STAG Gamers - The friendliest group in Kent
Why make a competitive scenario?
I’ve really enjoyed my first few plays of Robinson Crusoe, and think it is a cleverly designed, immersive game. However, I don’t feel the need to play it with other players. I enjoy being Crusoe, and being stranded on the Island with only Friday and Dog to help. I can happily sit at the table, and lose myself entirely in the game in a way few other games manage, and before I even know it, two hours have passed, and I’ve had as much adventure as you could fit into a good movie in the same amount of time, except I’ve been driving the story along, and I’ve made the critical decisions.
What makes it work is that, playing solo, Friday does just what I tell him, and Dog is happy to come along for a walk or a hunt. Most importantly though, I don’t have anyone to argue with. I get the food I need every turn, and if something bad happens and I didn’t build the roof strong enough, well that’s my loss, and my error alone. So why play with others? The shared joy of success, a fellow to share losses with? Someone to have that post-game analysis with? Possibly, but I don’t think this outweighs the issue of the alpha player – that player who thinks the fastest about what the best course of action is, and who has a better formed strategy.
As an example, the first scenario needs wood – that is all. So the best idea is to take the Explorer, use the skill that allows the player to put a tile on top of the hexes that has wood, explore that tile, build the shortcut, build the hatchet, get what you need for the mast, and batten down the hatches until the fire is built. Yes, you have the events to worry about, but after the first couple of turns you don’t need to do anything other than build. A less experienced player new to the game is going to want to experiment, and try all the different actions. Being told an interesting move isn’t a good idea, and that you just want to get some guaranteed builds in is no fun, but is more likely to win.
So what would make the game more exciting and involving, and do away with the alpha player? Well, players need a reason to make an independent decision, and to be playing the game for their own benefit, whilst still concentrating on a common goal. Achieving this is a real challenge though without derailing the original intent of the game.
Now we come to two other designs.
CO2. You need to collectively defeat the game, to stop the spread of CO2. You also need to be the player with the most points at the end of the game. Your actions tend to help everyone in some way or other, but equally they have to help you. So how do you bring this into Robinson Crusoe?
Step forward Naufragos – I’ve played this a few times through as a playtester, and despite some of the issues that came up, it is trying to create a competitive co-operative, and it does so (well, at least it did at playtest stage) by the use of diary points, with the idea being that the surviving character who can tell the best tale wins. So in Robinson Crusoe, certain actions could earn you victory points…..
The Scenario – A Tale Of Shipwreck And Treachery
How does it work?
You all want to be rescued, and the first scenario covers this quite nicely. You’ll need some VP counters or chips to mark victory points (Small World tokens would do the job). These VPs should be kept face down. Use the card for the first scenario, with the following ‘simple’ rule adjustments being necessary. You need to consider these VP as story points, and as separate from the game’s own vp.
1. Each player has their own food and items, and the first player has control of the starting items. Only the player in possession of an item may gain its benefit. Any items that would normally add points to the weapon track only give those points to the player holding them, and their weapon score is the level of the track plus their item bonus. Players may trade at any time, and may trade items for items, items for food, food for items, but may not trade VP or determination. Players may, if they so wish, gift an item or food to another player.
2. When the starting resources are allocated in the production phase, any food goes to the first player, and into their personal supply.
2. Between the resource and action phase in this scenario, players can allocate wood to the fire. Each player, in player order, has the chance to move wood to the fire track, limited by the rules of the scenario, being that only 1 row can be filled per turn.
2. In the action phase during placement, Players place their pawns 1 at a time clockwise from the first player. The 1st pawn played on a location is the primary player for that action. At the end of placement, if an action has insufficient pawns on it for the action to be taken (i.e. exploring two hexes away from camp with only 1 pawn on it) then that pawn may be re-allocated, again in player order.
