Hi, I’m Kory Heath. Welcome to my new blog!
I have a few year’s worth of pent-up thoughts to share about video game and board game design. Here they come.
I’m searching for Zendo rules on your page, but didn’t find it. Can you help me?
Oops! Yeah, I tore down all my old web pages to set up this new blog, so now I need to reproduce them all in wordpress. Hopefully I’ll have the Zendo pages back up soon, but in the meantime, you can find the game’s rules at the Zendo wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zendo_%28game%29
Hey Kory! I was just thinking about Gnostica and thought I’d drop you a line (and why not do it here in public). Have you played it recently? What is your current thinking about the best endgame rules? I know you guys had been tinkering with various ideas, but I don’t know if you ever settled on anything better than the published rules.
Ah, the endgame of Gnostica. That that’s been a thorn in our sides for years. I don’t think we’ve ever come up with a rule that’s better than the currently published rule, but I’d like to, because I think the current rule isn’t great. I haven’t played in a couple of years, but my recollection is that it’s a bit prone to stagnation, as it’s hard to feel confident enough in your position to want to challenge. Also, the elimination aspect of the current rules is a little unappealing. I like the rule that when a player challenges, you play out one more round, and then the game ends. If the challenger manages to hold a winning score, that player wins. Otherwise, all the other players win as a group. That removes the elimination element, but doesn’t solve the stagnation problem. Also, a lot of people don’t like how often this game ends in a group win.
It’s really hard to come up with a good win condition for Gnostica, because players have so much direct effect on each other’s positions, especially when they gang up on each other. So it seems that, whatever the win condition is, players will always work together to make sure no individual gets near it. Therefore, lots of our ideas have revolved around turning the game effectively into a two-team battle in the end-game. Alternatively, I like the idea of coming up with a more driving scoring mechanism, possibly involving collecting cards into scoring piles in front of you, or building undestroyable towers on cards that count as points, etc. – some way of making it so that there’s a more inexorable drive towards higher and higher scores, guaranteeing that someone will eventually win no matter how much everyone else gangs up. But I’ve never come up with anything that actually works.
I’ll let the MD crew know about this thread, and maybe they can chime in with their current thoughts. According to my email archives, the last time I had an email conversation with them about it was a year and a half ago.
The problem with simply having an increasing score is that everyone will jump on you if you get ahead, and let others catch up. We’ve played to a score before, and even if the score cannot be lost, the capacity to increase one’s score can be.
I believe it needs to come to a two-team game, and my favorite way to do that now is one I haven’t tried. When you challenge, the opponents vote on which other player will be your partner. You then play one more turn, and you and your new partner win if you have more combined points than the remaining opponents, otherwise the opponents win. This means the winning player is allied with the losing player, which keeps the game a little more balanced and gives hope to the player who falls behind early. It also works with four or five players.
With three players, the challenger just needs more points than either opponent, but as before everyone gets just one more turn.
In your suggestion, when is a player allowed to challenge? Anytime after the first shuffle? Anytime he or she has X points?
I see your point about the problems with inexorably increasing scores, but my worry is that these problems afflict all endgame suggestions, even your current favorite. Let’s say the rule is that anytime after the first shuffle you can challenge on your turn, and you get teamed up with whomever the other players stick you with. At that point, everyone will be vigilantly keeping an eye on each other and working together to make sure no individual player gets far enough ahead to safely challenge. Won’t this be just as problematic as it is in a system in which people slowly but surely gain points that can’t be stolen from them?
I’m also interested in your old suggestion that, after the deck has been shuffled, the first player to hold at least three points more than his or her left-hand neighbor (or maybe the right-hand neighbor) wins. I can think of plenty of reasons why this may not work, but I don’t think we ever tried it. We could also try weird stuff like, if at the end of your turn you and your left-hand neighbor have X points between the two of you, you win as a team.
Jake’s recommendation about turning the end game into a team vs team game seems a bit forced to me. One thing I liked about Zarcana was that there was more emergent “players vs the challenger” behavior. I think the reason Zarcana’s end game worked OK was that the lucky swings were greater. Some players might not like that. Gnostica’s luck has less effect on the end game, so it’s easier to knock the challenger down. Am I wrong about any of this? It’s been a while.
Ideally, I’d like the game to always have one winner.
One idea, as I recall, was to make the Challenge action cause the other players to give 2 cards each to the challenger, or perhaps for the challenger to take a free draw. Then everybody gets a turn, and the highest score wins. (Also feels like a band-aid.)
