Other Wise

Oh, the relief

And now CornerLot is out for the print-and-play world.

To be or not to be a cutlery, that is the question!

A few weeks ago I reviewed Corner Lot with Tom Lehmann. Tom asked abot the $2 raises. One of the reasons, asides from accelerating the cashflow management challenge, is that $2 raises greatly increases the rate of subsequent $1-off events1, or if you wish, Power Grid moments2. Tom ever so gently suggested that the $2 raises were an unjustified complexity as such $1-off moments were in fact something of a false decision 3.

After some thought I’ve concluded that he’s quite right, and yet not. The core notion is of the $1-off decision is that at the time of (fund) allocation a player is able to reasonably predict that spending $1 more or less now will control whether or not they’ll be $1-off for a later item. Tom is right, that’s a tall order and in the case of Corner Lot or Power Grid, or any sufficiently dynamic system, this is bogus. In Corner Lot such an estimation requires predicting not only the cards in the future markers, but the exact results of player bids — certainly not a reasonable question at the $1 precision level. The players simply have no way to predict that accurately. Instead the $1-off moments are effectively random events which simply happen to the players, randomly specifying that a given player does or does not have enough money for something. At this level the $1-off events, and their creation, are clearly uninteresting and the decision at the point the $1-off event was incepted (when the money was allocated) doesn’t really exist.

But that is not the whole story. When a $1-off event occurs, the subject player must decide how to respond and, if necessary, to recover. There are frequently real decisions at this point: The player can’t afford what they need or want, so how to marshal their capital to still support their victory? There’s usually a real decision there and that’s where the decision is. The decision isn’t at the time the $1-off event is created, not at its inception, but rather the decision is post-facto in the recovery from the random event. Additionally, this clearly identifies the real design question: Is the additional rules complexity of requiring a minimum $2 raise justified by the additional interesting decisions created by recovering from the higher rate of $1-off events? I’m tempted to say it is, but I’m clearly also biased. Hey play-testers, what do you think?

One of the other results of the conversation with Tom is that I’m going to be forking Corner Lot. I’m pleased with the current game and enjoy playing it, but auctions are out of fashion with the German publishers and the required componentry (chips, markers etc) make the more attractive lower price points difficult to realise. As a result I’m going to fork the design and create a different game, one still based on the same reservation bidding concept, but with considerable less arithmetic and with no explicit auctions (ie no round-robin auctions to resolve multi-bid cards). I’ve no idea on the game yet, or much idea about the theme (Ariel Seoane has suggested musical group bookings for a concert), but I’m working on it. Currently the numbers are just not working out…

Footnotes
  1. Occasions when players are $1 short of being able to afford a desired item).
  2. Power Grid seems to be famous for $1-off events.
  3. Assuming I interpreted his comments correctly.

Oooo my pretty precious!

As those who follow my Twitter feed know, Corner Lot did rather well at the Kublacon design competition, coming in the top 3 and quite likely being second. Julie, the organiser of the competition said that if it had player aids it would have won.

Several changes:

  • Player aids! Yep, there are now neat little player aids which contain the most frequently requested information (the 4 bonus categories and the 3 actions)
  • Spiffy new art without conflicting colour pairs (all credit goes to Ariel Seoane here)
  • An advanced variant which simply ups some costs and cash drains and thus significantly changes the timing and pacing of the Empty Lot cards1

New rules. Playtesters will find that the file at the same magic URL has the new card images and rules.

Footnotes
  1. The increased cost of the Empty Lot cards is not cast in stone, the other two values likely are

Canning teaching Corner Lot

I’ve canonised and rendered into PDF form the teaching script for Corner Lot as part of my Kublacon Design Contest submission.

Trimming corners

New rules for Corner Lot. The only substantive change is to the starting capital for different player counts.

Change Log:

  • Starting capital adjusted slightly for different player counts
  • Several small language tweaks around bonus scoring, market layout, etc.
  • Added poker chip colour section (to match the sets I’ll be sending out)

Sticker shock remembrance

A possible clean-ish address for the problem of remembering the value assigned to a wild card: 20 small chits, 4 in each suit’s colour, double sided with each side bearing a revenue value (3/4/5/6/7/8/9/12). When a player buys a wild card they place the matching chit on the card with the appropriate side up so as to record the revenue they assigned to the card.

