Thursday, August 14, 2008

Noblemen - comments after 1st playtest

These are the comments I sent Xaq after playing Noblemen for the first time:

To me the game felt like multiple games of chicken, which I think may be the point. I liked that. It's definitely a game where you have to play once just to see what's good to do. At the beginning we had no idea if we wanted to, say, remove a scoring counter or not, so we didn't. As a result, the first round was kinda long, and then people bought all the churches. By the end we had a better idea of what we were doing, so we started taking scoring chips off.

Eric had a very big problem with the initial jacking of goods when you place a Man-At-Arms on an empty 2x2 thing. He said he liked the mechanic (stealing per action) just fine, but he hated that you could get jacked as soon as you complete your 2x2 arrangement. He said he "had no incentive whatsoever to place a 4th tile to complete a 2x2", because the bonus he gets will immediately get jacked. Let me say that I completely disagree with him that that's any kind of indication of brokenness. As I told him during the game... "then don't complete a 2x2." That said, I might agree with his assertion that the game might be able to do without the Men-At-Arms altogether. I think they're fine, personally - but one thing I'd watch for is this: Eric might have a point - if finishing a 2x2 and then having an opponent put a M@A on it means I just get 1 more thing (money/land tile/prestige) than not doing it, then what's the point? I'm just giving away the bonus. In fact, I could put that 4th tile somewhere else, and get the same benefit without giving up a bonus to another player. Compare this to something like the M@A player and the owner of the 2x2 sharing the bonus or both getting it... I don't know. Then again, maybe you just need to M@A your own things so that you get your bonuses... or finish more than 1 2x2 at a time so they can't ALL be M@A'd or something.

I was concerned about how quickly a round could end. Especially in a 3p game, if all three players buy a church, the round is over. Not that it would necessarily help much to end the round, but buying a church will score points, and there are a limited number of them, and that yields a Scandal card... so it might happen anyway - even if everyone scores 0 for that round (if, say, it's the first round). In our game, Eric was ahead after the 2nd scoring, so he tried to rush the game end in the 3rd round - removing a counter each turn. We of course did not follow suite, so it took a while to end the game - which I guess is good, but then he did get the 3vp bonus for using the End Round action. He won by a lot anyway.

There were some plays that seemed automatic - the Acquire Land action - it even says in the rules that you should totally do this as soon as anyone else does so that you get your share of the land. By extension, if you care which tiles you get you should do it first. But either way, as soon as 1 player does it, that is the other players' next move, so it felt like one of the actions where everyone participates, like Donate Land. Maybe it should be like that? Or maybe that action could be stricken from the action list, and at the beginning of each round each player could get an "Income" phase which includes an Acquire Land action. Also, it's awkward that the Acquire Land action can be taken more than 3 times, and just gets super weak, while other actions simply cannot be taken.

Speaking of Income, it sure would have been nice to get just a little income every round... but I guess that's what Taxation is for!

I think the Bribe action is too expensive - I don't know if the $3->1vp conversion was based on a mathematical relationship, but we all thought it was so weak that we didn't even consider it. Just a quick comparison... for $4 or $5 (or worst case: $6) you can get a Church, which is easily worth 2 or 3 VP per round - or like 5 vp total. For 5vp in a Bribe action, you'd need to spend $15, which is a fortune. A castle by itself is 3vp for $5 (not $9)... Seems like maybe the Bribe action should be $1->1vp, max 5 times like with the land donation.

Land Donation was interesting, and I tried to concentrate on that - I made a Forest (2 in the end, but didn't get around to a folly) and expected to draw a bunch of land tiles and then donate to the church... but here's the thing. By the time I had completed my Forest, there were only 2 more Acquire actions for me to take (one in round 2 and one in round 3). Further, when donating land, I get 5vp, another player gets 5vp, and the third player gets 2vp... In round 2 this worked well for me, as Eric had played a lot of land, and therefore didn't donate any in the first action, and then I chose Donate again, gaining further on him... but in the 3rd round, when I finally had lots of tiles (2 forests), Eric actually chose Donate, having more land than he needed, and I got screwed. I chose it the 2nd time, but he had another 5, and I couldn't gain on him at all. So while I actively pursued this land strategy, Eric (who didn't even take an Acquire Land action in round 3) stayed even with me on land tile donations. Something seemed wrong with that.

In round 2 Eric had managed to get an 8vp title, while I had a 5vp one, and Michael only had a 2vp title. In round 3 I managed to get up to the 12 point title, sticking Eric with a 5 in the end. That's a 10 point swing on him, which was cool, but he was still able to outscore me by something like 16 points.

It must have been because of his Castles and Churches. He and I both upgraded to Palaces in the first round, he bought a Castle in round 2 but didn't surround it. He did get multiple Churches into play, and in round 3 was able to surround his castle and score a lot off the castle, Palace, and Churches. I believe he mainly used his scandal cards to beef up his prestige in the Ball and maintain a decent title. He also bought a Folly and I didn't so that was a big deal.

So to sum up... I liked the games of chicken, but it might end too abruptly (at least sometimes), the values appear to be off on certain things, and some stuff (like the Men at Arms) might be unnecessary. I'll watch for more of that stuff once we play again.

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