Larry Levy: Overview and First Impressions of Bora Bora

Interest in Stefan Feld games continues to run at an all-time high.  If anything, the fact that he released no titles last year only served to ramp up the anticipation for 2013, when he will produce four major designs.  First on the docket is Bora Bora, from Alea.  Its appearance means that the last six big box Alea games have all been designed by Feld and just about all of them were big successes.  Will the trend continue with this visit to the idyllic South Sea islands?  I’ll attempt to answer that with my First Impressions of the game, which I got to play last Saturday.  Before I go into that, let me give you an overview of the game, because details of the design are only starting to trickle into the English-speaking gaming world.

Overview

Bora Bora is kind of a worker placement game, except that the “workers” are actually dice and their abilities change every time you roll them.  So make your own call if this qualifies as WP.  It also has a geographic expansion element, some engine-building, a little resource gathering, and lots of other stuff.  In other words, it’s typical Stefan Feld, with lots of disparate design elements tied together with a central dice mechanic.  You already probably know if you like that sort of thing or not, but let me give you a few specifics to further clarify the gameplay.

The central board shows the five islands of Bora Bora, which are divided into 12 regions.  The players will try to occupy each region by placing one of their huts there.  Each region is made up of one of four terrains and each terrain produces either one of three resources or an offering to the native gods.  The land and sea connections between adjacent regions are labelled with a die face from 1 to 6.  The higher the die face, the more difficult it is to use that path to expand to the region.  The players each begin the game with a hut in one of the regions.

The game consists of six rounds and each round is composed of three phases.  At the beginning of the first phase of each round, all of the players roll the three normal d6 of their color openly.  Then, in turn order, they place one die at a time on one of seven actions.  The value of the die that is placed determines its power, with higher numbers being able to accomplish more.  However, in order to place a die, its value must be less than any other die that was previously placed at that action.  Thus, under the proper circumstances, low numbers can be more useful than high ones, not only because they’re easier to place, but because they limit the options of the opponents who follow you.

Here’s a brief description of the types of actions the players can place their dice on:

Expansion:  When you expand, you place a hut in a region adjacent to one you already occupy.  There are two Expand actions, one for expanding over land connections and one for expanding over sea connections.  The die you place must be at least as high as the value on the connection you use.  When you expand, you get the resource or offering associated with the terrain in the new region.

Add Tile:  These actions allow you to add a tile to your game board that will give you additional abilities.  There are two types of tiles:  Men tiles and Women tiles.  At the beginning of each round, six tiles of each type are laid out, on spaces numbered 1 through 6.  There are two actions here, one for Men tiles and one for Women tiles.  For each of these, the die placed must be at least as high as the number opposite the tile you take.  The locations where the tiles are added on your board begin the game occupied by your huts.  These huts need to be moved (for example, by expanding to a region) in order to make room for additional tiles.

Helper Action:  This action lets you do a variety of things.  You get points equal to the value of the die placed here.  Each thing costs you 1 or 2 points and you spend them however you wish.  The list of things you can do includes advancing on the Turn Order track, acquiring shells, buying VPs, drawing God cards, taking offerings, taking resources, and moving your huts to make room for tiles.

Place a Priest:  The player can place one of their Priest pieces in the temple on the game board.  There are six spaces in the temple, naturally numbered from 1 to 6.  The value of the die indicates which space you place your priest at.  If the space is occupied, the priests are moved to the next lower number, which can force a priest off the 1 space.  Each priest in the temple at the end of the round scores VPs.

Construct a Building:  Each player begins with six building tiles, numbered (surprise!) 1 to 6.  It takes two resources to construct each building (it’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the short version).  You can construct any building that has a number equal to or lower than your die value.  Buildings give you VPs, with the reward being higher the earlier you build them.

Finally, you can just turn in a die for 2 VPs, rather than place it at an action.  But that’s usually considered a disappointing result, and besides, it’s Bora Boring.

Once everyone has placed all three of their dice, the second phase of the round begins.  In turn order, each player can do one Man action and one Woman action, using the Man and Woman tiles on their game boards.  Each tile has an ability that mimics one of the things that can be done during first phase.  For example, a tile might let you expand to an adjacent region via a water connection just as if you had placed a die numbered 2 there.  If you have two or three tiles of the same type, you can combine them into one action.  For example, if you had two of the tiles I just mentioned, it would act as a Water Expansion action with a die face of 4.  This is the engine-building part of the game and the tiles you acquire definitely shape your strategy.

