Other Wise

When in doubt, sink the battleship

Kublacon saw another Ohana Proa playtest with a response ranging from I want to play this again, I want to play it on Monday, bring it with you on Monday! to This is good but these bits need fixing. Happily all the complaints aligned with the extant problem list. Against my better and more generous nature the current idea is to make the following sweeping changes. They analyse Okay but I’m not sure I like the resulting picture, but suspect parental bonding for this latter.

  1. Tone down kahuna:
    • 1.5x production rather than 2x.
    • When a market is delivered to an island over a player’s route that also has a kahuna on that island, the kahuna-owning player earns VPs for the delivery in addition to the moving player. This may allow VP doubling for one’s own kahuna. not sure yet (ie the models haven’t finished running)
    • Building a kahuna once both have been built teleports one of the pre-existent kahuna to the new location
  2. Rejigger kula:
    • Rework all cost relations
    • Kula do not reward VPs upon receipt, but may be immediately discarded upon receipt for VPs or fish & shells
  3. Gut proas.. Players proas increase by one every turn unless their proas are already larger than the turn count. Automatic proa increase may be refused in return for resources and players may buy ahead for standard cost. If they buy-ahead then the next free proa doesn’t affect them. This is a standard tide-that-floats-all-boats

The most interesting change here is gutting the proas. Automatic increment removes a primary concern from the game, but also adds a potentially interesting decision without affecting any of the other base structures of the game: buy ahead for this-turn advantage or hang back for this-turn resource advantage? Removal of VPs from kula receipt is a little less interesting as the primary effect is to make kula dumping (stale kula gifts to players earlier in the turn order in the second delivery round) less significant. The second order effect of adding a thin kula management layer to the kula dumpee is mostly uninteresting.

New rules and player aids are on the slip.

Updated: Pampas Railroads income/action/valuation/etc chart

I’ve updated the income/action/etc sheets I posted a while back to version 1.3 to correct the mis-labelling of the action tracks and a few other typoes. Thanks go to James Ludlow (jdludlow) and Mark Hamzy (hamzy) for catching the errors — predictably I’ve yet to be able to play with my own aid! I also posted the files to BoardGameGeek in the Pampas Railroads area as version 1.3, but they are pending approval. Meanwhile the PDF and PNG versions may be found in the normal place.

Compressed freckled waves

A productive evening:

  • Put in a double switchback exploration round for the start
  • All players start with 2 explorers and 2 proas (need more resources too! forgot that)
  • Advanced Game has been made default, Beginner’s Game added for the kahuna-less game
  • Reciprocal kula implemented.
  • First pass at new kula value/pricing done

So far the models look Okay, but I’ll probably need to adjust the Prestige Track end-point upward a bit to 37, 39 or 42 or so.

The new kula language:

There are (blue) fish and (red) shell kula items, each available in two values. Small value kula items may be enhanced to larger value kula items.

Kula token costs:

(Table here of values. In short, fish kula are 3 or 7 VPs, shell kula are 5 or 11 VPs and costs are 7 or 5 resources for low value kula (basic/beginner’s game), 17 resources for big kula, and 11 for upgrades.)

Players may only spend resources on kula if that kula item is immediately given to another player as part of a delivery (see Deliver). Enhancing a stale kula item (face down) to a larger value creates a higher value stale kula item (face down).

When a market is delivered to an island containing a market of the same colour, the moving player may give a kula item to each player with a route connected to the destination island. The kula item given may be newly purchased with fish and shells, or may be an item previously received from another player (optionally enhanced). The gifting player receives all the following:

  • 1 point on the Prestige Track for giving the kula item
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if it was a large kula item
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if the kula item was just bought with fish and shells for this gift
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if giving the kula item to a player with a kahuna on the destination island

The player receiving the kula item receives half the value of the kula item as victory points rounded down, or full value if their kahuna was present on the destination island. They also receive one victory point for each kula item they already possess.

Upon receipt of a kula item, the recipient may immediately give a kula of the opposite type in return to the giver and may spend fish and shells to buy a kula for this purpose. In this case the player reciprocally giving the kula receives:

  • 1 point on the Prestige Track for giving the kula item
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if their gift was more valuable than the gift they were given
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if the kula item was just bought with fish and shells for this gift
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if giving the kula item to a player with a kahuna on the destination island

and the new recipient receives:

  • 1 point on the Prestige Track for receiving a kula in response to their gift
  • 1 point on the Prestige Track if it was a large kula item
  • half the value of the kula item as victory points rounded down, or full value if their kahuna was present on the destination island

At the end of each turn old face down kula items are discarded back to the supply and new kula items rot and are turned face down (see Rot).

Crushed origami cuts

  • Dividends are always truncated (this got lost somewhere).
  • The moving company always merges away and pays the special dividend
  • Clarified already-connected merger case
  • Double builds are only available to the clear plurality share holder
  • Clarified mergers and new shares
  • Removed the artistic extra dividend markers from the map
  • Added income markers to the manifest
  • Simplified London development to must always be the most valuable city
  • Reduced double development cost to $3
  • Cleaned up language in definitions
  • Extended setup section to be more explicit
  • Clarified that inactive company treasuries are not paid to shareholders
  • Simplified and clarified game ending language
  • Clarified that build expenses are always paid from company treasuries
  • Clarified port expenses
  • Added Dieter Danziger and Lokomotive Werks as inspirational
  • etc

A few things I like here:

  • The forced directionality plus the limitation on double builds of mergers makes poaching a bir more constrained and I think interesting. It also makes foreign ports a little more interesting as well as posing the nominal director’s interests in opposition with the minor shareholders.
  • The simplified London value ruling makes London far touchier in the early game, triggering an explosion of development if it is developed. Nice.
  • Inactive treasuries not paying out makes the first share of a secondary company pleasantly risky and asymmetric

Shovel the muck first, then polish the brass

A quick outing of Muck & Brass at the last hour of the gamesday last night. After ~14 hours of gaming and it being the wee hours of the morning we did not play well and it really didn’t get a good or fair showing as a game. Which was all fine as that wasn’t the point. It was nice to watch the exercise while having other people make most of the game decisions. More importantly I got my first reasonably external look at the game.

Being in a rush I completely forgot to teach that new companies build a track as they open, which would have changed a lot. I also simplified the London rules down to London must be the most valuable location on the board which added some nice tension and was simpler. A few rules holes were found by the ever inquisitive Michael Van Biesbrouck (mlvanbie), which was appreciated. eg What happens to corporate treasuries for companies that don’t float? Oddly enough all my companies have always floated when I solo play so I never considered that.

