I've just reached Expert player status this month with a completed game history of only 30 (including 5 FF!) on BGA (with WAY fewer face-to-face), and I believe my expertise in the game derives primarily from analytical quality rather than repetition quantity/familiarity. Hence, my reflex was to chuckle at this post that I had initially perceived to be someone trolling:
Only when I realized that Patrick was entirely serious did I understand that he approached TM from a chess player's mindset. He represents a purist camp that caused me to avoid playing on Snellman since ever, where there has been a very entrenched feeling of the range of VP one could score from a certain aspect (faction scoring, favors, bonus tiles, round scoring, endgame) using each board. That may also be the case in some matches on BGA, especially for the more serious tourney games I almost exclusively play now, but I love throwing in an underwhelming faction into the mix to make the VP auction (balancing mechanism) do its intended job. I fail to understand how a new/developing player could POSSIBLY auction better than Experts with hundreds/thousands of games under their belt? UNLESS there were more unpredictable elements thrown into the consideration mix that make "meta" much more difficult to abuse by the veterans. I'm writing my analysis below for those of us who appreciate a chance for developing players to come closer to equal footing instead of feeling like they're guaranteed a pummeling given the game's predetermined conditions.Patrick of the Isles wrote: ↑18 February 2023, 20:58The current arena settings have expansion scoring, which is unacceptable to those of us who enjoy the balance of the base game. We have not had a base game season in a long time.
Consider for today this idea of marginal processing overhead you'd have to accommodate if certain options were added, and we'll assume turn-based games so that any player of any skill level would have fairly equal amounts of processing time. I'll skip over the game elements that nobody even bothers to uncheck anymore: Variable turn order & Mini-expansions
(Please do try to argue a case for excluding those, and I'll appreciate the laughs in advance.)
Fire and Ice - Final Scoring tiles: <10% marginal processing overhead
I'll first address the above element that made me chuckle by quantifying it with the +36VP infused among 4 players for an average 9VP each. In a super conservative estimate of the +100VP the average player will earn throughout 6 rounds, this additional scoring consideration (with 0 benefit gained before game's end) contributes <10% for the average player. This at most adds a 6th category of scoring (in addition to the 5 previously mentioned) or buffs the 5th category of endgame scoring to 128 (+39% over the original 92) VP. This is hardly something you can ignore entirely, but it provides a separate avenue of scoring that changes from game to game, thus allowing certain under-picked factions to become more viable given the circumstances. This might break the base-game meta of CDW_, but how is that result not anything short of amazing for the vast majority of TM players not playing Snellman D1?
Game board Random: 14% marginal processing overhead
When I read thread upon thread in the BGG forums while learning how to get good at this game, I absolutely hated people's reliance on the base game board to discuss faction strategies, as if that map were the end-all, be-all answer to this game. While I understand we can't get modular boards in TM like they made for GP, we still have 4.5 legitimately play-tested (balanced?) boards to play on. How in the world do you play thousands of iterations of TM on the same base map, when it could instead be at most 40% of what you see? One can infer from my low games history count that I have barely been able to play a few factions multiple times, with some never having been chosen at all. I've also gotten less than a dozen hits on any single map EVER, so I had to rely on careful analysis of the map situation from a zero foundation every single auction. I could only learn to glean patterns and decision-making suggestions from the forum threads based on generalizations I could take away from people discussing their reasoning on the base map, thus making me just about as experienced on Fjords as Revised base map. Those of you who are clamoring to gather 3 months of experience on a single map are simply putting up a hurdle for your own skill development in this game. To quantify the additional mental load caused by map variations, it pretty much only goes as far as setup, hence my valuation of it based on time at 1/7.
Landscapes expansion: 16% marginal processing overhead
Let's count the landscape as a different structure type in addition to D/TP/TE/SA/SH, which caps it at a 1/6 additional mental load. Similarly, its minimum as the 18th structure puts its floor at 1/18. In reality, they were created as a balancing mechanism, so they must be processed as an overall faction uniqueness element (along with faction ability & SH power). They all cost a terraform during the action round to be placed, except for CMs who can use it freely as an emergency teleportation should the need arise. Some landscapes provide so much adjustment that they make entire factions playable (Fakirs' Flight School, Acolytes' Altar of Sacrifice) in a competitive fashion, thus providing additional FUN for the player who could do more actions beyond the quantifiable balance from an auction. Even holding auction games equal, compare Arena games with & without landscapes and I'm sure you'll see a significant difference in the occurrence frequency of Fakirs.
Fire and Ice - Factions: 43% marginal processing overhead
As several players have mentioned, Fire especially changes gameplay, but every new F&I board brings with it the same amount of uniqueness as any base board. If we include FFs some day after official release, do we just keep out their 6 F&I counterparts? Or just the 2 new Fire boards? Who is to decide, and more importantly, why is it asking so much to deal with a SINGLE opponent playing Fire? I've had way more trouble from an opponent unexpectedly building a R1 Halflings SH out of nowhere than a "disruptive" Dragonlords opponent when I already expect that "disruption" to begin with...
Fan Factions: 100% marginal processing overhead (AFTER the addition of F&I factions)
I'm not going to advocate for this right now, and you have probably noticed the ascending order of marginal processing overhead in these arguments. I am not nor will ever be a guru, but I invite genuine debate & discussion to help us achieve a state of general acceptance of each of these gameplay options eventually. However, we must cross checkpoints sequentially for this to be reasonably achieved. Any talk of adding factions is a moot point right now until we can get a significant majority of gurus to accept even a 16% additional mental load to this game's analysis in Arena mode.
Until then, I hope we could at least consider the inclusion of Landscapes to be "Random" rather than "Off" ever again. It's fair to ask players to be able to play factions with or without those extra circles, and it's a very workable solution if we ever need to include FFs before they receive their own official Landscapes. We must realize that our player base is incredibly limited in Arena play, and its survival will only ever rely on moving in the direction of further inclusion rather than EXCLUSION of gameplay elements. Asking more and more players to accept playing a "stunted" version of this game is going to be much more impossible than asking them to accept additional expansions gradually over seasons.