Finally, in the third phase, some areas of the board are resolved.  Based on advancements on the Turn Order track, a new turn order is established (and players earn VPs based on how far they advanced).  The temple is scored and the player with most priests there earns a God Tile.  Each player can buy one piece of jewelry–there are four pieces available each round, which costs shells, and they award the player VPs at the end of the game.  Finally, and most important, each player can accomplish one task.  The players begin the game with 3 tasks and draft a new one each round.  Tasks are based on things you’ve done or acquired at that time; for example, one task might be to have any four Woman tiles on your board.  Each accomplished task gives you 6 VPs; if you cannot accomplish any of your three tasks at this time, you have to discard one to make room for the new one you draft.  Again, the tasks you choose affect a lot of the actions you do throughout the game.

I’ve mentioned God cards and tiles a number of times, so let me talk about them now.  There is a deck of God cards (consisting of five different types of gods) and they each allow you to change the rules of the game.  For example, one lets you place a die on an action even if it’s higher than another die there, while another lets you count the die you just placed as a 6, regardless of its actual value.  In order to play a God card, you also have to play an offering.  God tiles are even more powerful:  they can be played as any of the five God cards and don’t require an offering.

After six rounds, the players tally up their end-of-game points.  The last player to add a hut in each region scores some points for it.  In addition, each player will have three tasks on their board and they all score any of them they can achieve.  Finally, there are some bonus achievements that will give the players who reach them 6 VPs apiece.  They are all completist kinds of achievements, such as constructing all 6 buildings or placing huts in all 12 regions.  Once these are scored, the game is over and the most VPs wins.

First Impressions

As the preceding explanation probably made clear, Bora Bora is unquestionably a Feld game.  The clever dice mechanic, the varied subsystems, the points salad–it definitely fits the mold.  But there are some surprises, too.  For one thing, it isn’t as unforgiving as we might expect from Herr Stefan.  Sure, an opponent might keep you from getting something done with a dice action, but you still might be able to accomplish it with one of your men or women tiles.  And if all else fails, a God card can get you out of a lot of scrapes.  That’s neither good nor bad, but it may not be what you expected.

And then you play the thing and you realize:  this is a hard game to accomplish things after all.  I mean, even if you manage to acquire a man and a woman tile on the first turn, you still only have 30 actions overall (18 dice actions, 12 tile actions).  Many of the dice actions are kind of wimpy, since a grinning opponent made sure to place a low die face on the action before you could slap your 6 on it.  The tile actions can be kind of anemic as well, which is why drafting identical tiles is such a good idea.  Without the “forgiveness” of the tiles and God cards, this game would be impossible; as it stands, it’s just difficult.

And it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to you that I think that Feld and Alea got it right (again!).  It’s tough to get things done, but not so hard as to be frustrating.  Instead, it’s a very enjoyable and engrossing challenge and very satisfying when you pull off a nice move.  I fully expect that fans of the designer will not be disappointed and that Alea will be able to chalk up another game in the “win” column.

Three aspects of the design stand out for me.  The dice mechanic is clever and elegant and works quite well.  It also does a good job of smoothing out the luck in the dice rolling (I rolled 1-2-2 on the first turn and even though my options were somewhat limited, I didn’t feel as if I lost much ground to the opponents who got much higher rolls).

The second thing is the man and woman tiles.  This gives a very enjoyable engine-building aspect to the game, which I like even more because it doesn’t dominate, but merely gives a slant to each player’s strategy.  Originally, I was a little disappointed that the tile actions weren’t more interesting, but just emulated the dice actions.  But now I think that was exactly the right approach, as they let you enhance your dice actions, or substitute for the ones you couldn’t get done in the first phase.  Having the actions be limited was also a good design decision, since it gives you strong incentive to match up tiles and doesn’t take away from the power of the dice actions.

Finally, I really like the way the God cards work.  They’re all pretty powerful and they’re not that hard to get into play.  But they add a lot of dynamic action to the game and keep the die placing rules from being too onerous.  They also add another collectable element to the design, since without the capacity for invoking the gods, you can be at the mercy of the dice and your opponents.