3. In the Action phase, when resolving, some actions have a VP award attached for the primary player only. If, as a result of taking an action, a player reveals an adventure card, they immediately earn 1 additional VP.
i) Dealing with a Threat Card earns either determination tokens, or the equivalent in VP, or a mixture (i.e. where 2 tokens are shown, this is 2 tokens, or 1 token and 1VP, or 2VP).
ii) Hunting earns VP equal to half the beast’s strength, rounded down. The primary player and supporting player share the meat evenly, with any leftover amount going to the primary player.
iii) Building shelter, roof, palisade or weapons earns no VP at all. Inventions earn 1VP, and the player takes the item for themselves.
iv) Gathering earns no VP, but any food gathered goes straight to personal supply.
v) Exploration earns either VP or discovery tokens (or a mixture) but not both. Any discovery tokens for food go to the player’s personal supply.
vi) Arranging Camp earns no VP.
vii) The rest action can either be rest, or write your diary, so either you heal, or you gain 1VP. Any heal bonuses from items in this phase can be used to gain an additional VP instead if the player has decided to write rather than rest.
Each action is resolved in order as on the above list (Threat, Hunting, Building etc) in player order from the first player clockwise. Resources other than food are in the common supply, and are used on a first come first served basis. Players can only use items in their possession, but as already stated can trade at any point.
4. In the weather phase, wood is a common resource, so any missing wood wounds all. However, when the roof level is insufficient and food is required, each player may choose whether or not to hand in their food to prevent everyone suffering wounds. The player needs to weigh up how much food they have and feel they need for the night phase yet to come. Fighting a red die Beast earns the first player 1vp, but as per the rules, they suffer the wounds.
5. In the night phase, each player eats from their own supply or takes 2 wounds. All uneaten food is discarded. The first player marker moves anticlockwise, not clockwise. This way, the last player from the previous round is now the first player.
6. If a character dies, the game continues. The player whose character dies hands out their items as they see fit, or may discard them. Any food in personal supply is discarded.
7. If the players have built the fire by game end, then all players count up their remaining determination tokens, halve the number (rounded down) and take this amount as VP. Then reveal VP and highest (alive) wins, with ties decided in favour of the player with the least wounds, and then by the most determination, and finally by player order. This player goes on to have their story published, and gains fame and fortune the world over.
So that is it. I haven’t playtested this yet, but the logic seems sound enough in my head. To have the best story, you need to have both the best experiences, and also the time to write about them. Hunting is going to be hard to do as it isn’t that good an action to support unless you are desperate for food, or can find someone who would be willing to trade something for some food. It is in your interests to keep your fellow players alive but unhealthy so they need to rest or build up the roof or palisade rather than taking vp actions. In terms of mechanics, it is advantageous to be the first player, but as the game would probably go the full 12 rounds, in either a 2, 3, or 4 player game this benefit is evenly distributed.
I have a feeling this scenario could get quite nasty. It will draw far more adventure cards into the game because there is nothing to be gained from supporting another player unless they are doing something which is essential for survival. Also, players are far less likely to want to spend determination tokens. As a balancing act, it may well be worth taking out the white and red die that is supposed to appear in turn 7 just to give everyone a better chance.
I’m looking to create a situation where the alpha player states what is the best course of action for a particular player, and in response that player says ‘yeah, I know I need to come and help you explore, but I’m going to go and sit under the tree and write my diary instead’. I think this covers it.
Summary: Robinson Crusoe sadly has no turn order and resource trading. We should totally invent that as a variant.
Interesting idea. I agree that the game could use something to spice things up between players. Out of the box, it doesn't really matter which of the characters I control and who is being played by anyone else at the table since we all agree together on what to do with our pool of discs. For some actions it makes more sense to allot or exclude a certain character, and those instances are usually pretty clear. In some cases a player may want to take a risk and go for extra Determination tokens or a low-level invention to progress towards that special Character Item and so on; these decisions are often up to the individual player, but rarely (never?) happen without the group's approval. And then there are all those cases, where it doesn't really matter who takes the action. Altogether, my experience is that placing the discs is a group decision, where every player acts as a secretary that keeps an eye on their character's health, special abilities, Inventions and so on.