Other quick notes:

  • Merger rules should be clarified
  • Game-end condition needs to be clarified
  • Possibly force the direction of mergers and merger dividends (moving company must pay) as this seems the more interesting decision and makes track building more subtle
  • Remove extra dividends from board art
  • The value and power of turn order was only appreciated post-game
  • Too-rapid mergers can lock out players without reasonable futures, and additionally put the leading players incetivised to keep them locked out by over-paying for secondary company shares; a curious form of financial bludgeoning

Another more basic observation, and this goes back to earlier plays of Lokomotive Werks, Dutch Intercity, Wooden Shoes & Iron Monsters and Wabash Cannonball and my 18XX history is that many people don’t grok income vehicle lifecycles. Of course this concept is central to good 18XX play and for the more recent games some of this is my fault as game teacher, but there seems to be a hole there in the gaming panoply. Players seem to natively assume that everything they can buy is good and that the only difference is that some things are better than others or need to be set/combinatorial collected in order to realise their best value. The idea that some investments vary from good to bad to horrible to great depending on a game-based lifecycle appears unusual and unfamiliar. (Aside: 1825 Unit 1, 1825 Unit 2 and 1825 Unit 3 are of course entirely driven by this concept of optimised portfolio management) This probably ties to the general paucity of phase-driven games. That might be an interesting area to explore with Modern Mogul or Trade Winds.

Time to get cracking on the rules again.

Early Experience: Dutch Intercity

Dutch Intercity by Han Heidema is a likely early design progenitor of The Riding Series and was published by Winsome Games in 1999.

Minimalist, austere, spartan: dinosaurs in natural history museums have more fat than this little mechanical mousetrap. There is a watchmaker’s delight in the tightly whirring little [[flensing|flense]] blades of the game. Dutch Intercity is a game of iterative predatory auctions of shares with highly unstable values interspersed with quick activities to generate those unstable values. And really, that’s pretty much the game as everything else is just a cog or whirring flywheel thrown in to provide predation, (interesting) auctions or shares with unstable values. If you thought Wabash Cannonball was about as stark as you can get for a share speculation game, Dutch Intercity goes several large steps further towards skeletal.

Dutch Intercity consists of 5 companies, each with 10 shares, and a board showing a simplified map of the Netherlands with a pre-drawn graph of 19 historical railway routes. Players iteratively auction shares of companies1, the directors2 blind bid to claim railway network routes on the pre-drawn graph and dividends are paid for each player’s shares3 until the network is full. As the graph is small only 4-6 full rounds will be played depending on route competition levels.

The hinge point is in the intersection of two patterns: turn order for the auction4 and auction duration5. Those two in combination, a pattern also used in Han’s The Riding Series. are responsible for most of the subtlety and tension in the game. Controlling and predicting how many rounds the auction will last and thus how many shares will be issued (and which shares) is key. One obvious result of this set of intersections is that it is frequently worthwhile to bid well over the estimated value of a share in order to run yourself out of cash and thus stop any further shares from being sold6. Being left with only a few [[gulden|gulden]], unable to compete and also unable to end the auction campaign while the other players rip more shares out is a salutary lesson hopefully learned only once.

I’ve played only once and only with three players. The ideal player count is clearly more. I suspect that 4 or 5 is the sweet spot but the game officially extends up to 6. Playtime should run around 45-60 minutes for groups that don’t get caught up in predicting and explicitly manipulating turn order or 90-105 minutes for those that do.

An alternate ruleset is mentioned in the game rules as available by request from Winsome Games. I’ve requested a copy but have not yet received or played it. I’ll try remember to comment on it when I do get a copy.

Footnotes
  1. The monies from share auctions will fund the operations of the company and thus its future share value. Buy too cheaply and you’ll likely have a dead-duck company, pay too much and you’ve lost ground on the other players.
  2. Company directors are the plurality share holders
  3. Dividends are equal to the longest non-looping path that can be traced for the company’s network.
  4. Turn order is variable and set at the beginning of the phase in order of descending cash.
  5. Once all players have had the opportunity to auction a share, the auction continues in turn order rotation until one player has no cash.
  6. This over-bidding has the side effect of also priming the company with competitive cash for route-claiming, as well offering a small potential (shades of the The Riding Series) for hiding cash in company treasuries for end-game scoring retrieval.

Early Experience: Wooden Shoes & Iron Monsters

Wooden Shoes & Iron Monsters by Han Heidema is a likely design progenitor of Wabash Cannonball and is the latest member of The Riding Series of games from Winsome Games. Hopefully there’s more to come in the Riding Series as it is a neat (if fiddly1) system and there’s definitely room left to play in it. The Riding Series appears an unusually coherent family of games:

  1. Share dilution — Shares are won at auction and pay an N’th of the company income where N is the number of shares issued for that company.

  2. Share-based capitalisation — The operating treasury for a company comes from the auction price for its shares. In general there is no other significant source of treasury funds for the companies.

  3. Activity-based income — The current turns income for a company is a compound of the actual cash income of the company, plus a measurement of the growth-activity of the company this turn. Thus active/growing companies pay much better than moribund companies as they have the extra (potentially HUGE) boost of activity-based income.

  4. Deflating income — Company income is a function of the number of empty exits on the cities their track is connected to. As more track is connected to those cities they become worth less and company incomes fall precipitously. This causes a rather fiddly constant recalculation of company incomes, but there are procedural habits which may be used in play to greatly reduce this.

  5. Grouping shares — Shares that pay out as a function of the interconnectedness of the current track patterns. Thus as multiple companies connect to a city that city contributes significant income toward the grouping shares. There usually seem to be multiple different grouping share companies that reward different and competing aspects of the track development. Grouping shares are acquired by trading in basic shares 2:1.

  6. National shares — (Later in the series only?) Shares that pay X% of all the grouping shares’ dividends, reducing the grouping share dividends by that percentage in the process.

  7. End-game share valuation — Shares trade in for money in the end-game.

Wooden Shoes & Iron Monsters sits comfortably in that middle ground of solid not-so-little and not-so-long games and most of the game matches that character: a comfortable game of middling length and fine pedigree that has built a nice home in middle age and knows well enough about the world to occasionally dazzle. Like middle age this isn’t a particularly vicious or aggressive game, but it has its moments and some of them are real doozies. Cunning and guile are rewarded more than blatant aggression, most of the time, and conservative and modestly delicate play is the name of the game, most of the time. Those caveating weasel words are deliberate: that guile and cunning comes with its own share of subtlety and excess and moderation. Again, like middle age, there are occasional splurges, vast sprawls of violent aggression and exploited advantage, and the game frequently turns on these crises, but they are the anticipated exuberant exceptions and not the mature foundations of the game.

Structurally Wooden Shoes & Iron Monsters consists of six Basic Companies which are grouped into two sets of three, two Grouping Companies each of which maps to a set of three Basic Companies, and the odd little parasitic top of the pyramid: the NS. Each Basic Company has a number of shares (count varies by company) which pay a diluted fractional dividend ala Wabash Cannonball. The dividend paid by a company is a small function of prior track builds plus a hefty bonus for any track built this turn2. During the course of the game the base dividend from prior track builds grows rapidly and then as rapidly decreases at about the same time that the growth opportunities begin to peter out. However, shares of Basic Companies may be traded for shares of Grouping Companies, and those shares pay out as a function of the connection density of their constituent Basic Companies, that same connection density driving the Basic Company share dividends down. Shares in Basic Companies can also be traded in for shares of the NS, which pays a fraction of the dividends of both Grouping Company dividends and parasitically reduces their dividends by a matching amount.

