by Stuart Dagger
It must be a source of great frustration to games designers that, while there may well be games that everyone agrees are irredeemable (SUPREMACY? STAR FLEET MISSIONS?), there never was yet a game that everyone agreed was perfect. Individual taste and the playing style of the group you play with count for too much in each person's judgement for it to be possible. So what follows is not to be construed as criticism of what are a bunch of fine games; it is just a collection of small rule changes adopted by one group to slant things more to their liking, and it is offered in the hope that some of you will find them interesting enough to be moved too offer some of your own ideas in exchange.
1835: Has anyone else come to the conclusion that the Vorpreussischen companies, and in particular those based in the Ruhr and in Berlin, are too profitable? It doesn't take them long to acquire a second train, and when they do they are yielding their owner something close to their purchase price every turn. That plus the position they offer in the Preussische means that the game can come close to being decided by how many of them you can acquire in the initial sale. So next time we play I am going to propose that, while these companies can own trains up to their Loklimit, they can only run one each turn. This will keep the flexibility and train juggling capacity that the companies offer to directors of share-issuing companies but will cut the dividends back down to size. It will also reduce the dominance of the Preussische by trimming the money mountain it inherits.
FORMULE DE: The variant rules that I passed on a few issues back got the thumbs down from Mike and didn't catch on here either. However, a simpler one has. I read somewhere that Richard Clyne had suggested using 2d10 rather than 1d20 as a means of increasing the skill level in the game. I put it to my lot, but they weren't too keen; they liked the idea of being able to shoot for the big numbers. So what we settled on, and which did work, was giving each player the choice on each turn. You can either do a Mansell/Senna with 1d20 or be conservative and Prost-like with 2d10. The two distributions don't have quite the same range and mean, but that can be put right if you read the 1 on the d20 as an 11.
OSTINDISKA KOMPANIET: The theme of the game means that it is one where money arrives infrequently but in large lumps. The consequence is that the victory criterion of 'most shares' is a somewhat crude measurement of how well you have played, too much so for our liking. If you agree, you might find the following variant to your taste. Once the first share has been bought, each arrival of a ship in Gotheborg increases the price of shares by 5000 riksdalers. The game ends when the share price hits a previously agreed level. At that point each player totals his or her assets: shares at current value; all cash, with the standard exchange rate for piastres; ships at 80% of cost; Gotheborg cargo at cost; Cadiz cargo at redemption value; Far Eastern cargo at cost if the boat has not yet put to sea, at double its cost if it has put to sea but has not yet passed Cape Town, and at triple its cost if it has passed Cape Town. (Make the obvious adjustment for water-damaged cargo.) The result of all this is that though the shares still run the clock and are still worth having, they are no longer all important in terms of who wins. This affects the strategy and makes trading decisions more important, a change that I like.
ELFENROADS: A big thumbs up for this one the first two times that we played it, but then we tried it with the full six players and found that the auctions, and with them the game, were taking for ever. The suggestion at the end was that next time we would give out more transportation counters and auction less. Someone else had a similar thought, for in the latest White Wind newsletter Alan makes just such a suggestion: give each player two transportation counters per round and only put two per head up for auction. He also offers an idea for making more use of the gold coin counters: when one of these is placed on a route the player says whether it is to have its normal financial effect or whether it reduces by one the number of cards needed to travel the route. A nice idea this and one that we shall certainly use. I had already decided that these counters were under-used in the game mechanics, and this is a clever and logical solution.
TIME AGENT: We have only played this once as yet, which makes it too early for a considered judgement, but I am impressed so far. The one drawback is the length of the game. 3-6 hours it says on the box, and it is an estimate I believe. It is also too elastic to be satisfactory. When we sit down for an evening game, we don't much care who wins but we feel cheated if nobody does. We are also not prepared to be still slogging away at two o'clock. So, as a means of bringing the game length under control we added a rule to the effect that after three hours play a galactic deity, irritated by the constant re-writing of history, steps in and pulls the plug on the primary invention of time travel. This can not then be reconnected, leaving the game to be decided by the struggle round the much more fragile secondary sources.
TYRANNO EX: I have mentioned this before, but the welcome relaunch of the game by Avalon Hill makes it topical again. If you do not like memory games, adopt the rule which says that once markers have been turned face up they stay face up. This takes out the strain while leaving the strategy.
SILVERTON: It has taken several games for me to enjoy this as much in the event as in the anticipation. The change has been the result of some suggestions of Eamon Bloomfield which trade some of the chrome for faster development and more simultaneous play. Abandon the bank and give each player a planning sheet on which they record their accounts. Abandon the difference between surveyors and prospectors and ignore the +1 and +2 ratings. Instead, each player has three surveyor/prospectors. In each surveying round there are then three phases. In each phase each player, in turn order, places one of the three markers on either a section of track or on a claim. Over the three phases each player may go for two sections of track and one claim or for three sections of track. The first of these changes speeds up play and does away with the problem of the harassed banker; the second speeds up track development and brings more of the board into play. We then took the process a little further by ruling that die rolls for price changes in a market were not made until the market had been activated by its first sale. This obviously saves time and also avoids the early inflation of the price of gold and silver that otherwise occurs. With these changes we played a full 24 turn game for four players in a little over three hours. Next time we are going to do away with the market limits as limits and instead treat them as levels of demand. So you can sell as much as you like at a market, but each unit over the demand level increases the die roll by one. We are also going to make the price change die rolls before players collect their income, so the effects of too much supply take place immediately, rather on the next turn. Finally, I am going to suggest that we cap the production of the gold and silver mines. At present, if one of these bucks the odds and goes on and on producing, it can decide the game. So my proposal will be for a maximum of 5 turns production for such mines. This is artificial, but if it produces a more enjoyable game, who cares?
Finally, if you like variants and have some of your own that you think would be of interest, write to me at email@example.com. Provided Mike approves, I'll pass them on next time.
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