My hands-on experience with cooperative boardgames is limited to Pandemic, but it seems pretty clear how turn order changes the gameplay markedly. In Pandemic, on each turn only a single player may do stuff on the board. That means that every player, on their turn, risk being faced with the dilemma: "Do I sacrifice the use of my character' very useful and cool special skill (or collected cards) for generic actions that someone should or must take in the near future. How will my actions benefit the group the most?" What's important here is that the action(s) that are taken during this round are entirely up to the current player. It is up to the other players to debate and convince the current player that this or that choice would be best. (This is where the whole alpha player thing comes in, but in my experience that has never been a real concern in my plays.)
Not so in Robinson Crusoe. Here, I often find that some players are almost predetermined to pick certain actions (in line with the strategy that the group has chosen), whereas the choice of action for the rest of the players seems much more.. well, unimportant. The players are not left with the same kinds of dilemmas, but rather choices whose consequences can sometimes be very difficult to predict: "If I try to build bricks we could ultimately end up with a nice oven, but a thousand things could happen in the mean time, so this action may just as well prove to be moot."
In Pandemic, the cards come in 5 flavors (4 colors and Special Event cards), and hand management is key. The choice between keeping those cards for your own use or spending them on other players is part of what makes the game interesting.
In Robinson Crusoe, the Determination tokens have a similar function. They will often be an incentive for a player to pick or avoid a certain action. However, they only come in one flavor, and they can't be shared amongst players. To me, it seems we thereby lose out on an interesting set of choices and player-player interactions.
Your suggested variant seems to address the two main issues I list above, namely (1) the lack of veto right due to turn order and (2) the shared use of resources from a common pool. It does add some rules or scoring overhead to a game that to me is already too fiddly for what it is - (I like things to be neat, stylish, thematic and simple in a game. Did I mention that I liked Pandemic?) - but it is a start, and it is nice to hear that I'm not the only one who has had some reservations. That being said, I was toying with the idea of having players draw from a deck of personal achievements at game start. The winner(s) would be the players with the most success in achieveing their personal goals. Of course, this just leaves you with another problem: How do you prevent the other players from kingmaking (or rather king-breaking), and doesn't this ruin the cooperative experience?
Right, so that's another wall of text right there. I'll be keeping an eye on this thread, and I am particularly interested in hearing how play-tests of your variant goes.
STAG Gamers - The friendliest group in Kent
This game loses no small degree of immersion when players throw all their action pawns into a single pool, and players then collectively figure out where to put them, with jobs being allocated specifically only in order to benefit from character skills, or to give characters determination tokens. This is exactly the reason why the solo game may well be a better experience – I know the rules don’t specifically state so, but when playing solo, I feel like I’m deciding how to spend my day – this morning I’m going to take Dog on an exploration, and this afternoon, I’m going to fix the roof up. Friday is going to spend the day making a knife. This is opposed to me not knowing or not caring about where my particular pawns ended up in a game with 2, 3 or 4.
Without a personal goal, there is very little that can make a person control their character specifically without it becoming a group event. My own experiences have highlighted exceptions to this with games like Mice & Mystics where each player cares about their own character and will, when deciding what to do, consider the benefit to the individual as well as the benefit collectively. In Last Night On Earth I’ve seen players point blank refuse to do something to benefit the group for fear of being eaten alive. This ‘character care’ is created through strong narrative or character development (or both).
Games with a personal goal do deal with this issue of group think, and give players a reason to consider their own character. What is difficult is striking that balance between wanting to just win individually and wanting to beat the game collectively, and to stop a player performing badly from attempting to trash the game. Any objectives would have to be less specific than ‘build the most’ or ‘explore the most’ as this would be too obvious, and could just create a meta-game stumbling block.
I don’t want to be seen to be ‘fixing’ the game though. My intention is to create a scenario that allows players, if they should wish, to play a competitive scenario with a single victor, and to do so without making the rules too complicated. A simple scoring reference would solve that, and I feel the other changes I've made are fairly intuitive, and can be logically explained.
I'm still yet to playtest it though!
I love semi-coop games and the heavy discussions, influencing, negotiation it triggers between the players.
I've hesitated for a while between Robinson Crusoe and Naufragos. I settled for RC, planning to add some competition into a great game instead of trying to fix an average semi-coop game.
I'll gladly try out the proposals from this thread