One thing I was a little bit disappointed in was that defensive play wasn’t more rampant.  Oh, there are many ways of screwing your opponents and we employed quite a few of them.  Players would sometimes begin with their lowest die, to limit the future placements of the other players.  But much of this seemed obvious; it was rare that a play like this led to coarse invective or complimentary nods of appreciation.  I’m not sure it’s a major thing and we very well may get nastier with more experience.  But given how much public information there is, I thought the screwage level might be a little higher or that the decisions to employ it be a little tougher.

One thing I was concerned about was the luck level of the game, and not just from the dice.  There’s also the way that the men and women tiles come out each turn, as well as the task tiles.  And there’s no question that some rolls are better than others (something like 6-4-1 is just about ideal under any circumstances).  But the game didn’t feel dominated by luck at all.  Much like Feld’s earlier Castles of Burgundy, you roll your dice and make the best of it.  Unlike that game, there’s only six separate rolls, so I guess consistently poor rolling could really be brutal.  But the God cards can help you with much of that.  More to the point, there’s so much to do that any luck from dice rolling or reveals of the tiles just didn’t seem to come into play.  We were all too busy absorbing the new data and planning out the next turn’s strategies to particularly notice.

The tasks are another nice aspect of the design and give you a bunch of immediate goals.  The trick, of course, is to select your tasks so that they all fit into your overall strategy.  The 6-point end-game bonuses are part of that as well, and they aid the game in another way.  They’re all tough to do, but every player should be able to accomplish at least one.  This gives even a struggling player a nice feeling of accomplishment right at the end.  I finished last in our four-player game (although I didn’t think my score of 120 was too dire), but I did manage to place all my huts on the board and that definitely made me feel better about my performance.

Let me briefly address the components of the game.  A lot of people gave Alea a hard time for what they viewed as “cheap” components in their last Feld game, Castles of Burgundy.  I personally thought the complaints were overblown, but many of the game’s fans felt otherwise.  Anyway, no one should have any similar concerns about Bora.  The tiles are nice and thick and the player boards made of stiff, sturdy cardboard.  Alea’s head honcho Stefan Brück was obviously listening to the complaints about Burgundy and it’s nice to see that he stepped up to the plate and dealt with them this time around.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first play of Bora Bora.  Our game took a little longer than 2.5 hours, but it should come down to about 30 minutes per player now that we know what we’re doing.  If I had to put it into an OG ratings category, it would be “I love it!”.  This is a deep game, so there’s a huge amount still to explore, which is something I look forward to doing.  I also hope to become a little more competitive in my future attempts at it.  So I’d say that 2013 is off to a very nice start with this title and that the first of the Feld Foursome to appear this year gets a big thumbs up from this Feld fan.

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14 Responses to Larry Levy: Overview and First Impressions of Bora Bora

  1. Ben (chally) says:

    So . . . Bora Bora. As of this morning, I have played Stefan Feld’s newest offering three times – once with two players and twice with four. For those readers who know of my passionate disagreement with Feld’s design philosophy, the fact that any of his games would merit three plays from me speaks volumes to the entertainment value of this title (of course, it may also serve as a warning to the hard core Feld fanbase that this new game can enjoyed by such a mean, confrontational old man).

    As Larry explained, Bora Bora is a dice-placement semi-restrictive worker placement game; the conceit is that players can use spaces previously used, but only by placing lower-numbered dice. Since the strength of each action is directly related to the number on the die placed, the game does a reasonable job of balancing the benefits of rolling high numbers (stronger actions) against the benefits of rolling low (broader choices of actions). The game also provides “God” cards that allow players to break the dice-placement rules, but since you must spend actions obtaining those cards, you need to use them judiciously. Unlike Larry, I am not inclined to view this mechanic as novel or innovative. While the particular implementation is unfamiliar, it is at best an evolutionary step forward from dice placement games like Alien Frontiers. On the plus side, the game spreads its numerous decision points across the action selection/action performance divide (meaning that my decision to take any given action with my dice-placement then leads to more decisions in how I want to carry out the particular action I have chosen). For me, that is important, as meaningful action performance decisions add a sense of significance to the substance of the game and allow me to invest emotionally into its outcome. Some Feld designs – Trajan for example – overemphasized the process of selecting particular actions and left the actual performance of those actions relatively bereft of choices.