That pattern of leveraged parasitism, of the Grouping Companies building atop the petering out of the Basic Companies and the NS preying on the Grouping Companies is a core theme and pivot of the game. Higher companies build and prey on the success and growth of their smaller and more active younger generations. Correctly timing the transition of investments from the teenagers to the next generation (and which next generation) is a a key inflexion point in the game.

On the gripping hand Wooden Shoes & Iron Monsters is an auction game where what is auctioned is a pairing of a share of a company and the opportunity to increase the dividend of that company, and it is in this auction and the immediately following track build where the subtlety of the system and the opportunity for mature cunning and guile reveals. Players in turn order3 offer a share of a company for auction. The highest bidder takes the share and then immediately builds a single track connection for the company using the money they won the share with. Left over money goes to the company treasury. If the player is also the director of the company4 they may use the treasury money to pay for the track link. Some key elements here are:

  • companies may only build track when they sell their own shares

  • selling shares dilutes the dividends of those shares

  • building track adds a significant (potentially huge) bonus to the dividend paid for those shares

In the balance of those three patterns is where some of the opportunity for cunning and guile comes in. The rest of the cunning and guile comes in with the intersection of the above three patterns, track building, turn order, and the layered/predatory pattern previously discussed. There is ample opportunity for players to manipulate turn order, cash holdings, aggressive and friendly (both) track builds, share dilution and upper-company implications in notably clever ways:

  • In the early game there’s a very strong incentive for players to dilute and monopolise shares in the companies they already hold. This gives them the largest payout as they get both the base dividend from the track builds in prior turns plus the bonus from this turn’s activity

  • In the mid-game this inverts suddenly as company opportunities begin to vanish and preying on other company’s shares or building the Grouping Companies becomes more profitable

  • There’s a strong advantage for directors who win shares early in the turn order to build links that cost considerably less than their bid, which results in excess bid funds going into the company treasury and being available for later builds by the director

    • Note: Company treasuries are doled out to their share-holders in end-game scoring, which allows cash to be fractionally “hidden” in companies by shareholders without affecting their turn order in the game. This also allows players to grab cheap shares in order to snag a fraction of such hidden cash
  • A big track build with a related large dividend bonus early in the turn order is easily preyed on by other players grabbing shares in the same company cheaply and diluting the bonus for minimal expense

  • Likewise a well-built company with a large base income will be predated-on by other players jumping in for a cheap share of the rich dividends

  • Because directors can use the company treasury in addition to their bid money for their track builds, directors who win shares late (preferably last) in the turn order can potentially do massive builds using those funds and thus generate huge dividend bonuses for their shares without fear of other players nipping in later for a cheap share of the bonus

  • In the mid- and late-game, non-director players early in the turn order are incented to win shares in companies which are significantly owned by directors late in the turn order and to then construct a modestly sized link for them (possibly stashing yet more money in the treasury), thus encouraging the late turn-order director to also buy a share in that company so as to construct a massive track segment which pays them even more handsomely

  • Big track builds can cut off and doom other companies, leaving them nowhere to go. Timed well against the right players this can turn the game on its ear.

  • etc.

I own a copy of Wooden Shoes & Iron Monsters, have West Riding and Länderbahnen and Länderbahnen Expansion Set arriving Real Soon Now ™, and am being offered a copy of Riding Through England. I hope to report on the other games soon. So far I’ve played a solo game, two 3 player games and one 4 player game of Wooden Shoes & Iron Monsters. It will be played more. I suspect that 4 players is the sweet spot though 5 could also be good. 3 players works but is not ideal. Wooden Shoes & Iron Monsters plays in around 120-150 minutes once you have the basics down. With experience it could probably get down to 100 minutes but that might also be pushing it. It is a curious and not so little game, which isn’t to say it is very big or very strange, but that like a muscular and oddly intense older uncle back from the wars is a little different, a little ungainly and with room for surprising elements of flair and brutality. There’s a little softening around the middle, but all the muscles of youth are still there under the jowls and worldly eyes. It also, every so often, pops up to do the lambada or pound out Honky Tonk on the old piano or just takes over Asia in a land war and smugly holds it.

This review was also posted to BoardGameGeek.

Footnotes
  1. There is constant bookkeeping in the game to track the declining base income of the company plus the this-turn activity bonus. This can be very fiddly to count and constantly recount but can be mostly addressed by a simple protocol: keep track of the current base income and this-turn bonus income on the side of the board (we use wet-erase pens) and update the current numbers each time a link is built. At the end of each round simply wipe the bonus numbers and repeat.
  2. As a result moribund companies pay poorly, aggressively building companies pay well
  3. Turn order is determined for each round and is in order of decreasing cash.
  4. Company directors are the plurality share holders

Early experience: Lokomotive Werks

Lokomotive Werks by Dieter Danziger is, to use Michael Webb’s term (CortexBomb), very much a meat grinder of a game. While there is subtlety a-plenty it doesn’t hold its punches with the opportunities for calculation or the surrounding machinery to grind the players. It is also oddly charming in a sort of [[plangently|plangent]] intense fashion: the beat of the trains just keeps on going, and going, and…

In short this is the train rust/rush mechanism of the 18XX abstracted fairly cleanly out into a standalone game. As an 18XX derivative it is cleaner, more accurate and more direct than Greentown is the 18XX track planning exercise. Thematically, Lokomotive Werks explains HOW and WHY trains rust and disappear in the 18XX. Players buy factories and capacity for those factories and then produce trains using them to meet demand and make money. Demand is a function of dice with a (roughly) one turn look-ahead. There are four parallel tracks of factory-types and as newer and more profitable factories enter the game the demand for the trains from older factories progressively dries up. The result is similar to the 18XX train rush and has similar levels of aggression, but is not as fast or as deliberately controlled (dice).

As might be expected this is a game of heavy elbows and a relentless player-driven pace. It is also a treadmill-game: players get on and proceed to run, scramble, fall, duck and pull themselves over the heaving bodies of the other players as they lunge for the end of the game. It is not subtle, not gentle, not genteel; elbows to throats and knees to the groin the whole way. Unlike other related titles, there’s a healthy and even heavy dose of randomness in the dice. The randomness can be largely mitigated but it is a bit larger than I’m comfortable with and it can simply be impossible to mitigate effectively if the dice or cash don’t come your way in time. The dice can and will throw the game. It won’t happen often, there is room for considerable skill, but it will happen. The dice also seem to make the game more tactical then I’d prefer, but I suspect that with more long term information early advantages may be be impossible to overcome. The current random factors force a level of defensive play which acts as its own leveling stick.