Unfortunately it means not only an extra component, but an extra component-type. Oh well. I guess I can’t hope for an Adlung-Spiele small-box presentation.

Need help with that?

A few playtesters have requested player aids or cheat-sheets for Corner Lot. I may be too close to the game to see the wood for the trees: If there were to be a player aid, what would you like to see on it and how would that help you? Would a player aid have been useful to you? If you have played the game already, would it still be useful to you> Would it make teaching the game easier?

Only one of the 40+ players I’ve taught the game to locally requested a player aid, but didn’t have a clear statement of why they wanted one, how it would be useful or what data they thought should be on it (more likely a product of my bad questioning than their fault). My perhaps unflattering impression was that the player aid would provide comfort by re-assuring the player that they hadn’t forgotten any of the core game structures rather than providing data they’d forgotten. Does that about right? What do you think of the need and value for a player aid for Corner Lot?

Teaching Corner Lot

Reading between the lines, it seems that some of your players have had difficulty grokking some aspects of Corner Lot, especially the value and size of the bonuses, or how the stack will unroll etc. Below is a rough transcript (from memory) of the spiel I use when teaching the game. It has worked well for me. I wrote this originally in reaction to a session report. In case I forgot anything, I’ll update this version as needed.

This is a set collecting game. We’re going to be buying cards in a weird auction and collecting revenues for the cards we get. At the end of the game we’ll get bonuses for having certain patterns of cards. The player with the largest net worth wins.

There are 5 suits of cards with 8 cards per suit. (Lay out 8 cards, one of each value) Property cards have a cost and a revenue. The cost is the baseline of how much they cost to acquire and the revenue is roughly what they’ll pay you every round for owning them. With one exception the cost is always the revenue minus two times five. And the exception is…? (Wait for someone to point at the 40/12) Correct!

The deck will be shuffled and five cards will be laid face up to the side. (Lay 5 cards off to the side) These are out of the game and yes, you get to see them. Then 7 cards are laid in a sorted row as so. (Does this) This is the current market: the cards up for auction first. Then another 7 cards are set out, and make the future market: the cards auctioned in the second round. Later they’ll move down to become the current market, a new set of 7 will be dealt to be the new future market and so forth. As there are 40 cards in the deck, 5 are out, leaving 35, the game has 5 rounds of 7-card lots.

Okay, we’ll also pick a start player. They’ll get the first turn, then the player to their left and so on. Always purely rotational. That never changes.

On your turn you may bid, buy or pass. That’s it, just bid, buy or pass. Bidding! You may bid on any card in the current market that isn’t the cheapest/bottom card and that you haven’t bid on already. Just to keep the bids straight, make your bids by putting your chips on the corner of the card nearest you. So you get this corner, you get this corner you get this corner etc. (points) The minimum bid is the cost of the card plus $2, or $2 more than the highest bid on the card, whichever is more. Instead of bidding you can just buy the cheapest/bottom card for face value: this number on the card. Pay your money, take the card. And of course, you can pass. If you pass you’re not out: you can come back in later.

So why bid ahead and pay that $2 premium? Because the high cards are worth a lot more than their face value and the low cards, are well, not so good. (Quickly throws some chips on the various cards, some cards with a single bid, some two, some three, usually the penultimate card with none) Just pretend these chips are the bids by various players. When someone buys the bottom card we then look at the next card up. If it has just a single bid on it, then that player gets the card instantly for his bid. (Shows this) Then we do it again. Ahh, the next card has two bids! Those two players then go clockwise bidding for the card until only one person is left and they win the card for their bid and the losers get their money back. The minimum raise is $2. This next card has 3 bids on it: same thing happens, round robin etc, And this keeps on going, the stack keeps unrolling until there are either no cards left or you get to a card with no bids on it. Then it stops. Often all 7 cards in the market will go all at once! The key thing is that by bidding ahead you are securing the right to bid later. If you didn’t bid ahead on a card, you’ll have no chance to bid on it when the stack unrolls if someone else has bid on it. You are bidding for the right to bid!

Now all this unrolling and bidding and cards going places etc happens during the turn of the player who bought the bottom card. Once it is all done, the next player gets his turn.

