Sunday, June 11, 2017

Deities & Demigods - the return of Hera

A few different times in the past, Hera has played a role in Deities & Demigods -- usually, in one way or another, controlling which deity cards get added to the Olympus deck. Each time thus far, she's been cut.

In my last post I described a potential issue that I've been worried about, which is that a player concentrating on Zeus when nobody else does can basically choose all the cards that go into the deck. I will reiterate that I don't think it's necessarily too powerful to be able to do so, but that frankly, it's not fun. Not for the other 1-3 players in the game anyway.

In that last test (UKGE with Andy, Matt, and Ian), I tried a rule to combat that dynamic, which was simply that you cannot be Start player twice in a row. In that game, the dynamic I'm worried about didn't actually come up and neither did that new restriction -- not really, though it's possible players made some decisions based on it (like, I believe Matt would have played differently when he was start player if he were allowed to get it again). To tell you the truth, it's not "being start player twice in a row" that I'm really trying to avoid... it's dominating the Olympus deck that I'm worried about. My "simple" fix of disallowing start player 2 rounds in a row didn't seem like the best idea after all. For example, consider a 2 player game - that would remove any sort of ability to "go for" start player!

I want to keep in mind that it's very possible there's no problem to begin with, and that concentrating on Zeus allows you to control the rest of the game... and maybe that's just fine. Matthew said he'd run some tests with the rules as they were, and maybe force that dynamic to come into play and see if he thought it was a problem (he said he hadn't seen it come up, or didn't notice any issues with it so far).

Out of the aftermath of all the discussion, I have updated my prototype to try what I figure is probably the best solution that came up: re-introducing Hera cards into the mix. This time, Hera will have a handful of cards (could be tiles, or 1/2 size cards, or whatever), of which 5 will be placed face up at the beginning of the game, 1 per cycle. These cards will indicate a condition, and at the end of the cycle, that condition is checked, and the player who best fulfills the condition becomes start player (and gets to add a deity card to the deck). Ties would be resolved by the initiative track, so sometimes (and especially in the first cycle) I suspect the dynamic will be the same as the current game. But the point is, instead of just bumping up your minimum devotion to Zeus and adding a 2nd Zeus to the deck for likely uncontested access to start player, you'll have to do different things each cycle.

In my first attempt at these Hera cards, there are 2 cards that kind of lean toward concentrating on each of the deities, but only 1 for Zeus, since he also controls the tiebreaks. Here's what I tried for the first draft:
* The player with the most A/B/M cards in play becomes the start player. Initiative track breaks ties.
* The player with the most building markers in a single city becomes the start player. Initiative track breaks ties.
* The player with the most troops in play (not on quests) becomes the start player. Initiative track breaks ties.
* The player who controls the most cities (including ties) becomes the start player. Initiative track breaks ties.
* The player with the most gold becomes the start player. Initiative track breaks ties.
* The player with the most total devotion becomes the start player. Initiative track breaks ties.
* The player with the highest quest bonus becomes the start player. Initiative track breaks ties.
* The player with the most completed quests becomes the start player. Initiative track breaks ties.
* The player farthest along the initiative track becomes the start player.

A few of these are unlikely (or impossible) to have any real effect in the first cycle, which just means the initiative track will control in that case, just like it does now. But I think all of them could come into play starting with the 2nd cycle, and some during the first as well.

I definitely don't love adding another stack of cards to the game, and I also dislike adding more process to the end of the cycle. As I type this, I have a feeling that "concentrating on Zeus so that you can control the direction of the game" is probably a valid strategy that should exist. But I'll give this a try at least once or twice and see how it goes.

If I don't like how this goes, I think I will revert to the last version saved, and maybe just make the initiative track a little less lucrative, so if you're climbing that track, it's because you want to control the direction of the game, rather than you incidentally controlling the game while climbing the initiative track for other reasons.


Josh 'Dagar' Zscheile said...

Hey Seth,

first of all, I do not follow your posts about D&D enough to know exactly what we are talking about here; maybe a short paragraph explaining the mechanisms discussed would be helpful to occasional readers.
As I understand it, you can choose to devote some resources to deities, and Zeus' speciality being that you can climb some initiative track that is deciding who becomes start player, and also adding cards to a sort of event deck that has certain outcomes for all players and thus influences the direction the game goes in.
I do not particularly like extra rules that prevent OP strategies 'from the outside'. I'd rather not see them be OP in the first place. I think you are on the right track with making Zeus less attractive. There are several ways to do this:

- Make other deities or strategies in general stronger to the point where, if a player chooses Zeus all game, she will likely lose (compare to e.g. Military strategy in Through the Ages: strong and has its place in the game, but if you do solely that, you will likely lose)
- Make Zeus weaker, e.g. make devotion to him cost more, force the player to some trade-off for going first player (paying resources, preventing other actions for this round, help another player by doing this, ...)
- Alter Zeus' function to break the potential OP strategy, e.g. make the Zeus player, if she is starting player this round, choose another player to be starting player, separate the deck and initiative function from each other and make it either a choice which of both a player wants or associate one function with another deity.

Hope that helps!


Seth Jaffee said...

Hi Josh, thanks for he comment! I usually link to a previous post about a game, but I have been slacking on that lately. If you click on the Deities&Demigods tag at the bottom of the post it'll bring up all of the posts on the subject, and if you scroll down you'll find not only short descriptions, but the full rules (or an old version anyway).

You've surmised fairly well what I'm talking about though. In D&D, there's a deck of Deity cards that you flip up one at a time. For each one, each player in turn order gets to either pay money to increase devotion to that deity, or else cash in their devotion in order to execute that deity's action (and the higher the devotion, the better).

The different deities do different things, and the point of the game is to do quests and control cities. Each cycle through the deck, a new start player is chosen and that player gets to pick a new deity card to execute and then add to the deck, so that new card will come up again and again for the rest of the game.

Originally, the mechanism to choose start player was the Initiative track, which is what Zeus does for you. When Zeus comes up, you can move up the track, and there are some rewards to collect along the way. The player farthest along the track at the end of the cycle becomes Start player, then the track is reset.

The problem was NOT that it's overpowered to concentrate on Zeus, the problem was that if one player concentrates on Zeus, they could be the only player who gets to choose which cards go into the deck, which makes for a lame game (less fun for other players). I had observed that the game seems better when Start Player bounces around.

I came up with a "simple"' fix - disallow players from being start player 2x in a row, but that was arbitrary and basically a bad idea for several reasons.

I was hesitant to add more components and process, but these Hera cards (they'd probably be small tiles in the end) have been working very well so far. It's like you said, disconnecting the start player mechanism from any 1 deity.