While not really a calculator game as the sums are not that hard, I could easily see paper and pencil being popular. There’s a lot of nickel and onesy/twosy calculations to do each turn in planning the exact dollar counts each player will have for the next turn and thus the resulting player order for the next turn. (Turn order is in order of increasing cash holdings) This is more than a bit fiddly. I’m tempted to roll capacity purchases and Locomotive Production together into a single seamless round: Player-1 buys capacity and does his first pass Production, Player-2 likewise etc, then iterate on Production until done. This would not change the actual game but would make the painful counting process just before Locomotive Production simpler and hopefully faster.

There is a catch-up mechanism turn order, and it is very good to be early in the turn order, but it isn’t a gift. Turn order only works for you if you make it work, and that requires care and more than a modicum of exacting planning and having the cash to execute on that advantage. Fall too far behind and you are simply toast. Fall a bit behind however and your weapons can be fearsome!

I’ve played 2.5 times now (one was a solo-play). I could see Lokomotive Werks getting down under an hour with frequent play but I’m not sure if any group near me has the tolerance to play it that frequently. I’d like to try. While not a brain burner, it is an intensely focussed exercise that would be hard to play casually. On a similar note: There is a lot of money shuffling, so use poker chips.

This article was posted to the BoardGameGeek Lokomotive Werksfora.

Waxing carroma

On Crayon Rails

I recently upgraded my rating for the crayon rails games from 3 to 5. I’d thought them quite poor games, almost the epitome of multiplayer solitaire, over-long, and soporific. Yet, I’ve raised my raiting and it may yet rise further. I’m still not fond of them as games; I almost dislike them but yet I find myself frequently calling to get them to the table…with my kids.

For the kids they are great games. I have two typically testosteronal boys that are close enough in age that the elder still takes a delight in squelching the younger, and the crayon rails games fit them perfectly. They are non-confrontational, skill-gap insensitive, have a nice micro positive-feedback loop as deliveries are made and as the track network they’ve built grows, and as an added bonus, there’s a constant exercise of minor arithmetic, geography, forward planning and cost/reward balancing skills. As such I’ve found them ideal Friday-night or lazy Sunday afternoon games: the click of poker chips, haltering queries as to where the unbelievable Wollongong is?, the drowsy buzzing of train movements being stepped out, occasional exclamations of joy as a big delivery is made and finally the gentle sigh and congratulations as a victor is announced. It great many positive ways they remind me of Sunday afternoon cricket in England: the quiet padding of the bowler, the hush of hushed yet smug anticipation after the release and as the batsman faces the approaching bullet, the sotto THWACK of the bat, the calls of the fielders and umpire drifting over the sward and the bees droning among the clover, and the ever-present smell of grass and indelible grass stains. Ahh glorious Sundays!

Thusly I’ve raised my rating for the Crayon Rails games to a healthy 5 and may in fact be rising them further. I currently own Australian Rails and already planning out which additional games in the series to acquire to help spread and speed the rewards. British rails? Euro-Rails? Nippon Rails? Perhaps after the visualisation/planning skills are a little more settled, Lunar Rails?

On Carrom 1

Meanwhile through means underhanded and skullduggerous I’ve recently acquired a low-grade Synco Carrom board at work. It has proven a staggering success, especially with the Indians and most especially with the Indian women that work near me. I’ve perched the board on the endcap between two cubicles in my aisle and an average day will see somewhere between a dozen and a score of games played. I’ve racked up a little under 30 games in but a few weeks and the play rate isn’t falling. For me Carrom is what that Crokinole promises and nearly delivers: approachable but with a lengthy learning curve, rewarding of skill, unconfrontational (Carrom is oddly less confrontational than Crokinole) and with delightfully subtle tactics and strategy that stretch far beyond Crokinole’s. In contrast Crokinole feels like a slightly gawky one-dimensional teenager of a party game that needs a few more years of development. Now it is a fun teenager to be sure, but the adult around the corner who knows a thing ot two is a lot more interesting and far more tempting.

Footnotes
  1. on Prancer!, on…!

Temptation: Crunch for the Khan?

Seth Jaffee is encouraging me to enter Ohana Proa in Kublacon‘s game prototype contest. 1 I’m tempted but it would require sorting out the specifics of reciprocal kula Right Now ™ which is rather more analysis that I’d set myself for this week. Still, the work does need to be done and Ben and Morgan are waiting for the new changes…

Humbug! I should shut up before I too persuade myself. Two against one wouldn’t be fair.

Footnotes
  1. Clearly the real problem to address is listening to Seth

Feeling up the future

The core elements of a future’s market are:

  1. The sale of the agreement to purchase a set quantity at a set price at a set time in the future
  2. The sale of the agreement to sell a set quantity at a set price at a set time in the future

That’s it: The purchased promise to transact volume at price on date. Future’s markets rely on two things:

  1. A reasonable certainty on market prices in the future
  2. Unpredictable and yet reasonable risks which could significantly affect the prices at that time

Wealth of Nations delivers (a poor) something of a futures market in the way that commodity prices vary with supply and demand (which is clever and works well), but does not allow direct speculative exploitation of that market. I’m specifically interested in a direct speculatively exploitative futures market in a game…

It seems difficult but not impossible to implement direct representation of a futures market in a game if the game is going to play quickly (less than 2 hours). If the players are to build the systems which establishes the reasonable certainty then I suspect it may be impossible as too many iterations are required to build the player investments to deliver that certainty — with fewer iterations the sunk costs of chaos are too low.

Perhaps if the game provided the backdrop of both the base market and the base forces which drive the general curces of future market behaviour? Thus the game would effectively guarantee that the basic curves of value and time were as so, but the players could affect those curves or deliberately cause events to throw them off? Hurm. Curious. That puts the players more in the role of market manipulators, attempting to buy one side of the speculation prospects up cheap before forcing the market in that direction. Hurm. Yeah.

So how would the market represent? How could players see the value curves they would be speculating on, let alone the player manipulation incentive grids for exploitation? That’s a problem.

Imagine a linear track of value. Each commodity has five markers on the track:

  1. Historical market high (plus a date/age?)
  2. Historical market low (plus a date/age?)
  3. Current price
  4. Price at the end of last turn/epoch
  5. Price at the end of the turn/epoch before last

That would seem to sum most of the really basic data needed for market behaviours: trend, range, and velocity. (Later update: Of course it misses volume, which is also key)

I wonder?

This is such a curiously ungainly area for a game.

Introducing the very modern major mogul

This is a temporarily named place holder with apologies to Gilbert & Sullivan. It is all in early gestation and may yet be stillborn.

Core problem: Iterative exploitation of leverage opportunities across a three-layered market: Production/sales, transport, futures.

Core concepts: factories, multi-typed transport (road, rail, sea/canal, air etc), 18XX technology/obsolescence, player-grown undirected graph of transport-coloured edges, speculative futures market, demand-based pricing market, hedge operations

In short this is a melange of notions that muddled through the shampoo while in the shower.