Now of course with this card here (points to the penultimate card with no bids), say you (points) have the next turn, you can just buy that card for face value, you can bid on this last card if you haven’t already, or you can pass. It might be a good deal. Or not.

Okay, once all the cards in the current market are gone we get revenues! You get paid for every card you have. But you don’t get the full revenue! If the wild card for that suit hasn’t been bought, then every card in that suit pays $2 less. (I’ll talk about the wild cards and how to get them later) So this 5/3 card only pays $1 and this 25/7 only pays $5 and so forth. The key thing here is that cards pay back at roughly 22%. So you don’t get your money back quickly!

So we all get our money, a new future market is dealt and we do it all again. We do that 5 times and the game is over and we figure out how much I won by. Or not. Again. Bahh!

At the end of the game you get bonuses for the cards you have. There are four bonuses. For 3 or more cards in the same suit you get the number of cards you have of that suit times the highest revenue card you have in that suit, Then, 3 or more cards in the same suit in adjacent numerical order (and 12 comes after 9 as there is no 10 or 11) pays the number of cards in the run times the highest revenue card (so 4/5/6 or 7/8/9/12 for instance), 3 or more cards of the same value pays the number of cards time the revenue, and 3 or more cards of adjacent values but with each card of a different suit and each suit only occurring once pays the number of cards times the highest revenue. Sort of a “rainbow” run. It is always 3 or more cards and always times the highest revenue card in the set.

Each card can pay all four bonuses, but it can’t pay any bonus more than once. So 5/6/7 in suit will pay two bonuses, one for the suit and one for the run! But you you can’t take four 7s and say you have lots of sets of triple 7s as you mix and match them, and you can’t take two 5s, a single 6 and two 7s and say you have two rainbow runs.

So these bonuses are where the real money is in the game. And what you really want is for all of your cards to pay out multiple bonuses in different directions. Something like a 5/6/7 in 3 suits will pay every which way, for the suits, the suited run, the triples, and the three rainbows, see? See why the big cards are so much more valuable? (Get an answer) There’s lots of money there.

So we do all that and the player with the most money wins! It takes about 45 minutes.

Oh, the wilds! Okay, remember the bid, buy or pass business? You can just buy a wild card. It costs $20. It is just like buying the bottom card but it doesn’t start the stack unrolling. When you buy a wildcard you have to instantly say what it is. It is a 7! This is a 12! Whatever, just one of the card values: 3/4/5/6/7/8/9/12. But! But! When it comes to revenue time, the revenue for the wild card goes straight to the card and just piles up there. You don’t get it until the end of the game. Also, you have to pay the bank $5 for each wild card you own. You do get your revenue income first, so you can pay from that, but if you still can’t pay the $5, you have to put the wild card back and you lose all the money that piled up on it!

Now for the bonuses the wilds are just like any other card. They have a suit and they have a value. You can have the wild be a duplicate of another card you have, so you could have a blue 40/12 and have a wild blue 40/12 too. That’s fine.

And of course, once someone buys a wild, all the cards in that suit will now pay their full revenue.

There’s also a trick in passing. If everyone passes in a round, $5 is put on the bottom card. It is now $5 cheaper! However the first person to pass doesn’t get first dibs at the card at the new price. The turn marker moves forward and the next player does. Of course if everyone one passes again, it gets $5 cheaper again and the turn marker moves forward etc. If it ever gets to $free the next player has to take the card. Such a problem!

So we do all this: bidding, buying cards, moving cards about, vast amounts of money leap out of the bank and go to me, little small bits go to you guys, all that stuff. We do 5 rounds, then we pay out the bonuses, count up the money, and see that I won yet again. Hey gee, I’m the banker too!

Any questions?

Beating ploughshares into velocipedes

I’ve posted new rules for Corner Lot. The only substantive change is the requirement that all bid raises by by at least $2. There’s also an explicit statement that players may not increase their bid on a card prior to tis resolution, as there were as questions on that (this limit prevents the game from deadlocking as players dollar-up their prior bids in order to manipulate turn order).

I’m also working on new card art in order to resolve the colour problem some of you are having. With luck it will be ready in a few days. Meanwhile, please review and play by the new rules and post any thoughts, reactions and playtest reports as a comment to this post.

