Some games give an advantage to the start player. That player gets the best goods, stakes out the best position, wins far too often because of the advantage of opportunity. Some others give an advantage to the last player. That player gets the best view of the table, can make the perfect bid without fear of being outbid or of overpaying, again winning far too often because of her position in the turn order.
Many game designs carry in them player order advantages such as these. Fortunately, we have tools to detect them and tools to redress them.
Part 1 of this series looked at detection and two potential solutions to a player order advantage; starting bonuses and changing start player. This led to a flurry of fantastic comments which will be discussed in part 3 of this series. Today’s, column focuses on changing player order, tie breaking and differing goals.
Solution 3: Changing Player Order
Last column looked at changing start player from one round to the next as a method of addressing player order advantages. Some games completely reassess player order each round. This approach has the advantage of being completely responsive to each player’s position but does run the risk of being fiddly. The best uses of this are either transparent and quick or integral to the rest of game play.
Many modern racing games take the transparent and quick approach. Each car on the race track acts in race position order from front to rear. Once every car has moved, a new round immediately begins, this time in their new position order.
Struggle of Empires took the approach the approach of being integral to play. Establishing turn order in Struggle of Empires is sometimes the longest part of a given game round but it is essential to the rest of play. Turn order is set by auction in which players not only assign order but also alliances. Since allied players cannot attack one another, a player in a poor position can adjust turn order and earn a cease fire by positioning himself into an alliance with a pugilistic rival both at the same time.
Solution 4: Tie Breaking
Sometimes, the solution to player order advantage can be found in tie breaking. This is particularly handy in area-control games and racing games. An end player advantage is mitigated by breaking all ties in favor of the start player. A start player advantage is mitigated by breaking all ties in favor of the end player.
Terry Goodchild’s Formel Fun is a racing game that employs this approach dynamically. If two cars are equally far ahead, the one in the inner lane goes before the one in the outer. To make this completely clear, the game rules direct players to always place their cards into the innermost available space when they move.
Solution 5: Differing Goals
A great way to eliminate turn order issues is to give different objectives to each position.
Each player’s culture sets turn order and differing objectives in the Avalon Hill classic Civilization. In particular, Africa is first in turn order but has the most difficult road on the Archaeological Succession Table (AST) shown above. Egypt is last but has the easiest road on the AST. Civilization also gave each position at the table a different starting position on the map and through those positions, different options.
Fantasy Flight’s game Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game gave each player different options in much the same way that the computer game does–through special powers. The Romans advance on the culture track each time they build a wonder, build a city, conquer a village, or conquer a city. The Americans by contrast convert trade into production at an accelerated rate. Each of these abilities will push their player toward different foci and thereby tend to mitigate the importance of turn order.
Chaos in the Old World achieved differing goals through a variety of methods. Most prominently, each faction gets a unique progress dial. Since each dial awards different bonuses as it progresses, player strategies must differ appropriately.
Changing player order, tie breaking, and differing goals are three of my favorite techniques for mitigating a player order advantage in my designs. Put these, long with starting bonuses and changing start player, into your game design toolbox. They will empower you to address any player order advantages that appear in your designs.
Next column we examine the suggestions and examples you wonderful readers have contributed to this series. Let us know how you track player order advantages and what techniques you use to mitigate them. Please post them so we may share them with your fellow gamers.
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