Tie a yellow ribbon around the winner’s post

In talking about Muck & Brass recently I mentioned that there were no tiebreakers. Your net worth was your score and that was it. This was not popular. The general response was that tie breakers were necessary and required, that there always had to be, if at all possible, a singular clear winner. Examples such as money in Power Grid, track in Age of Steam, and the ever so many layers of tiebreakers in King of Siam were given as the Way It Should be Done

Other’s more public comments on ties (in no particular order):

Tie Breakers — Shannon Appelcline

Shannon offers three acceptance criteria for tiebreakers:

  1. obvious
  2. fair
  3. unique (ideally)

Which on the face of it is reasonable. If you are to have a tiebreaker then by the Principle of Least Surprise and be obvious and fair as anything else would be potentially surprising. The uniqueness requirement merely prevents a chain or cascade of tie breakers, with satisfies both Occam’s Razor and the general rules of simplicity. However Shannon doesn’t really attempt to justify the existence of tie breakers behind the somewhat circularly self-justifying:

Either the game explicitly says there is no tie-breaker, or else just doesn’t mention one. Besides being anticlimatic, it feels lazy on the part of the designer. I think some game designers feel like they can get away with it because you earn enough points that a tie is pretty unlikely … but they will come up sometimes.

I’m less convinced that tie breakers are either an automatic default design assumption or default requirement.

Ties — Ekted/Jim Cote

Two quotes appear to sum the brunt of Jim’s arguments:

Why? Is it really a further test of skill to have a sudden death? Is it really a test of skill in a board game to have a tie breaker that has nothing to do with the normal goal of the game?

Yes and no.

The obvious answer is that since the rules of the game include rules for breaking ties, then players must account for any and all possible outcomes. This affects their choices during the game. It is a skill to be able to win by rule A, and if not then to win by rule B, etc.

But at some point–in some games–it seems like the rules go to great length to pick an arbitrary winner from the set of those players who tied. This really doesn’t interest me. Might as well roll a die to see who wins. Might as well just share it.

and:

…I do feel in many cases that tie-breakers are thrown in at the last minute. They have no relationship to the flow of the game, have some player order bias, or are simply based on luck.

This appears to be a rephrasing of Shannon’s arguments around obviousness, fairness etc.

Ties and Tiebreak Rules — Seth Jaffee

Seth Jaffee argues two sides: first that ties and ties breaks are a reasonable form of measurement of the accomplishment of the player and second, that one player should win the tie breaker because they took a more difficult route to the tie, or somehow accomplished more or accomplished it more efficiently.

The accomplishment measurement argument for tie breaks is reasonable. It makes sense from the view of game scoring as a measurement of the incremental solution of the central game problem but in doing so it unflatteringly reveals the weakness of the original game’s scoring method. Seth argues that some measured incremental items are worth more than other such items; ie doing X which is rewarded with 2 VPs is somehow worth marginally more than doing Y which is also rewarded with 2 VPs. In which case, why isn’t X worth 3 VPs or the whole scoring system scaled so that X is worth 2,001 VPs and Y worth 2,000 VPs or some other such disambiguation ratio?

Such combinations of large/small values is fiddly and annoying to score as well as rather distracting for the players. I just got 37,000,000,000,003 points for building that bridge and you only got 37,000,000,000,001 for that redoubt! Ptui. Clearly such a scoring method is inconsiderate and incompletely designed. Or is it? Having X be worth 2+epsilon VPs and Y be worth 2 VPs really just establishes that there are two ranks of scoring: the big important values (whole VPs) and the tiny details (epsilon) where the epsilons don’t matter unless the items need to be sequenced in value order. The assumption is that players will rarely need to sequence order and that the primary focus is on broad score patterns and not epsilon details. Fair dinkum.

Seth’s second argument is where I think the argument begins to break down: that one player should win the tie break because they took a more difficult route to the tie, or somehow accomplished more during the course of the game or accomplished it more efficiently. At a simple level this is just another case of the epsilon argument discussed immediately above: there are primary scoring items and some of them are accompanied by epsilon scoring riders where the epsilons are only calculated in the event of a tie as they are otherwise negligible. At that simple level I have no over-riding problem with such tie breakers though I find the extra layer of epsilons annoying and almost certainly unnecessary.

On the gripping hand outside of the epsilon argument, the implication that there is some sort of should, that somehow the players morally deserve to win the tie breaker because of in-game activities is preposterous. The game defines a win-metric. The players either accomplish that win metric or they don’t. It is a binary condition. There is no place for external morality in gaming or win-determination — the game rules define the only morality measured in the game.. It is a simple question of logical definition: the win-condition is XYZ and they either meet that criteria or they don’t. If multiple players meet the win-criteria then multiple players win. Each of them, individually, satisfies the win-definition defined by the game, ergo they win. At this level the win-criteria trump and there are no other discriminating or disambiguating factors. Whether the racers ran uphill or down hill before crossing the finish line is irrelevant: did they cross the finish line first? The finish line –that’s the only metric that the game’s win-condition supplied and thus it is the only thing measured. Of course if the designer deigns to provide additional criteria the situation is different because the win-conditions are different.

Tie breakers — Sensei/Go

Sensei’s wiki/blog discusses a number of tie-breaker methods, albeit with a rather Go-centric focus (please see the source page for links to the discussion and more detailed evaluations and definitions):

  • Rematch: Breaks ties by having the players play extra rounds. Also known as play-off. This is generally considered a good method, but its use is often not possible due to time constraints.

  • Direct Comparison: Often used in a tie between only two players, considering the match between these players as a substitute for a play-off. Called “Face to Face Result” by the AGA. Not widely implemented in software.

  • SOS: sum of the opponents scores, also know as Buchholz or Solkoff in Chess. Several variants exist which attempt to eliminate noise by discarding some results (eg: SOS-1, SOS-2, Median or Modified Median). Does not work for round robin.

  • SOSOS: sum of the opponents of the opponents scores. Generally only used as a secondary tie breaker after SOS.

  • SODOS: sum of the defeated opponents scores, also known as SonnebornBerger in Chess. Is adviced against in McMahon tournaments, because players with the same score do not necessarily have the same number of wins. Often used in round robin tournaments.

  • CUSS: expected average strength of the opponents, also known as Sum of Progressive Scores (or, simply Progress) in chess

  • ROS: expected average strength of the opponents with extra bonus for winning more games

  • IROS: inverse ROS, see ROS-Page

  • SOP: (theoretical) sum of placing of opponent (nickname suposition)

  • SOR: (theoretical) sum or ranks

  • Maximum Likelihood: a mathematical method to determine the player most likely to win, not easily calculated by hand.

  • Random tie-breaker: tie-breaking at random, used as a last resort.

  • OOF: Order of Finishing

A nicely thorough list.

What is more interesting is that the list is almost exclusively phrased in terms of tournament ranking systems (and he’s not the only one to take that focus). There is also some discussion that none of the the listed tie-breaker methods are ideal; they are all compromises. This should begin to ring bells and prompts my observation that:

Tie breakers are tools to disambiguate and order members of a set in a “fair” way based on subjective evaluation of supposedly objective criteria.

