this is the very problem I have been meaning to discuss about this game. I first expressed my concerns in November after my first game with five players, but I reserved my final judgement on this because it was only my second game overall. The other was with four and the problem seemed less apparent.

After playing again the other night I am fairly certain the first turn is wasted for the last player (at least in a five-player game). The key issues I have with the game as is are:

1.The fifth player will be lucky to gain any useful resources, depending on the position of the buildings and how nasty his fellow players are with the provost.

2.If the same run of play is to be avoided next turn, the fifth player must send one worker to the stables. This worsens the effect of 1.

3.The alternative source is the trader (or whatever it is called) where a cost of two gains any one cube. This effectively costs three (one for the worker), and is often the only course open to the fifth player. The extra two gained for being last is hence not enough.

4.The fourth player, despite being one place higher in the turn order, gets the same money as the fifth. The fourth player will have a slight advantage over the fifth (in having one extra building to choose from) yet does not pay for it. This is likewise true of third and second, though clearly third place is not as affected as fifth is.

5.No matter what argument is made in favour of being last on the bridge (which the fifth place is most likely to be) it has cost the last player more to get there. He could force earlier players to pay more by passing earlier himself, but this would probably cripple him more in the early stages than the other players. When he ends up last, it is highly likely he will not be able to do much with the provost anyway as he just isn't rich enough (like everybody else at the start of the game).

One thing I would add is that I think a lot of the damage suffered by last place may depend on the player mix; whether they are likely to play a more cut-throat game in which they intentionally set out to cripple other players' abilities or will they just play for their own personal gains. This could mean the difference between the last player taking one or two turns to recover from the first.

I am still very much undecided about the opening balance; but one thing I am decided on is there are a lot of interesting options in this game which encourage me to play it as soon as I get another opportunity.
 
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Brian Bankler
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It certainly appears reasonable that the 5th player may be at a disadvantage. I suspect that the first four players are likely to take: Carpenter, Cloth, Stone, Wood (either Wood/Food or Wood, whichever is closer). $3?

2nd round
Other wood (if safe), castle, pass, pass, Stables.
Then pass all around seems reasonable. One player may take the Merchant or Inn, which means #5 pays $2 (instead of $3).

Total cost $3-4
Income $3

So basically break even to move the turn order. Bleach.

However, in discussions with other players, they sometimes thought the extra $$ would balance. I don't know. I haven't tracked my games on BSW, but I'd imagine that in most (if not all) of the 5er games, one or more players are relatively new (say, <5 games), which would be a much larger impact.

Put it this way, among two novice players, the difference between White and Black in Chess isn't terribly important. But I suspect the imbalance is real, and will grow as players gain experience.
 
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Graham Smallwood
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Just a thought since this is a really interesting point; has anyone thought about allowing the buying out of workers? That is, someone puts a worker on the carpenter and puts the $1 on his head, Mesopatamia-style. Someone else wants the carpenter on the first turn, so they boot that worker and place a worker with $2 on his head. The minimum you are allowed to place with a worker is the normal bridge-defined worker cost.

First player gets first pick still, but that is mitigated by player five not being fully shut out of everything interesting.

Some possible other wrinkles:
The first worker can be placed with extra money on his head to make him harder to boot.
The minimum you have to beat a placed worker by is the bridge number. A 'minimum raise'.
Booted workers don't come back with their money until after the worker phase is totally finished.
 
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