    The lack of innovation in the core mechanic isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since it permits players to dive into the substance of the game faster than the restrictive and unfamiliar elements in games like Trajan or Macao. As it typical of Feld’s designs, that substance is overloaded with systems and subsystems, awash in options, and hyper-balanced. There are just shy of a million things you can potentially do during the game and each of them is beneficial. For example, there are six or so worker-placement spots where you can place a die. A few of them allow you to select from a pool of tiles. A few more allow you to spread your influence on a map in one of several directions. One space allows you to spend your dice pips on the purchase of something like nine different items, while another space earns you points, maybe a tile, and one bonus from column A plus one bonus from column B. You get the drift.

    One source of my disagreement with Feld’s designs is the excessive use of granular and contingent points scoring. In other corners of the interwebz, I have regularly advocated for games to provide clearer feedback to players through points allocations. Ideally, good play would produce points, average play would not, and bad play would lose points. In most of Feld’s games, I find it too easy to get complacent with suboptimal moves, since even bad choices result in the game effectively shouting, “Good job! Here, take another handful of points.” While those who enjoy and excel at Feldian designs can rightly make the point that part of the game’s skill comes in puzzling out the difference between “a handful of points” and “the biggest handful of points,” I generally prefer games with clearer (and fewer) objectives, such that the focus is on the interplayer fight to achieve them.

    To its credit, Bora Bora surmounts this hurdle by employing short-horizon “tasks.” Each player begins the game with three random tasks, and at the end of each round must fulfill (or discard) one task before drafting a replacement from a randomly stocked pool. Thus, players are incentivized to work toward some particular (open and notorious) goal every round, even when those goals are at odds with the player’s broader strategy. This mechanic reminded me a bit of Ora et Labora: mandatory use-it-or-lose-it point opportunities at designated intervals that may be unconnected to your larger path toward points. For those like me, the tasks permit both a clear focusing mechanism from round to round while also opening very clear avenues for targeted player aggression (“Oh, so Larry needs to expand twice this round to complete his task? Perhaps I’ll open by placing my one right here.” *big grin*)

    Speaking of “paths,” players in our games were largely undecided whether the Bora Bora incentivizes specialization or diversity. We generally did a little of everything because each action is beneficial in its own right and the actions themselves are sufficiently intertwined that it felt natural to combine them. However, the end game scoring rewards certain significant accomplishments (like building 12 huts in a mere 18 actions) and I suspect that the skill on repeat plays will prove to be in focusing relentlessly on accomplishing several of those tasks in conjunction without forsaking too many other tactical scoring opportunities.

    As Larry elucidated, the heart of the game, such as it is, is the management of one’s huts (which occupy a shared, central board) and the accumulation of men and women (which provide certain resources and actions). You need to place huts on the board to make space for the men and women you acquire. You need to acquire men and women early to maximize your benefit from their free actions. But you’d like to be the last person to place a hut in each region in order to score points. So, like with everything in the game, you need to juggle cross-cutting incentives in order to score a few more points than you might have otherwise. As you can tell from my description, it is not exactly a novel idea, but it done “well enough” here to give the game some legs.

    As is also typical of Feld’s designs, the thematic integration is blatantly terrible. At times, it goes beyond ambivalence, as if the man goes out of his way to mock the very concept of theme. (As an example, the game comes with “fish” tiles and a “fishing” action space; but one has nothing to do with the other. As another example, when players collect resources, they must place them in specific spots on a ceremonial grid and can only build buildings when two resources are orthogonally adjacent on the grid.). This is usually a significant hurdle for me in themed games. My stance is that the highest and best use of theme in board games is to draw on players’ understanding of the subject matter in order to make game rules and beneficial strategies more intuitive. Like any Feld game, Bora Bora asks players to look past the theme altogether and memorize the actions and develop strategies by rote. However, compared to some of Feld’s other offerings, which get close enough to thematic to be irksome, the sheer abstraction in most of of Bora Bora’s numerous options allows me to avoid caring too much that the entirety of “building” a “building” consists of taking yet-more points and something called a “fire bonus.”