Yeah, functionally tie breakers are voting or election systems. Tie-breakers order members of a set by previously established preference criteria. Hang on, so do voting systems, just with the addenda of polling/metrics gathering and also with all the same systems-gaming that tie-breakers have. Happily voting and election systems are a well-known field. What’s most useful about this observation is that, simply, there are no fair and equitable voting or election systems. Without exception they all have weaknesses, weaknesses that their counter-representations in tie-breakers also share.

I Hate Ties — Osiris Ra/Cube Pusher/Boardgamegeek Forum

A few key quotes:

  1. Osiris Ra:

In a number of games I own there is no provision made for what happens when two or more players wind up with the same score. The creators of these games either imply or outright say that both players are winners. Now this does not sit well with me. I want clearcut rules of victory and defeat, with each player knowing where they stand at game’s end and why.

This is not simply an ego issue (“me better than you; me win”). But in running games at cons, there are often prizes that ride on wins and losses. When I look at games that do have good rules for resolving ties, I place these into my “con-friendly” list.

  1. Rubric:

    I like ties, as long as they aren’t too frequent. It’s a matter of taste as to what counts as “too frequent”, and probably depends on the game.

  2. Lancer4321:

    I actually like games that can end in ties, and in fact tend to feel that roughly 25-30 percent of a game’s outcomes should be ties. I also find it particularly annoying when a game includes tie-breaker provisions that are clearly arbitrary add-ons to the game (rather than carefully thought out design elements) in order to cater to the hard-line “there can be only one” crowd.

  3. rrri1:

    Then you don’t understand the real problem–a tiebreaker should not be arbitrary, but somehow naturally flows from the flow & goals of the game. If not, then you are not playing the to be the best player of the game, but of some unplaytested variant.

  4. Osiris Ra:

    I dislike the possibilities of a tie. There should, in my simple dualistic mind, be only one victor. This is, again, fairly important for those of us who run tournaments. But I also walk away dissatisfied when there are multiple winners in a game — unless it’s a co-op.

  5. EgorjLileli:

    How about a disclaimer stating that this game is prone to ending in ties and that if the tournament ends in a tie, that the winners will be splitting the prize equally?? (i.e., assuming it is a cash prize).

  6. Tradewinds Ted:

    I think we are solving the wrong problem. I don’t mind a tie score in a game, if the game play was even. It is playing in a tournament that is the problem!

In short these sum to two [[dialectic|dialectic]] pairs:

  • Ties are utterly unacceptable, there must be only one winner and some number of losers, always
  • Ties are acceptable and even desirable as long as they’re not too frequent (by some subjective evaluation)

and:

  • Tournaments require unambiguous winners, thus ties are unacceptable in tournaments
  • Tournaments could be (re-)defined to accept and respond appropriately to ties

The first dialectic pair is a preference statement. It is undebatable. That is what they prefer for unquestionable internal reasons. Whatever logic may be externally applied to it, their emotive bindings are set and thus unquestionable.

The second dialectic pair derives directly from the first and is thus also undebatable. If there must be only one winner of a game then by logical extrapolation, given that a tournament is merely a meta-game, there must also be only one winner of the tournament. This also works reflectively. Given that there must also be only one winner of the tournament meta-game, none of the component games may result in a tie as that would ambiguate the meta-game results. After all, were the tied component game resolved to an unambiguous winner, it could change the win-determination of the tournament. Clearly however there is nothing inherent in a tournament-definition that requires a single-winner determination. Tournaments could allow ties just as easily as their component games.

Much as I dislike tournaments (in sympathy with Tradewinds Ted above), it would be interesting to attempt a well-defined tournament system which both accepted ties in component games and attempted (or demanded) a single-winner determination for the tournament meta-game.

Tie-breaker justification — J C Lawrence

None of the above directly addresses the justification of tie-breakers as design components in the first place. Are tie breakers a valid component in game designs? From the emotive aspect of the dialectics just discussed they are clearly valid — some players demand them as part of the emotional coherence of the game definition. From a more mechanical vantage however they don’t seem either required or necessarily justified in the general case.

Mostly, I view tie-breakers as clearly visible and even flaunted flaws in their subject game designs.

There are of course exceptions. I’ll discuss one below.

Tie-breakers suggest a few things:

  1. Ties are common
  2. Ties are hard for the players to prevent/beat
  3. Ties should be avoided.

That last one is of course a doozie. As there’s no reasoning with it I won’t attempt to reason with it. To ape the great Bugs Bunny, It is a maroon.

The first two are more interesting. Some games inherently encourage ties. In fact a few games, such as King of Siam, are explicitly based on the premise that the game will naturally tend toward ties. King of Siam has an extensive cascade of tie breakers and during the course of the game the players attempt to wield that cascade of tie-breakers offensively in a massive iterated game of Chicken, putting the system into un-tied win-conditions for themselves and at other levels back into a tied lose-condition against the other players (King of Siam is an unusually clever game) at different levels of the tie-breaker cascade. Clearly such a game depends utterly on the manipulation of tie-breakers and thus must have those tie-breakers merely to function. By definition tie-breakers are a valid design tool for such games. But, most games aren’t so focussed on tie-breakers. In most games, ties are rare and it is the rest of the field I question.

Most of the apparent need for tie-breakers appears to be emotional. I won’t address that. However what do tie-breakers offer game definitions and thus what do they offer game designers? Seth Jaffee again:

A tiebreak rule can be used to subtly counterbalance a favorable (or unfavorable) starting position, much the same way that the first player in some games starts with fewer actions in the first round, fewer points, or less money than the later players. Nobody complains about those rules being arbitrary.

Tiebreak rules can be used to reward a player for accomplishing the game’s goals more efficiently than another player – to finish with the same score, but with resources to spare.

Tiebreak rules can also be used by a designer to show a preference for a particular strategic path – be that for thematic reasons, or because that path was the one the designer thought most interesting.

In short:

  1. Tie-breaker as a game-balance factor
  2. Tie-breaker for efficiency
  3. Tie-breaker as incentive toward desired play-paths/patterns

The efficiency argument and even the game balance factor are a restatement of the epsilon argument addressed above. The game balance point is perhaps a little more subtle, but in essence is the same as the many majority/plurality games which state that the first one in is the default winner of the contest (eg Medieval Merchant, Die Neuen Entdecker, etc): another phrasing of epsilon.

I’m not aware of any games which use the incentive argument in their designs. It also isn’t compelling. The concepts of the right way to play game or the spirit of a game or the significance of the designers intent for the game are all external valuations that don’t bear on a game’s definition:

A game is an isolated self-defined logic system that consists of a number of goals, defined abilities that may be used to accomplish those goals, and barriers that hinder accomplishment of those goals.

Everything else is post-definition subjective evaluation.

A game is a goal-focussed system for players to manipulate in a laissez faire manner within the constraints of the game rules.

There’s no style or spirit of designer’s intent there, just goal-based player self-interest. To quote the immortal Michael Lawrie:

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. I am the law!