My latest (and best!) idea is to keep part of the score secret. After the challenger’s (actually just a player who calls “last round”) last turn, players score territories *and* cards in hand. High score wins. This way scores are less certain, and it provides neat decisions about whether to play or hold big cards.
Scoring hands as well as territories is my favorite suggestion so far. But will it result in unsatisfying wins? Maybe people will often use their last turn just to discard all 1-pointers and draw. Or in general it may just feel like it comes down to whomever has the best hand, which no one can really predict. But maybe not. This is the suggestion I’d try first.
If any player is allowed to call “last round” after the deck has been shuffled once, the player who is obviously losing can call “last round” just to get things over with. We’ve solved this problem in the past by saying you need X points to call last round, or you must have the highest score on the board, etc. But those feel like band-aids. Maybe we should just let this problem stand?
I feel like we’ve done other work on Gnostica that’s gotten lost in the mists of time. For instance, the current written rules state that you only score for a territory if you solely occupy it. We once tried the rule that you score for every territory you have a piece on, even if there are opponent’s pieces on it, and my recollection is that we preferred it. It certainly helped the stagnation problem in the end game, because it made it harder for people to steal points from you (and therefore easier to challenge or call “last round”).
I feel like we made at least one other change that we liked, but I can’t remember what it was. Something to do with wands, or the population limits? Damn, I used to remember everything. Not any more…
A small meta-suggestion: rather than have the end-game trigger be something related to VPs, or to explicit player declarations, maybe have a separate timer, e.g. N times through the deck, or N rounds, or some separate timer track that is advanced through some other means?
(I would have emailed you privately, but I couldn’t find a contact link anywhere, so I’m leaving a comment here; I hope that’s OK.) I noticed that your Zendo page has a link to my Zendomizer applet. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve moved my web site, and the link you currently have will soon stop working. The new location for the Zendomizer is http://www.doodpants.org/karlvonl/Zendomizer.html . Thanks!
Thanks, Karl, I’ve updated the Zendo page!
> I believe it needs to come to a two-team game,
> and my favorite way to do that now is one I
> haven’t tried. When you challenge, the opponents
> vote on which other player will be your partner.
> If any player is allowed to call “last round” after the
> deck has been shuffled once, the player who is
> obviously losing can call “last round” just to get
> things over with.
Is this in conjunction with the rule Jacob mentioned? If so, the person in last still has a shot at winning by A) hoping the strongest player will call last round and B) being strong enough to help win. I think that’s sufficient motivation to not just get things over with. If the last place person DID call last round, the odds of him plus the third place player winning are pretty slim indeed.
On the other hand, this provides some motivation to try to be in last place when it looks like someone else might call last round, dependin on the perceived relative strengths of the other players. e.g. Let’s say the scores are currently something like 20, 10, 7, 6. If I’m the player with 7, I’d might try to lose 2 points, so that I get paired with the leader. our 20+5=25 will have a pretty good shoat at beating their 10+6=16. If I didn’t try that trick, the the 10+7=17 for my team would lose to the 20+6=26 of the other team. I don’t like the idea of trying to be in last place just to get on the winning team.
@Ryan: I was thinking mostly of John’s suggestion, where someone calls last round, and after playing one more round, the player with the most points (territories and hand cards combined) wins. In such a game, you’ll sometimes be pretty sure that you’re not going to win, and in that circumstance some players would call last round and throw the game rather than slog through another 20 minutes of play.
I do think this would happen sometimes in Jake’s suggestion as well. In your hypothetical scenario, the player with 10 points is actually the worst off, and will almost definitely lose. The player with 20 points will probably go ahead and challenge here, but if for some reason that player was holding off, the player with 10 points might call it to “take a shot”, which really just amounts to “getting things over with”.
I think the original suggestion, where either the challenger wins or everyone else wins as a team, avoids these problems. But it comes at the cost of watering down what counts as a “win”.
In general, I would prefer just to axe the idea of having the game end by someone challenging or calling last round. I like John’s suggestion of scoring your hand cards as well as your territories, but would like to come up with some other way to end the game. Maybe we should re-consider the old idea of shuffling a “last round” card into the deck after you’ve played through the deck once. We used to worry that people will cheat by not revealing it when they draw it, but maybe this is a silly concern, since it would require some slight-of-hand to make that cheating pay off.
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