    Okay, so let’s cut to the chase: where’s the vitriol? Where is the foaming at the mouth, angry, rampaging, clobberin’ time rant we’ve all come to know and love whenever Ben gets within a few hundred yards of a Feld game? Sadly, not here. Yes, Bora Bora is classic Feld, and in that regard I disagree with many of the design choices. In my own mind, at least, this is not what an excellent board game looks like. But that hasn’t stopped Bora Bora from being fun while I play it. And why should it? I watch (and enjoy) many terrible movies (I’ve seen Bring It On more times than I’ve every Best-Picture-Award-winner combined). I watch (and enjoy) reality TV (not exactly high art). And while I typically try to listen to good music or read good books, I can’t deny the catchy vapidity of the latest Taylor Swift ditty (spoiler alert: it’s about a boy). That’s not to imply that Bora Bora is necessarily shallow, but rather to explain that there is no incongruity between my (most shameful) admission that I like the game and my serious objections to the school of design of which it is a part. I would like to believe that I am mature enough to take off my “serious” commentator hat once in a while and just enjoy whatever is going on around the table.

    Between the randomness of the dice rolling, the inadvertent (and advertent) screwage in the dice placement, and the ludicrously bad attempt to slap a theme on a bunch of abstract mechanics (“I’m going to spend two pips to tattoo my man for four Status points because I want to be first player when we buy jewelry”) it’s hard not to just sit back and enjoy Bora Bora for what it is. It is a hodgepodge of familiar tropes: efficiency, synergy, interaction; it is a (perhaps needlessly) complicated amalgamation of heavily interdependent pieces. It is a point salad, to be sure. Yet it is engrossing and mildly addictive. It is the latest Dan Brown novel in your shopping cart even though you felt a little guilty about staying up all night to read the last one. (And I have no doubt that it will sell more copies and entertain more people than whatever the board game equivalent of a Charles Bukowski anthology is.)

    In terms of enjoyment, I can’t help but like it. And as a consequence, for a moment at least, it is the only Stefan Feld game to have earned a indefinite stay on my gaming shelf. (Of course, the last Stefan Feld game that I managed to overwhelm my design objections with sheer entertainment value was Rum & Pirates. Be warned: I am not a Feld connoisseur.)

  2. I’m surprised at the verbosity. I think 99% of readers would be satisfied with, “Yup, more solid Alea/Feld. Go get ‘er.” Or perhaps I’m lazier and/or less discerning than others.

    Re; Ben’s comment:
    “Ideally, good play would produce points, average play would not, and bad play would lose points. In most of Feld’s games, I find it too easy to get complacent with suboptimal moves, since even bad choices result in the game effectively shouting, “Good job! Here, take another handful of points.” While those who enjoy and excel at Feldian designs can rightly make the point that part of the game’s skill comes in puzzling out the difference between “a handful of points” and “the biggest handful of points,” I generally prefer games with clearer (and fewer) objectives, such that the focus is on the interplayer fight to achieve them.”

    I can see how you wouldn’t like Feld games based on that stated preference. It’s interesting how people can perceive the exact same thing through different lenses. What you call ideal, I call boring. I love the aspect of games not making immediate and clear judgment of good versus bad play, I’d rather the game not tell me so clearly. I like the mystery and wonder of it. And I like to find out that what I thought was a good play is actually not, when confronted with stronger competition.

    As for more vs fewer goals, I do kinda agree with that. Trajan is interesting, and given the above I suspect I like it more than you do. But dang, that’s a lot of scoring events.

  3. Tom Rosen says:

    I’ve played Bora Bora twice, once with four players and once with two players. So far, on the OG rating scale, it falls somewhere around either “Neutral” or “Not for me.” I like several earlier Feld games (Notre Dame, Roma, Year of the Dragon), but lately it’s all a lot of the same athematic point-salad approach that gets tiresome. Following on the heels of Burgundy and Trajan, Bora Bora is more of the same. If you liked Burgundy and Trajan, then run out and get Bora Bora. If you didn’t then steer clear.

    A couple other particular points:

    - I think this is definitely best as a two-player game. That’s where you see the defensive play that Larry laments was missing from his four-player game. Defensive play is generally irrational in a four-player game unless there is a clear leader, but in a two-player game, defensive play is not only easier to calculate, but also makes much more sense to focus on (see, e.g., Hansa). The fishing bonuses and territorial expansion are also more interesting in a two-player game as a game of chicken due to the opposite of a first mover advantage.

