Friday, July 15, 2016

Old news... a comment on Reddit about Eminent Domain (and a little Under The Hood about EmDo)

  About a year ago Eminent Domain was featured on Reddit as "game of the week", and I answered a bunch of questions there.

  I don't spend a lot of time on Reddit, but I logged in just now to set up an AMA about Yokohama (TODAY, 7/15, at 10am Mountain time!) and I noticed a reply in one of those threads that I never saw.

  That thread has been archived, and I don't think I can reply anymore, but it was a good question and I feel bad for not responding. Also, the person asking the question (Alex Churchill) is a friend and fellow game designer, with whom I worked developing Steam Works for TMG. Alex reads this blog sometimes, so I wanted to take a moment and respond to his old comment.

  In reference to my saying that Colonize and Warfare are early game actions in Eminent Domain, and that the point of the game is to hustle into the mid-game, Alex replied:

How can Survey and Colonize/Warfare be the early game? Getting points from planets is more effective than getting points from Produce/Trade 90% of the time, so people are doing it right up until the final round. I'm guessing the "mid/late" game you refer to must be Produce/Trade? But by the time you've got more than 1 or 2 symbols, your deck is full of Colonize/Warfare/Survey cards, diluting the Produce/Trade, which makes it much more natural to continue to focus on points for planets rather than try to switch focus and lose out on the follows.
  Alex has a point, if you invest (and especially if you over-invest) in Colonize or Warfare int he early game, then it looks like changing to a Produce/Trade or Research path mid-game would be inefficient, and so there's a temptation to just continue flipping planets. Indeed, this could be your strategy, and if you do a good enough job with it you might pull out a win. I'll note however that "doing a good enough job" against good players will likely involve targeting specific technologies to support your strategy (things like Survey Team, Fertile Ground, War Path, Improved Warfare...), as well as good timing of plays and correctly reading and reacting to your opponents' roles (as well it should).

  Therein lies the rub. That point of view is kind of a "n00b" outlook, and even if it sounds counter-intuitive, you can do better by minimizing the number of times you call Colonize or Warfare, making good use of following your opponents, and setting up a research or trade engine as quickly as possible. Level 1 technologies help you do this, as they have 2 different role symbols on them, which helps combat the dilution effect Alex mentioned. Using research to keep your deck slim is also a potential strategy there.

  The thing to note is that once you get 3 or 4 resource slots in play, a Produce/Trade cycle is actually more efficient than a Survey/Colonize/Settle or Survey Warfare/Attack cycle. Once you get a trade engine going, the longer the game goes on the more you'll outpace planet flippers. Mix in a well timed Genetic Engineering, Specialization, or Diverse Markets, and you can really pick up those Influence tokens in a hurry, possibly curtailing the game before your opponents get a chance to make their big endgame play (researching a level 3 tech, or flipping that last planet).

  Eminent Domain is not just a Role Selection game with Deck Building in it, it's a Deck Management game as well. The whole point is to find a way to make your deck perform better :)

  I hope that answers Alex's question, and I hope some players still find this kind of thing useful. It warms my heart to think that people are still playing Eminent Domain!


Josh 'Dagar' Zscheile said...

How would we not play ED if the second expansion just came out and the last expansion is not even close to being on our tables?

As for base ED, I feel with well over 50 games (granted, 80% of them were 2 player games) I am in the game deep enough that I can comment on that.

You, Seth, are right in that most new players will focus on col/war, a bit of survey, and tech when they happen to have the symbols for it. Their whole game is pretty static from beginning to end, and roles apart from col/war will be played less often as these cards usually are a big bulk in a new players deck.

You are also right in saying that slimming your deck usually is a good strategy to control your deck composition, and that beginners tend not to take the research action because the other actions seem better due to their more immediately seen effect. However, I have tried to play games with a deck slim enough (2 to 3 hands) to have good control over it, and for me it only works in situations seldomly occurring (having a bunch of cards you want to get rid of, nothing to attack/settle, a research card and something at least a bit useful for boosting a role), or when I go for a tech heavy strategy with RFG tech cards, where you get your mid game points from tech and then do an easy transition to e.g. prod/trade. Additionally, my wife (who is the one I played almost all the 2 player games with) does not RFG apart from her starting war/settle cards and maybe sometimes some survey, should they get out of hands, and she is doing well as well, so keeping a slim, controlled deck it is no stringent condition for winning.

I feel though that you are wrong in implying that prod/trade is a more efficient point machine than keeping col/war. With a good p/t machine you will produce in one turn and trade in the next (unless someone else gives you the present to do it on her turn, so you can follow; but you will lose p/t cards in the process, likely making your next role not well boosted as it could be), giving you around 5 to 8 points every two rounds (8 only if you have p/t tech, else it will be too late in the game to use the point machine well). For it, you will need enough resource slots and a deck mainly containing p/t symbols, and likely some tech to make it more efficient. In comparison, col/war with two symbols in your play area and also some tech can potentially net you two planets in one round, for anywhere from 4 to 10 points. You can hardly get these kinds of points every two rounds and it needs more pre-requisites, but it is a more flexible, fluent engine (you do not hurt yourself with cards other than col/war in hand like you do in the trade game, and even from normal rounds you can expect to flip at least one planet every two rounds). Trade in comparison is more of a do-or-die; you want to produce at least 4 resources (I feel), and you want to trade them away fast, so you want to have a deck mainly consisting of these two symbols, ideally mostly the role card for flexibility. This means you will often have a clunky transition phase in there where you want to get rid of everything survey and col/war you needed before to get enough resource slots, and stack up on p/t. If you kept your starting two, you will have had them in hands quite often without putting them to use, prolonging the transition because of less efficient col/war. If you RFGd them, you will have to start from scratch, one card per role phase (even if you take research to get a tech card, it will be only this one per round), which takes ages to shine. In the transition phase, you will take many roles where you p/t two, maybe 3 resources, and where your opponents might follow to get some points from your transition as well, if they kept their starting cards. Picking up some p/t cards for themselves will be good here, as they can feed from your need for these cards and your later inflexibility.

Sure, you can get lucky with the planets you acquired earlier, but so can all the other players on their strategy.

(End of Part 1/2)

Josh 'Dagar' Zscheile said...

Also, I am describing the total p/t route here which you might not intend to go. For me though, p/t is the one strategy where you have to do it in order to be efficient in points. If you want to keep col/war-ing planets, you also need to keep survey, watering down your hands to the point where you rarely get enough points from p/t. If you want to mix it with research (which is better imho, but you need planets for both, and having a fitting combination of planets here is even harder), you will struggle to get these juicy and really good 5-point tech cards (if you however manage to get versatility, which is imho broken and we house-ruled it to fit better into the game balance, you are on a golden route).

The key to everything I said here is that being efficient in p/t is hard to achieve and risky, and it often times is better and easier to keep your early game of col/war going and topping it up with some tech, and this is why p/t is so often overlooked and almost exclusively played by experienced players.

All this text makes p/t seem like a bad decision doomed to fail, but it really is not. It is an equally good, but harder to achieve path to victory in a game that lives from exactly these decisions.


(End of Part 2/2)