The game rules are the law and that leaves the mechanical value of tie-breakers (for most games) as epsilon systems, and much more interestingly, as epsilon systems whose simplest and clearest definition is null! If a player wants to unambiguously win a tie-breaker-less game they must end the game without a tie.

A game without a tie-brekaer offers a tri-state:

  1. Win
  2. Tie
  3. Lose

And that is the challenge: The winner must clearly exceed the other players, ergo they must provide their own disambiguating epsilon to give themselves the clear win or risk losing the tie. A designer-provided tie-breaker removes that challenge and arguably to that extent weakens the game definition and the required quality of play. It also makes the game more forgiving: players can win without unambiguous excess and for some games and designers that may be a desirable game-quality. Those qualities of forgiveness and weak/gentility are simply uninteresting for me and my designs. I don’t want to design either weak or forgiving games, I’d rather design games that punish and stress-exercise their players, and as a result I do not expect to use tie-breakers in the final scoring methods of any of my games unless the base game is explicitly tie-focussed.

As always, you get to pick. Pick wisely.

Theme meme mimetics

On the one hand I’m fond of proclaiming that all games are abstract and that theme is merely a convenient source of nouns and verbs used to explain or visualise a game. Both statements are of course technically and logically accurate. I’ve also often said that I don’t care about theme, and that the first thing I do when playing a game is to remove the theme. Thus I was bemused to note how many times I referenced theme and historical or thematic accuracy in the design notes for ‘Ohana Proa and Muck & Brass. My playtesters have also commented on the thematic depth and accuracy of ‘Ohana Proa, which caught me a bit by surprise.

Why, when I approach a game design quite abstractly, do I keep colliding with historical reality and thematic accuracy?

I’m not sure, but I have a notion which if accurate is both rather neat and a useful feedback loop to employ deliberately as part of the game design process. I suspect that if a theme is selected which sufficiently accurately represents or epitomises the core logical problem of the game, then as the game design increasingly focuses on that core problem the more its natural game patterns will begin to model the actual historical processes which occurred. In short, the better the game isolates and models the problem, the more the problem solutions will begin to model historical precedent.

Which is both scary and cool. It provides a possible measurable feedback loop for game design:

The more your design emergently apes historical reality, the closer your game is to the problem you’re trying to focus on.

For Ohana Proa I started with the core idea of a gift economy and the logic problem of How to win if your primary activity is to improve other player’s positions?. As the most well known gift economies were in the Polynesian Islands (eg Trobriand Islands) that seemed a reasonable place to start. Considerable reading later on the economic theory and historical precedent for gift economies (kula. open source software, potlatch, tithing etc) and I was off trying to design a game around those principles. The board was just an atlas image grabbed from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection with nodes thrown on the bigger islands, edges put in the obvious places to make an undirected graph with a few small hints added from the historical migration paths of the islanders. All subsequent work was then centred around How to make an interesting Gift Economy game?

In the case of Muck & Brass I started with the concept of a share dilution game where shares could also aggregate. As the background intention was an obvious derivative of both the Prairie Railroads and Riding Series, a train-game presentation/theme was assumed. England was selected purely on the basis that the railway history of the Isle of Wight (a dreadfully small and yet railway-rich location as 1860: Railways on the Isle of Wight has shown) was probably representative of the rest of the country. I’d already selected mergers as the share-aggregation vehicle of choice, so the long history of mergers, more mergers and acquisitions in England worked perfectly. A map quickly grabbed from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection provided both a map of England/Wales/Scotland and the paths of the primary railway lines. A few nodes thrown on the major cities (informed by my British education) with connections drawn to parallel the primary railway paths later and the first map was done! All subsequent work was then centred around How to make an interesting share dilution/aggregation game?

So for Ohana Proa I focussed on gift economies and kept working to make the gift economy aspects of the game stronger, more interesting and more central to the game. How to build a pattern in which gift-giving was critical to good game play and yet perilously close to a losing strategy? The result was kula, kahuna, the most recent reciprocal giving proposal, fish and shells and their value ratios etc. And a game in which suddenly the movements of markets and player routes started aping historical migration paths, and the patterns (and supporting justifications) for gifts etc started to directly model the social structures of the Trobriands and other islanders. What? Yup, the logic and value structures and flexure patterns the players build in the game start to resemble those that formed the basis of the gift economies in Polynesia. Really, the players start to build simulacra of the value systems the islanders used! Whoa — all I tried to make was a gift economy game, not a historical simulation!

For Muck & Brass I focussed on company foundings and mergers of railway companies. How to build a pattern in which mergers happened in a player-controlled and yet interesting fashion? Next thing you know I’m fiddling with track distances and build costs and finding that the emergent value patterns are suddenly paralleling the historical company merger patterns. The NER formed here with this route being particularly significant, the GWR drove there with these areas dominating its early founding and petitions etc — and the same patterns and key routes are emerging from Muck & Brass as well.

The Muck & Brass case is probably less surprising as the routes I picked were all based on historical precedent so the stage is already set for the same routes that were historically key to also be the centres of focus in the game. But I don’t care. The game is starting to demonstrate historical fidelity and that suggests that I’m getting on the right track for the core logic problem of the game — and that suggestion is both very pleasing and and a wonderful acknowledgement of the design process and core logic problem integration.

Backing up the Ooze

The L&MR has moved back to Liverpool and the smal town of Selby has inserted itself between York and Sheffield (which is at least mildly historically accurate). This puts both the L&MR and L&SR three builds away from the hinge-point in Peterborough, and gives the three southern companies time to start soaking up the northern connectivity to London (Peterborough/London or Peterborough/Cambridge/London), thus moderating the early income power of the northerns, weakening the hinge point of Peterborough and encouraging the northerns to more strongly nest their track around Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield while remaining positioned for both mutual merger and possible assault on the EUR via Peterborough. I’d guess that in a third or more of games the northerns won’t reach London before the 3rd General dividend, which is a nice quality point of variance and control. As a side effect it also makes the Peterborough/Grimsby link a lynch pin in the southern’s assault on the northerns, which seems reasonable, while also making complete northern/southern segregation until the late game quite surprisingly viable — if turn order is good it is now possible for the northerns to prevent the southerns from merging into them quickly/easily.

So far so good.

Another thought model struck however. Instead of simply auctioning the first shares of the 5 initial companies in order, how about allowing it to mess about a bit?

Proposal: The game starts with the auction of a share of the L&MR. The next player can auction either a share of the L&SR or another share of the L&MR. The player after that can auction the next company in order that hasn’t sold a share yet, or a share from any earlier company which still has unsold shares. Each share sale would be accompanied by a free track build.

This feels like an astoundingly Bad Idea ™, but it is also kinda cute and appealing. I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t do it.

