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Subject: A proposal to decrease negotiation fatigue and gaming time rss

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Togu Oppusunggu
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Traders of Genoa features an interesting trading environment, because there are many differently functioning items in the game, which gives scope for clever combinations when putting together bundles of goods and money for trade. The main trouble that my gaming group has found with the game is that there are just too many negotiations by the time the game ends. It’s a relentless series of deals for about two hours or more. The trading element is interesting, but there are just too many trades to conclude.

One way to shorten the game, perhaps, is to just start the round marker further down the round track when starting a game. It’s not a bad idea. The main problem with this suggestion is that it truncates, at the outset, some of the longer term strategies of the game, as it means fewer turns in which players can acquire goods (thus privilege cards become less effective, for example). So here’s an alternative proposal that shortens the overall game time but preserves the possibility of longer term strategies. All regular rules apply except:

1. In 4 or 5 player games, designate rounds 3 and 4 as Auction Rounds in the round track. In a 3 player game, designate rounds 4 and 5 as Auction Rounds. When taking a turn during an auction round, after determining the starting position of the trader tower, the tower player has one minute to ask other players where they would like him to place all the subsequent tower disks during his turn. There are no negotiated or consolidated deals made during this initial minute. Then the tower player uses and moves the disks as in the regular rules. The difference is that, with each disk placement, no negotiations are conducted. Instead an open auction is conducted in cash only, with the action going to the highest bidder. In case of ties in highest bids, the tower player chooses the winner among the tied highest bidders.

2. If the tower player is eligible to take an action, he can declare that he will take the action rather than conduct an auction. If he is eligible to take an action, he can also take the action if he is not satisfied with the auction results, in which case the highest bidder (only) can keep raising his cash bid to try to change the auctioneer’s mind. If several players tied with the highest bid, they each can keep raising their cash bids to try to persuade the tower player to accept a bid.

3. If the tower player is not eligible to take an action or declines to take an action, he must accept the results of the auction process outlined in step 1 above, no matter how low the highest bid is, as long as a bid was made. If no bid was made, no action needs to be taken at the location of the disc, as in the regular rules.

4. When the tower player is deciding where to place the next tower disk, players may offer cash (only) bids to persuade the tower player to move to an adjacent street space. Once such a bid is offered, it may not be lowered. Of course, no actions are taken in street spaces.

5. A complete auction round must be conducted whenever the round marker *begins* in positions 3 or 4 in a 4-5 player game (or positions 4 or 5 in a 3 player game). A complete round must then be played in auction mode, even if the round marker moves to a non-auction position before the round has ended (i.e., before the start player moves again). An auction round is never conducted if the round marker is in a non-auction position whenever the start player is about to start a new round (that is, after the round marker has been moved down one position at the end of the previous round).
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These rules break the monotony of negotiated deals with an auctioning process in a few middle rounds which moves faster but which closely resembles the original negotiation process. Both the interesting beginning rounds and the final crucial rounds of the game are conducted as in the normal game, so the game is still ultimately decided by negotiating skills.

Assuming a full game in which no movement of the round marker occurs because of an initial tower placement in the market space, this variant would cut down the total number of negotiation turns from 35 turns to about 25 turns in a five player game. Considering that each individual turn can consist of up to 5 negotiated disks, a reduction of 50 negotiations is not a negligible reduction in playing time and energy expended.

This variant is inspired by a variant posted by Martin Juhl on June 24, 2004 in the General Articles section.

Aside: A few clarifications of the regular game rules also help speed the game up. One is that consolidated deals (handshakes) can only be made for the space that the disk is already on or for a space that the tower player is about to move to. Other non-adjacent offers can be voiced, but they can be offered only as general considerations rather than as deals to be consolidated. Sticking to these rules helps reduce a lot of unneeded dialogue. Another helpful clarification is that a deal to move to space is at the same time a deal to take the action in that space. The only exception to this rule is street spaces.
 
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J C Lawrence
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Re: A proposal to decrease negotiation fatigue and gaming ti
toguopp wrote:
If he is eligible to take an action, he can also take the action if he is not satisfied with the auction results, in which case the highest bidder (only) can keep raising his cash bid to try to change the auctioneer’s mind. If several players tied with the highest bid, they each can keep raising their cash bids to try to persuade the tower player to accept a bid.


Ignoring the question of whether the game needs any speeding, how do you address the issue that the vast majority of offers in ToG are (quite properly) for goods and action chits, not money? Further, accepting one of the smaller and less valuable odders in ToG is not infrequently the best choice, especially WRT privilege cards and trade goods collections.
 