    - I disagree with Larry’s initial thoughts on the die rolling. I think that rolling low in Bora Bora is much better than rolling high. If you let me set my dice at 1-1-1 for every round and you roll randomly, I’m fairly confident you will do very poorly. Based on the rules, I was worried that high rolls would be rewarded too much, but after a couple plays, I have the opposite concern, which is that rolling high is often devastating. Yes, there are a few times when you’ll want to place a priest (not sure that’s even what they’re actually called, the theme is so absurdly disconnected) or take a man/woman tile that would benefit from a high number, but for the most part, low is the much better way to go for blocking purposes.

    - I’m generally not a fan of the God cards because they really loosen up the game and make blocking much more difficult. The blue and white God cards in particular (along with the God tiles) make it so anytime you finally execute a nice blocking move, your opponent can circumvent it fairly easily.

    As Curt says, there’s really no need for verbosity here because this is classic, recent Feld. This is essentially Burgundy & Trajan: Part 3.

    • Ben (chally) says:

      My only concern with calling Bora Bora “Burgundy & Trajan: Part 3″ is that it glosses over those elements of the former that makes it palatable to players like me (Trajan was “not for me” and one rules read of Burgundy made me angry enough to never want to attempt the thing).

      The big difference between Trajan and Bora Bora is that Trajan was fundamentally a strategic game with discrete, standalone point sources. The game rewarded taking the same action repeatedly and rarely required taking Action 1 as a predicate to taking Action 2. The primary challenge was in coaxing the mancala to permit you to take the actions you want in the order you want. And if you had that skill, neither puzzling out which actions to take nor actually performing those actions proved to be all that interesting.

      Bora Bora, by contrast, appears to be a much more tactical game with significantly more interdependent actions. I need to move huts to get men and women. I need men and women to get shells and status. I need shells to buy jewelry, and to complete tasks. I need status for turn order advantages to make use of high dice. I need to acquire resources for building, and I need to build to acquire god cards and offerings, which I need to place dice to place more huts to acquire more men and women. Compared to Trajan, Bora Bora has a considerably richer decision space when it comes to considering which actions are worthwhile, and when. But, in contrast to Trajan, your ability to follow through with your intentions is restricted not by your own skill (as with the mancala), but by random die rolls and untargeted player chaos. So it becomes a game of plans and backup plans and tertiary plans and (occasionally) emergency parachutes.

      With each play of Bora Bora, I can see more strategic depth emerging, which speaks well to its replay value. But my fundamental enjoyment of the game comes from the relative absence of strategic depth. In most of these points salad games, I feel like I would be better off spending an hour or so puzzling out my optimal path to victory before the game ever starts. In Bora Bora, that’s a ludicrous notion. With the exception of the inferior two-player game, it’s unlikely for me to make it through a single *round* with my strategy intact, let alone a whole game. And that’s precisely what makes it so entertaining: the constant influx of points no longer feels like a distraction — a string of red herrings to keep you from solving the puzzle too soon — but rather like consolation prizes for when your plans go awry (and they always do).

    • huzonfirst says:

      Tom, the statement that “Bora Bora is essentially Burgundy & Trajan: Part 3″ is useful only to people who don’t care for those kinds of games. For the rest of the gaming world, it’s dangerously inaccurate, since the three games really don’t have much in common.

      • Tom Rosen says:

        You guys seem to have missed the humor in my response. I gave a longer, more detailed response, and then, in referencing Curt’s comment about everyone being too long-winded, I closed with a flippant mention of the game being like a sequel to other recent Feld games.

        Of course it’s not identical to Burgundy and Trajan and of course you can spot differences. But you’re wrong to think that this won’t generally appeal to fans of those games (and generally not appeal to people who didn’t like those games). The simple bottom line is that Bora is clearly designed in the same vein as the last few Feld games and that’s ultimately what people should come away with when thinking about whether it’s for them.

  4. jeffinberlin says:

    I think this review brings up a more interesting, larger topic of whether or not the “point salad” method in game design is the best way to design a game.

    Judging from the comments, some players appreciate the psychological effect of being rewarded at every turn. It reminds me of the improv comedy show “Whose Line is it, Anyway?” where the host would often joke after one of the improv games, “1000 points for everybody!”

    In a strategic boardgame, however, the points DO matter, and being able to judge your performance relative to your opponents’ also matters–especially with low-interaction Eurogames.

    From a game designer’s standpoint, the “point salad” approach is an easy way to balance a game (a priority within the German school of game design) while also providing many different paths to victory. Is there a better way, however?