Blended baby

The current rewrite of an (un)surprisingly delicate section:

Mergers occur:

  • when a company connects to another active company’s home station

or:

  • when a secondary company floats and its home station is already connected by track

For mergers caused by connecting to another company’s home station, one of the two companies will acquire the other (active player chooses):

  1. The acquired company pays a Special Dividend (see Dividends)

  2. All route markers on the board from the acquired company are replaced with route markers from the acquiring company

  3. Each player’s shares in the acquired company are replaced 1:1 with merger shares from the new parent company.

  4. All shares and route markers from the acquired company are discarded from the game

  5. The acquired company’s income is added to the acquiring company’s income, and the acquired company’s marker is removed from the income track

When a secondary company floats and its home station is already connected by track, all connected companies are acquired by the new secondary company:

  1. Any route markers on the board for the acquired companies are replaced with route markers from the new secondary company

  2. All shares and route markers from the acquired companies are discarded from the game

  3. Each player’s shares in the acquired companies are replaced 1:1 with merger shares from the new secondary company

  4. The resulting merged company pays a Special Dividend (see Dividends)

After the merger the active player must capitalise a share of a non-operating company in the normal manner with a minimum bid of £5. If all companies are already operating, then the player may auction any share in the bank pool or one of his own shares in the normal manner. If all companies have floated and there are no shares left in the bank pool, then the player must auction one of their own shares in the normal manner (see Capitalise).

If the auctioned share floats a company then proceed in the normal manner, including resolving any resulting mergers.

The bones are there, but it can still bear polish.

Survey party

Ahh, the witness to my temerity:

Moving Business

Currently the L&SR is the only northern company likely to reach London. When the share sells it builds from York to Sheffield and on its furst turn, from Sheffield to Peterborough. That puts it one or two hops from London (tho it may be blocked) and two hops from a merger with the EUR. If it does reach London it is in easy snapping distance of the L&SCR. In short the northern company that reaches Peterborough likely has good options before it. Unfortunately the L&MR is cut out of this game. Unless the L&SR player simply screws up or fails to pay any attention to turn order control, the L&SR will always get to Peterborough first, leaving the L&MR with a rather more rote set of choices. Conversely the L&MR’s only early prospect is to merge into the L&SR either before or right after it merges into something down south. For shame — the decisions should be more interesting.

For the nonce I’ve moved the L&MR’s home station to Manchester from Liverpool. That still leaves the Peterborough question in the L&SR’s control via turn order, but it is no longer an automatic. I’ve also tentatively changes the initial company auction order to be be a little more interesting and a little more historic:

  1. L&MR (started 1830)
  2. L&SR (started 1830)
  3. B&BR (started 1840)
  4. EUR (started 1846)
  5. LB&SCR (started 1846)

While not only in approximate date order (caveat: the actual parliamentary petition processes started much earlier than the above dates), that gives three opportunities after the first two shares sell to determine the initial please turn order and thus set Peterborough’s fate.

A more interesting decision set; these seem fine changes.

In other news I’m still tempted by two changes:

  1. Allowing a player to simply sell one of their shares back to the bank for an instant dividend on that one share.
    The concern about this particularly lies in the first three rounds. PlayerA buys a share of CompanyX and then buys another at auction when another player capitalises CompanyX. PlayerA then immediately capitalises the share and sells it to the bank for a one-share dividend. If that’s the last dividend, then PlayerA is now both cash-richer to the noise of one share’s dividend, but also owns a company with a far better capitalisation future as it will now potentially capitalise for 3+1 shares instead of the normal 3. This is clearly a potential problem, but, I’m tempted. Something sings to me here, just not enough yet to make the change.
  2. Increase the rule-of-three (company may build no more than 3 exits from a city) to a rule-of-four.
    This one doesn’t have such strenuous drawbacks as the share sell-back but alarum bells are ringing none the less. I wish I knew why. It seems like the rule-of-four would allow for more clever track play.

Decomposition of Change

I’ve been solo-playing Muck & Brass, 4 games so far. This has revealed several problems and addresses:

  1. Leaving acquired-company track in place after a merger is confusing. It is very hard to tell which merged company has track where, especially after the 4th or 5th merger.
    • Address: After an acquisition replace all acuired track with the acquiring company’s track.
      I’d avoided this solution previously as overly fiddly and requiring of large numbers of track bits for each company (30-40), but I’ve reversed that view. The confusion is much worse.
  2. Too much money in the game. Final scores after the first game were $500+ for all players. Given that the players start with $45 this growth rate is excessive.
    • Address: Increase track building prices to $10 for a single and $30 for a double build. Also change all dividends to round down (truncate).
      Subsequent games have borne this out as a sufficient and accurate change.
  3. Companies were too rich. Several companies ended the game with several hundred dollars in their treasuries. Additionally all foreign ports were built. All of them.
    • Address: Double all foreign port prices.
      Subsequent play tests suggest this was excessive when combined with the increased building costs. I’ve now reduced the price increase to about 40% which seems about right but I’ve not played with it yet.
  4. Development was too weak and never chosen after the early mid-game. This was caused by two factors: one mergers are SO much more profitable that development is ignored, and two, once past the mid-game companies are sol diluted that development raises income too slowly to affect noticeably dividends.
    • Address: Increase the power of development so that two locations that are connected by the same company are developed per turn.
      Untested.
  5. Dividends for merged companies (remainders going to treasury were too fiddly.
    • Address: All dividends now round down with remainders discarded.
      This has play tested well.
  6. Overly hard to keep track of what shares are available vs issued.
    • Address: Put bank pool boxes back on the map.
      This has worked well in play testing.
  7. Cash advantage too strong in turn order.
    • Address: Turn order is now from poorest player to cash-richest player.
      This has worked notably well in play tests and affords and interesting alternating pump strategy of oscillating between high and low cash to profit from each end of the turn order.
  8. Hard to remember which company had which colour trakc (when using pens).
    • Address: Add little colour-in boxes to the bank pool boxes to show track colour per company.
      Possibly a better idea in concept than usage. I’ve not used the boxes.
  9. End-game too diffuse and difficult to predict. In part this was from an excess of poorly defined and chosen game ending conditions.
    • Address: New game ending conditions: only one active railway or 7 dividends.
      That simple. It works.
  10. End-game scoring was a pain. Foreign ports were especially annoying.
    • Address: No more end-game scoring. Cash is it.
      Yep, nice, clean, simple, works.
  11. Game ended on 5th dividend. Too fast — not enough control over game-ending. Uninteresting.
    • Address: See above tweaks to game ending conditions.
      This seems to be enough. I’d like the game to almost invariable end on the 6th ro 7th dividend with the primary question being, Which?.
      Last night’s game suggest we’re there now.
  12. West midlands boring, unviable, too diffuse. Well, its true!
    • Address: Removed Straford-upon-Avon and Northampton.
      Hey, it works!

The remaining concern is that mergers may simply be too profitable and attractive. I’m not convinced but I’m concerned. In the last game the NER ran over the game, ending the game with 28 shares issued and a final income of $183. Merger mania. Foreign ports are nice, but very expensive. Mergers give safer special dividends that imply less variance in future revenue potential of the shares than foreign ports. I’m very uncertain how or if to address this.