Thursday, March 27, 2008

Die Marathon - The War and Peace of Euros Continued (Die Macher)

Chapter I: Wherein Anna Pavlovna Greets Vasili Kuragin

"Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes. But I warn you, if you don't tell me that this means war, if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by that Antichrist- I really believe he is Antichrist- I will have nothing more to do with you and you are no longer my friend, no longer my 'faithful slave,' as you call yourself! But how do you do? I see I have frightened you- sit down and tell me all the news."

It was in July, 1805, and the speaker was the well-known Anna Pavlovna Scherer, maid of honor and favorite of the Empress Marya Fedorovna. With these words she greeted Prince Vasili Kuragin, a man of high rank and importance, who was the first to arrive at her reception. Anna Pavlovna had had a cough for some days. She was, as she said, suffering from la grippe; grippe being then a new word in St. Petersburg, used only by the elite.

*cough cough*

Sorry, wrong tome.

Die Macher. Aside from the 18xx games, there is no other Euro that I know of (remember, I state emphatically Euro) which takes as long or as much brainpower as this monster. What do I think of it? It's long. It's involved. It's actually pretty engaging - you generally don't have your attention wander. But it is long.

That said, there is a lot of elegance to many mechanics, especially with regard to play balance and scoring. On the other hand, the Valley Games edition suffers from a number of iconic and graphic issues - to borrow a term from computing, the user interface is sometimes quite poor.

For example, two major issue icons (Nuclear Power and Economic Development) are very similar at first glance, and a third, the Global War on Terrorism, can appear similar when viewed from across a table. The coalition icon is somewhat vague, the State chits and State cards might have been consolidated better as a single item, and so on.

I could go on but it's late and there are better things to try to document.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Going First
Since bidding for first player is a distinct phase and can cost one a lot of money, I thought it best to try to remember why you would want to go first rather than last.

If you go first: You can place media markers first. This could score you the critical plurality in a State.

If you go last: You can often pick up opinion polls in upcoming states for cheap. You can see what your opponents do in terms of altering their party platform and placing party meetings. You also win ties if you get 50 votes if two or more players score 50.

Generally, unless you really, really want media dominance, you want to go last.

Don't Fall Behind in Party Membership
Party membership both gains you income and scores points at the end of the game. Do not fall behind. In both games we've played, I've lost by a fair margin, to a great degree due to not keeping up with national opinion . Party membership = important.

Key Issues (Issue Coincidence Doubling)
These are only removed by the use of the shadow cabinet. Do not try to think otherwise. I think this game this ability was used much more often than in previous games. Also, do not place Key Issue markers on a card more than a turn in advance, where they can be removed easily. I made that error, placing a key issue on a state effectively two turns in advance, the final result of which was that it was not only turned into a standard issue, but removed entirely by the time we got around to scoring it. Do not do that again!

Typical Starting Player Bid
This game, the typical winning bid for starting player was between 3,000 and 5,000 Euros. I have no idea whether this is typical or not. The highest bid, which was something like 11,000 over the next competing bid, was my bid of $18,000. It did end up netting me a 48 seat state and the resultant media marker placement, so that probably got me a lot of points.

General Game Design Note
Try not to have more than seven phases in a turn. Die Macher has 10, with several of those steps effectively having between one and three sub-steps. Yes, politics is a complex subject, but the sheer number of steps in the game cause it to seem more complex than it is. This game design might have been edited more rigorously to condense and amalgamate some of these steps, perhaps.

Opinion Polls
Poll bidding ranged from an average of 5-10,000 euros in the earlier rounds up to 20,000 in the mid-game and all the way up to 48,000 and 69,000 in the endgame. As a humorous side-note, the 48k bid was useless for the bidder (Me) and netted a one point (!) party membership increase. This exorbitant expenditure was only exceeded by Ouch's bid of 69k which resulted in a 0 point membership increase.

First Round Bidding
One of my many errors in play this time around was overbidding for pretty much everything on the first state. Although it was a high seat state (42, I think?) I bid too much on first player, I bid too much on opinion polls and a few other aspects which escape me at this hour. When you don't know what the national issues will be, it's just not worth it.

Chapter II: Wherein Kozure Questions His Own Deep Strategy Skills

Playing this game again has reminded me that I tend to do poorly at games which require deep strategy and branching path computational skills. Tigris and Euphates, El Grande, Chess, Taj Mahal, Maharaja and a number of others fall into this category. These games also happen to be ones I tend to not like much. Notable exceptions are Tikal (which I tend to do fairly well with) and Power Grid (which I usually score in the middle to high end, but not win), so I'm not sure what distinguishes the play of these games from the others.

All in all, though, I am just poor at strategy. This weakness extends to strategic-level wargames as well, so it's not a Euro thing - it's strategy in general.

This confuses me somewhat, as I don't do badly at tactical wargames, and there are many Euros which I'm pretty good at. I have noticed a definite trend in that I do well at games which are introduced for the first time and then slip in the scores with additional plays as the other players become familiar with the game. It seems that my own particular dash for gaming is dealing with the unexpected or the unfamiliar. Most of the time.