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Togu Oppusunggu
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Re: A proposal to decrease negotiation fatigue/gaming time
Thanks, J.C. I don't deny that the considerations you describe are important. But because the auctions rounds as outlined here are applied to an equal extent to all players, I don't think there's an unbalancing effect. The entire purpose here is to speed up the game, and it does so by allocating the acquisition of goods to the players in a faster way during the early middle portion of the game. As I mentioned, the much larger number of turns is still played in the regular way, especially for at least the last half of the game, so negotiating skill (which includes the considerations you mention) will still be the primary determinant of the winner.

For an auction to work, there has to be only one standard, and since money is the primary victory condition, gaining money in an auction is always of value. Furthermore, the consideration of how much to give up in money (victory condition points) is not a trivial consideration. These are the reasons why money would be the best standard, if one were to attempt an auction method for some of the rounds.

As I also tried to mention, my reason for a variant is not just a matter of how long the game takes. The critique of my gaming group, and why the game doesn't surface so often, is that there are so many negotiations that the game goes beyond the point of enjoyment for us - it's just too exhausting.
 
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J C Lawrence
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Re: A proposal to decrease negotiation fatigue and gaming ti
toguopp wrote:
Thanks, J.C. I don't deny that the considerations you describe are important. But because the auctions rounds as outlined here are applied to an equal extent to all players, I don't think there's an unbalancing effect. The entire purpose here is to speed up the game, and it does so by allocating the acquisition of goods to the players in a faster way during the early middle portion of the game. As I mentioned, the much larger number of turns is still played in the regular way, especially for at least the last half of the game, so negotiating skill (which includes the considerations you mention) will still be the primary determinant of the winner.


Except that you have devalued cubes and chits as bargaining items. That's a pretty big change, especially among experienced players who assemble holdings of cubes and chits specifically so that they can sell them profitably to other players. I'm not about to say that this is a Bad Change, merely that it is a larger change than many may suspect.

Quote:
The critique of my gaming group, and why the game doesn't surface so often, is that there are so many negotiations that the game goes beyond the point of enjoyment for us - it's just too exhausting.


Hehn. In counterpoint my normal complaint is that the game is over too quickly, and that there should be more negotiations and batering for the game to really find its legs. I sure enjoyed our 3 and 4 hour everybody-standing-and-arm-waving bluster fests more than the more recent 75 minute games where everyone has pretty much figured out the value sets and how to maintain their vig during the game.
 
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Togu Oppusunggu
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Re: A proposal to decrease negotiation fatigue and gaming ti
Thanks for the comments from both of you. They are all very valid. I just added a small edit to my original post to take care of street spaces. Daren, you're probably right that there probably isn't a way to shorten the game. Maybe it is the sort of game that one has the personality type to enjoy. It's also quite a complex game in the terms of the combinations you can put together, and I find that I'm just quite slow in figuring those out.
 
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J C Lawrence
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Re: A proposal to decrease negotiation fatigue and gaming ti
dcjackso wrote:
I just can't handle 3.5-hour...


Play a few more times and you should find the play time rapidly collapsing toward the 75-90 minute range as your players work out the actual values of the different items, negotiation patterns, how to track their margins etc. These days we can whack out a game of ToG just over an hour.
 
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J C Lawrence
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Re: A proposal to decrease negotiation fatigue and gaming ti
dcjackso wrote:
The one time I played, I had NO idea if I was winning, losing, or somewhere in between--very weird for such a long game. I think if I played again I might have a "money count" at the halfway point or something like that. For our group at least, this game definitely needs some house rules.


All the money in Traders of Genoa is perfectly trackable public information. As such we play with money open via poker chips. This way you always easily know exactly what everyone has: just glance over at their stack and it is clear to see.
 
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Chris Shaffer
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Re: A proposal to decrease negotiation fatigue and gaming ti
Only people with an eidetic memory (or paper and pencil) are going to know how much money anyone has at any time. Do you also play with open victory points in Puerto Rico?

I think a lot of people's impressions of Traders of Genoa are due to groupthink. We have lively, stimulating and interesting negotiations and nobody ever raises their voice, nor do I ever feel like I'm going to get a headache. If the members of the group are polite, negotiations can be quite enjoyable. I've never played a lout game of Traders of Genoa, and it is one of my all-time-favorite games.
 
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