So ya wanna sniff?

This morning’s surprise was a playtesting request for Corner Lot. Colour me surprised (Oh, so that’s what colour surprise is! Ewwww.). I’ll get a playtest kit (ie a PDF of the required cards) put together later today for requesters1.

Producing the game is pretty trivial as it is just 45 cards. The only other component’s you’ll actually need are poker chips. We don’t bother with the player markers here as I have players place their bids on the corner of the property card closest to them, thus self-identifying the bids as their’s.

Please comment on this post to request playtest kits. Playtesters, please also append your comments questions, thoughts etc to this post as comments.

Footnotes
  1. Already done. Later is now.

Straight shootin’ complexity cowboy

The rules for Corner Lot have been updated to reflect wildcards and the current concept of rainbow straights. Sadly that also also means that the rules now occupy 3 pages instead of the prior 2. Ahh, rampant runaway complexity threatens!

Regimental thuggery

We’ve played a slew more games of Corner Lot in the last days, all remarkably well received. The big concern is that the game is clearly a 3 or 4 player game and does not scale well to larger players. As such I’ve been pursuing avenues to increase player count flexibility. Most recently we’ve been trying the following changes:

  • Starting capital is increased to $600 divided among players
  • 5 Wildcards are placed beside the tableau
    • Each wildcard has a cost of $20
  • A player may purchase an available wildcard for cost on their turn as a normal action
    • When a player buys a wildcard they must assign it a revenue value ($3, $4, $5, $6, $7, $8, $9, or $12)
  • Unbought wildcards reduce the revenue of all cards of that suit by $2 at revenue time
  • Players must pay $5 for each wildcard they own to the bank at revenue time (deducted from revenues)
  • Purchased wildcards accumulate their revenues on the wildcard at revenue time
    • The owning player receives this money during end-game scoring
  • Melds with wildcards score bonuses in the normal way
    • Wildcard duplicates of cards already held score both bonuses as if they were an additional suit of that value and an additional card of that suit

This has worked well and has improved the game for all the players. I’ve found it a surprisingly strong improvement.

However, all is not rosy. Players tend to specialise in suits as the game rewards them heavily for that, leading to low contention rates for property cards once into the mid-game. In general each player will pursue bonuses in two suits, making competition for cards generally tepid outside of bid ordering details. The tendency is for there to be a round to a round and half of bidding for each lot before the trigger is pulled. If there were more contention for cards the trigger-pulling decision would be more difficult and interesting.

Two proposals have been made by the players:

  1. Add support for scoring bonuses for straights (not just straight flushes). This would need to be explicitly limited in some way else a player with the 5/6/7 of three suits could construct an ungodly large number of possible three-card bonus straights!
  2. All players, once per game to insert one of their purchased cards into the currently auctioned lot in return for the card’s revenue
    • A possibly slightly more interesting form of this instead adds a 6th round to the game in which players may (must?) put one card up for auction (in return for its revenue).

I’m tempted by the straights and in particular for allowing players to score bonuses for rainbow straights (3 or more cards in revenue sequence with each suit occuring not more than once). The notion of putting cards back up for auction is interesting but a little less compelling at the moment as almost every case would involve another player scoring more for the card than the contributor Hurm. Unless the winning bids on the property cards in that last round were paid back to the contributing player? I have numbers to crunch.

I’ll get updated rules including the wildcards posted Real Soon Now.

Elbowing cove detours

We’ve been playing Corner Lot quite a bit lately. It is popular and playing more quickly than I’d expected. Our games have been averaging under 45 minutes when I’d predicted a game length of around 75-90 based on decision complexity. I am…surprised.