Anyhow - at some point in the future I'll have to try to piece together what it is about these specific games which make me a poor opponent vs. other games where I hold my own. It'll probably give me some insight into my own personality.

For the moment, though, I'll just buck up and adopt a fatalistically optimistic approach to deep strategy games - yeah, I may have a poor track record, but this time, I'll do better.

Attitude is everything, right?

(But good opinion polls don't hurt, either)


  1. Funny that you mention the attitude thing, because as I recall the last time you said that YOU WON AT EL GRANDE.

    Seriously, though, I find your self analysis interesting. Let me hazard a guess at the difference between the two sets of games: You look for narrative logic in your games and do well when the mechanic and goals jive closely with that. Just a guess.

    Die Macher has so much going on, and so many intertwined mechanics, that it goes beyond my threshold for complexity in some ways. With so many phases, and so many tight resources, I'm not sure how it would be possible to really set yourself up through skill. For example, regarding the issues in a particular election: There is the initial deal, which is only partially revealed over time. There is the shadow cabinet which can cause a change, the leader in votes, the leader in media and the opinion polls. That's five things that could cause public opinion to change EACH ROUND, and each region goes through 4 of these before we get to it. In contrast, players only get to change one card per turn. I haven't even started talking about the national opinions!

    I guess what I'm saying is that I disagree with the people who say there is too much randomness in the opinion polls in a game of this length. I disagree, because it seems to me that there is an almost endless supply of randomness in the game... those opinion polls aren't any different! I'm not saying I don't like the game. I do. But there is fully 1/2 of every phase (affecting the region 3-4 rounds away) that I just can't possibly know what the impact of my decision will be.

    I think that most games of Die Macher in our group will be won by the player who was helped the most often by other player's decisions and/ or who was lucky with important card draws or die rolls. It's a very interesting and engaging ride getting there, and there are a number of concrete things you can do to help your position so it's far from being completely random (media cubes and party membership are the easiest parts of the game to wrap your head around, and are also the most predictable source of points). I guess I'm curious if a really great player would destroy us, or be equally swept away playing against others who don't quite get it (us).

    I doubt I'll ever know the true importance of placing 4 cubes in a region which will scored in 3 rounds, for example.

  2. Anonymous11:39 AM

    I agree that there are other randomizing elements in the game beyond just the polls, but I don't think it's quite as random as you're making it out to be. Yes, there are many ways that the public opinion in a state can change before you score it, but only two of them are random (the uncovering of face-down cards, and the polls). The rest occur as a result of other players, and since you can see their party policies, you can guess what they may try to do to the public opinion in a particular state.

    I used that a few times in the game where I knew I was doing poorly in a particular state, but filled up meeting markers nonetheless because I knew someone else would change one or more of the public opinions in my favour. Granted, because of all the possible ways that other players can manipulate the board, it is difficult to predict what the final outcome might be, but I don't think it's due to randomness, I think it's more due to an overwhelming complexity.

    That's my biggest struggle with this game - the complexity and plethora of strategic options. I was using all my brain power, but still felt like I was only scratching the surface of what's possible in terms of strategy, I was largely playing by the seat of my pants. However, that's also one of the reasons why I like the game and want to play it again. I assume that with each new play I will become more familiar with certain mechanics and strategies, and can focus my efforts on deeper levels of strategy.

    For me, a large part of the enjoyment of games is in learning the various strategies and how to manipulate them. Once I've explored and mastered all of the possible strategies, there's much less enjoyment for me. Admittedly, mastering a game doesn't happen very often for me, but a game like Die Macher is intriguing to me because it seems almost impossible to really master.

    I like a good challenge.


  3. brian,

    I fully agree with you, and I think I share a similar point of view regarding why I enjoy certain games. I love a good intellectual challenge, and my very favorite games are the ones that force me to consider many things at once. I don't feel that die macher has a Lot of "luck" randomness. I guess randomness isn't the right word at all. I guess I was equating lack of control with randomness in this case. I was trying to say that there are so many variables compared to the opportunities for intervention that the effect is impossible to predict (particularly, as I was saying, inthe regions that are still 2 or 3 elections away). I DO think it's possible to get better at the game, in the sense that certain actions have different importance at different times and I can't figure that out yet. Experience will surely cut down on the wasted actions and overbidding on unimportant items (or, conversely, appreciating aspects of the game we. Currently underevaluate). Even then, though, I bet the chaos factor will be high.

    It's funny, because I had a very similar reaction to shogun. Obviously, that one is simpler, but it shares the relatively high chaos factor caused by a combination of few opportunities to act compared to the high number of things that can happen to you, and the high impact of those changes to your chances in the game.

    I still enjoy playing both, but those are the characteristics which keep them from being favorite like taj mahal or el grande.

    Or jungle speed.