    Settlers of Catan gave us the very elegant “first player to 10 points wins.” Even Puerto Rico gave us some complex, interweaving systems while still only rewarded victory points for shipping and buildings.

    Since then, game designers have moved away from this “meat and potatoes” approach to “point salad” scoring, and I’m not sure our designs are better for it.

  5. nickbentley1000 says:

    A drawback of the point salad approach is that it’s harder to make games feel distinct from one another. Another is that it adds book-keeping, which discourages flow experiences. Knizia has said he avoids point salads for this reason, and that’s a key reason that Knizia’s games continue to appeal more to me than those of Feld or other point salad practitioners.

    • > A drawback of the point salad approach is that it’s harder to make games feel distinct from one another.
      I’m not so sure. The same logic could be used to say that a drawback of the point-at-the-end approach is that it’s harder to make games feel distinct from one another. Or maybe even the same could be said for games that use points at all, as opposed to some non-points-based victory condition.

      People like what they like. My wife likes romantic comedies, and she has yet to complain that any lack distinction. Similarly, I suspect that people who like point salads will continue to do so, at least until their tastes change. There are plenty of other ways for games to feel distinct within that group. The mancala of Trajan certainly feels different than the dice of Castles of Burgundy, for example.

      > Another is that it adds book-keeping, which discourages flow experiences.
      Yeah, the bookkeeping is a bit tedious for me, as I mentioned with Trajan above. For that reason alone I’m not super excited by point salads, but the ideas Feld puts forward are still generally interesting enough to keep me coming back.

      The other problem I have with point salads is that it becomes a crutch for the lazy to use to determine who’s winning? Vinci is the poster child for this. Which is why Small World is at least slightly better with hidden points. But it brings up up the whole hidden trackable thing, which isn’t a favorite of many people’s either, so pick your poison, I guess. Or limit your games. Or maybe go outside for a walk! :-)

      • huzonfirst says:

        I neither like nor dislike point salad games. I focus much more on their central mechanic. For the Feld games being principally discussed, that would be the Windrose dice mechanism from Macao, the “every die can be used multiple ways” mechanic from Burgundy, the Mancala mechanic from Trajan, and the “you have to play lower dice” mechanism from Bora Bora. If the designer feels that using a points salad approach allows him to best implement these interesting and innovative mechanisms, then I’m all for it. But if he had used a different way of determining the winner, I might have found it just as good.

        • jeffinberlin says:

          “I focus on the central mechanic”

          …as does the designer. But that mechanic is then surrounded by the same-old “scoring from collecting sets and building/positioning” that so many of these games have. And I’ve been just as guilty of jumping on the point-salad bandwagon.

          I do feel like it starts to make the games feel same-y, though, and I think it’s worth trying to break out of that pattern.

          As for the film analogy, I, too, enjoy certain types of genres, but I also tire of formulaic films.

  6. Doug says:

    Wow, what a lot of words. :)

    A two week, four game “veteran” – three 2 player games, and a 4 player game.

    It’s solid, works well, and I like it well enough to dispense with Trajan. I don’t need three Feld games that are essentially the same (a “points salad” with a different mechanic to get the action happening), and Manctrajan does tend to do the head in.

    I’ve concerned that a spate of bad rolling will torpedo you in Bora Bora … but let’s wait until that happens. Gods will help, but they (and the offerings) will quicky dry up.

    I still regard Luna and In The Year of the Dragon as Feld’s best two “heavy” games.

    • Ben (chally) says:

      As someone who has played frequently with 2, what are your thoughts on player count? I’ve now played twice with 2 and twice with 4. While the first two player game was better than expected, the second 2-player game was ridiculously easy (I scored 213 points without much effort or interest). Both my opponent and I decided to never bother with that configuration again.

      By contrast, I love the brutality of the turn order consequences in the 4-player game. It can be punishing (in all the best ways). It also seems like most of the game’s mechanisms are structured for the more frequent interactions in a high-player count game (the temple scoring, the end-game fish scoring, the end-of-round jewelry purchase and task draft)

      • Doug says:

        Two player definitely felt “friendlier”, but more tactical. Four player felt brutal, and would only get more brutal as two players were new to the game. Competition for turn position on the status track was huge – do you tattoo one at a time (managing turn order) or in bulk (for mega points?). Depending on what was your thing (jewels, tasks, etc), you wanted an early nibble at them.

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