So far we’ve played with 3 and 4 players with both working well. I think 4 players is marginally more interesting than 3, but it is a tough call. The common consensus is that 5 players is right out due to multi-player chaos effects. I’d like to soften that 5 player edge somewhat and have been working through a number of ideas around extending the suits, adding suits and adding some form of wildcard property card to the mix. The suit extension concepts ran afoul of the game’s basic arithmetic and sank there; however the wildcard concepts are being more interesting. The current idea:

  • 5 wildcards (one in each suit) that are set out beside the markets during setup
  • $20(?) cost and no stated revenue ($?) on the wildcards
  • Players may buy a wildcard from the display as their turn
    • The card must be assigned a value when it is taken — this is marked by putting that much cash (from the bank) on the card.
  • At the end of each round:
    • Each player has to pay $2 to the bank for each suit in which they have properties cards whose wildcard has not yet been taken
    • Each player that has taken a wildcard has to pay $5 to the bank for the card
    • The bank pays the card’s revenue to the card
      • The revenues accumulate on the card and are not available to the owning player
  • During the bonus phase:
    • The player retrieves the accumulated revenues on their wildcards
    • Melds score as normally, counting the wildcard as if it were the claimed card
    • If the wildcard duplicates a card that the player also has, then it counts as being of a different suit for the N-of-a-type bonus.

Thematically wildcards are empty lots that detract from the business and thus revenues of the other properties in the area. On purchase they empty lot is (slowly) developed and thus begins to accumulate revenues.

Knocking off the corners

We played several games of Corner Lot last night, all in comfortably less than hour. It was quite the hit. However a few small changes also resulted:

  • The starting capital has been set at $480/players. This was where I’d started actually but I wasn’t quite sure it was right. It is right, or at least close enough to right for more than government work.
  • No more emergency fund raising. The rule simply isn’t needed and has been excised.
  • The partially hidden variant has been normalised as the basic form of the game and the other variants discarded.
  • The $10 cards are being put back to being $12 cards. Again, this is where I’d started with the initial design, but then I vacillated and dropped it back down to $10. I’m not entirely convinced the $10s should be $12s, but it sure looks like it.

The rules have been updated.

On the stoop selling cigars

I’ve renamed Corner Property to Corner Lot as being a little more colloquial.

I’ve made a first draught of the rules. I’ve made the cards required for play (thanks go to Ariel Seoane for helping with the art) and hope to play at tomorrow’s gamenight at SB-Boardgamers.

Cornering capital

  • The average cost of a card is (5+10+15+20+25+30+35+40) /8 = $22.5.
  • The average cost of a set of 7 auctioned cards is $157.50
  • The average turn-to-turn-ROI of a card is 29% (52/180)
  • In each set of 7 auctioned cards an average of (22.5*7) = $157.50 will be spent in card cost across the players (assuming no rounds in which everyone passes and assuming no duplicate card values in the set)
  • If only one card is purchased per round at face value (likely to be one or two), then a minimum of $12 was spent in bid reservations, giving an average total expenditure per round of $169.50
  • Assuming that bidding pressure forces an average over-cost payment of 30% per card, that means the total per-round expenditure is $220.35
  • An average player will spend 1/N of that (N is number of players) in acquiring cards.
  • Mapping out the turns:
    • if a player spends $X on cards in a given round
      • At the end of the round they will earn 29% of $X
    • if the player spends $X on the second round
      • Their starting capital will need to have been at least 171% of $X
      • They will earn 58% of $X in revenue
    • If they spend $X on the third round
      • Their starting capital will need to have been at least 213% of $X
      • They will earn 87% of $X
    • If they again spend $X on the fourth round
      • Their starting capital will need to have been at least 226% of $X
      • They will earn 116% of $X
      • They are now profitable; their per-round expenditures of $X are exceeded by their revenue income
  • Thus the total capital required among the players at the start of the game is (4*220.35 * 2.26) = $1,991.96

The above doesn’t account for the probabilities of multiple cards of the same value in a lot, thus increasing over-payment, or the potential of players passing and thus driving prices down. It also ignores the fact that cards pay out 6 times per game, thus making the big cards even more valuable than they already are. And there are some other nice fat holes in the logic. Still, $500 per player in a 4 player game seems a reasonable sum.

Hurm.

An idle thought to enliven the mix:

  • When passing a player may instead tap some or all their cards for cash and receive Q% (50%?) of their revenue in cash. Such tapped cards do not pay again at the end of the round.

Consolidating corners

Quick changes that seem useful:

  • Project name (yep, it is no longer just a notion): Corner Property
  • Theme around property./market collection
  • Reduce the suit sizes to 8 cards and the game to 5 rounds
  • Lose the chips
  • Variants:
    • Deal our 5 cards and display them as what will not be in play
    • Deal out a 7×7 grid of cards and:
      • Resolve them in columnar order
      • Low cash player picks which column to resolve at the start of the round

Vague possibilities: – Turn-order players in order of cash or income

Still have to determine starting capital.

A game of auctions for auctions

1830 uses a remarkable auction format for distributing the private companies at the start of the game. In somewhat abstract terms:

  1. A number of properties are arranged in order of approximate ascending value
  2. On their turn a player may do one of the following:
    • Bid on a properly for whichever is the larger of the face value of the property plus $5 or the largest bid on the property plus $5
    • Buy the cheapest property for face value if it doesn’t have a bid on it
    • Pass
  3. If all players pass the face value of the lowest property is reduced by $5
  4. If the cheapest available contains only a single bid, then the property is instantly awarded to that bidder for that price
  5. If the cheapest available property contains multiple bids there is an auction among those players to resolve who gets the property
    • The player who has already placed the largest bid is considered to be winning the property for that price
    • Players in rotation may either raise their bid to more than the current highest bid or drop out of the auction
    • When only one bidder is left they win the property for their bid price
    • Losing bidders retain their losing bids
  6. The process of resolving the cheapest value property continues until either the cheapest available property hasn’t been bid on, or there are no more available properties.
  7. The turn then passes to the next player to the left who proceeds by bidding, buying or passing.
  8. This continues until all properties have been acquired

In essence bids on properties reserve the ability for that player to compete for the property later. They pay a premium for that privilege. As several properties are worth considerably more than their face values, there is competition both to acquire those properties and to force the eventual purchaser to pay reasonably for it.

1830’s private auction is often cited for being excessively complex and opaque. It is the primary point of differentiation in the early game and new players have a very hard time with it as each of the private companies has special powers, but also various pairs of private companies can synergistically work together. It should be no surprise that I’ve long admired the private auction and wanted to base a game around it just that portion of the game, much like Günter Cornett and Michael Uhlemann’s Greentown is a rendition of the 18xx route-tracing game, and Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling’s Cavum is a rendition of the 18xx track building game.

Materials:

  • 55 cards, 5 each with values of 5/$3, 10/$4, 15/$5, 20/$6, 25/$7, 30/$8, 35/$9, 40/$10 and 50/$15.
    • The first value is the default cost of the card. The second value is the revenue of the card.
  • 55 chips, 11 in each of 5 colours
  • Poker chips
  • A bag

Setup

  1. Give each player money(a function of player count).
  2. Randomly select a dealer for the first round

Pattern of play

  1. Shuffle the card deck
  2. Deal out 7 cards
  3. Arrange the cards in order by increasing value (the value before the slash)
  4. Put 2 chips of each colour into the bag
  5. Randomly draw 7 chips and randomly put one on each card
  6. Stating with the dealer the players conduct an 1830-type auction for the cards
    • If there are multiple cards of the same value:
      • the base cost of each card of the same value is $2 more than the card below it in order of the same value
      • Bids must be which ever is the larger of $2 higher than the cost of the card or $1 higher than the largest bid on the card
  7. Keep the chips on the cards as they are taken, that indicates the suit of the card (cards are unsuited)
  8. The round ends when all cards have been purchased
  9. At the end of the round each player receives money equal to the dollar values on each of the cards they own.
  10. Repeat from dealing out 7 cards, adding chips to those left in the bag from the last round
  11. End after seven rounds (5 cards won’t be used)
  12. Pay the players double money at the end of the last round

Scoring

  • Cash is points
  • Cash in each set of three or more cards of the same value held by a player for the number of cards held of that value multiplied by the revenue of the card
  • Cash in each sequence of three or more cards of the same suit (same colour chip) with sequential revenue values for the number of cards cards in the sequence multiplied by the revenue of the largest card in the sequence (50/$15 cards can’t be scored in this way)
  • A card may participate in scoring sets in both directions
  • Player with the most money win.
  • Three is no tie-breaker (of course)

Option: Lose the chips and suit the cards with 5 suits.

My sense is that the game is too long, the deck needs to be smaller, there need to be fewer rounds etc. It needs a diet. I haven’t investigated that yet.