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DsnowMan

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Handicapping
« on: November 09, 2011, 03:30:00 pm »
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There is a thread that discussed this briefly: http://forum.dominionstrategy.com/index.php?topic=95.0

My friend and I are pretty good at IRL dominion. We are both 20+ on iso. We want to play more multiplayer games with our not so experienced friends. They sometimes play with us, but tease us about how good we are and don't play again for a while.

A handicap system interests us. There were some suggestions in the thread, such as:
a) start with 6 coppers / 4 estates
b) start with 6 coppers / 3 estates / 1 curse
c) add a curse
d) play like a goof ball
e) play a normal game, then the winner adds a curse (or replaces a copper with a curse)
f) like (e), but also allow losers to keep a <$6 card from previous game

All are good ideas, except for (d), which is tough to enforce for both of us simultaneously (you know, maybe i will play like a goof ball, but my buddy won't, so he will probably win).

So, has anyone tried these various handicapping options? More specifically, has anyone tried them with TWO good players in a multiplayer game? Other ideas?
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rinkworks

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #1 on: November 09, 2011, 04:05:40 pm »
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I've never tried any handicapping options, but how about this one?

(g) For your first two turns, -$1.

So you get a 4/- or 3/2 opening.  Since those are usually the most critical buys of the game, crippling them will have a pretty big impact.  But the distribution of Coppers and Estates remains unchanged, so there's no weirdness that would result when the total $ in your deck matters, or the game 3-piles early enough that the scores are determined by those initial Estates.
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WanderingWinder

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #2 on: November 09, 2011, 04:10:34 pm »
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You might try replacing one of the starting coppers with a silver for each of the less-experienced players.

I told myself the last time I played some friends IRL that the next time I played with them, I was going to let myself buy only one non-victory action card. But then, they're pretty good board gamers in general, and their complaints were more that I was making the game take forever (ironic, don't you think?) than that I was winning.

def

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #3 on: November 09, 2011, 05:13:15 pm »
+2

I tried some of them in real dominion, especially replacing one copper with a silver.
The problem is, sometimes on slower board with trashing and so on it won't make a big difference, and sometimes it leads to a first turn gold or other cards which is hard to recover from unless the opponent is badly misplaying.
I rarely saw boards were a handicap was in between too small and too huge. Of course, with beginners the huge handicap is ok, but with someone who understands basic concepts and goes big money + few good actions, you are in problems.

I fear it's similar in other options. Take the 3/2-opening - no problem with silver/chapel, but on boards with no good 3 or 2, try it.
I don't know too much about multiplayer, but I think it could be even worse in the short three-pile-games or cursing games where you can't get to a crucial witch this way.

What about an option like "your friends pick (one of) your starting buys"? I don't mean curse/curse, they just pick e.g. what 4$-card you will have to buy when more than one are available.

Or "everybody can pick one different kingdom card in the beginning and puts it in his discard" and they are starting. I don't know how unexperienced they are, but when they are picking totally wrong cards, leaving you with the better cards to pick, this could make things even worse. Otherwise, it could be fun on boards that don't have one absolutely dominant card.
« Last Edit: November 09, 2011, 05:15:23 pm by def »
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Geronimoo

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #4 on: November 09, 2011, 05:22:25 pm »
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A simple yet very effective one:

Let the less experienced players start the game with an Estate in their discard so they have a 9-card drawing deck. They start with the same deck, but have slightly better buying power (if you want to help them more, let them start with 2 Estates in their discard or even 3, but that might get degenerate with Mountebank for instance).
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jonts26

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #5 on: November 09, 2011, 05:39:24 pm »
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I think it's probably better to handicap the more experienced player than give some bonus to the less experienced one. By starting with bonuses, they are learning to play the game with a crutch that might hinder future skill development.

As for a good handicap to give the experienced player. How about you just auto-pass your first two or so turns?
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greatexpectations

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #6 on: November 09, 2011, 06:36:54 pm »
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I think it's probably better to handicap the more experienced player than give some bonus to the less experienced one. By starting with bonuses, they are learning to play the game with a crutch that might hinder future skill development.

agreed. personally, i think i would recommend just constraining yourself in a manner that might make you better as a player. avoid your favorite/crutch cards. try to build a deck that can react to attacks instead of doing the attacking yourself. go for a secondary strategy in place of the dominant one. things like that.

it is a tricky situation though.  you want the game to remain competitive, but you don't just want to give up on them either.  if i were the other players in your case, i would rather get a beatdown then win because i had an inherent designed advantage over you.
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Octo

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #7 on: November 09, 2011, 06:52:48 pm »
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Yeah, winning when you've been given a starting boost can feel a little bit tainted. I agree also that a handicap for the better players is a wiser move - change the game for those who know it, not those who are trying to learn it.

Many of the handicaps mentioned might not have that much effect because beginner games can go on for a long time as they get distracted by all the actions and forget to actually buy any money. With regard to playing at less than 100% - that's a tricky one. I know that it kind of frustrates me when someone does it to me, and I'm left with a similar feeling to the one I just mentioned (hollow victory), but I think that attitude with regard to 'going easy' is less prevalent than one might think - competitive/keen players like the kind of person that bothers to go on a forum about it will naturally want to dig deep into the mechanics and get past the early learning phases, where as many other people just want to have some fun and really aren't fussed about actually getting good at the game. If it's those kind of people you're playing then just go easy and explore interesting combinations (and tell your mate not to be a douche!) Thinking of an interesting handicap once you've seen the board is a fun challenge - they're playing against you, but you're playing against yourself too - keep the challenge secret and just don't mention it at all, even if you lose. Just swallow your pride and see the real challenge as making sure you all have fun.

I know that for me this exact issue is why I stay off isotropic generally - it decreases the fun for both me and my mates if my skill level is way past theirs through me hammering game after game on iso. As I get older I'm starting to value having an enjoyable game more than I am being good at it, which frankly I'm glad of. :)
« Last Edit: November 09, 2011, 06:56:05 pm by Octo »
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ChaosRed

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #8 on: November 09, 2011, 07:45:06 pm »
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I know that for me this exact issue is why I stay off isotropic generally - it decreases the fun for both me and my mates if my skill level is way past theirs through me hammering game after game on iso. As I get older I'm starting to value having an enjoyable game more than I am being good at it, which frankly I'm glad of. :)

I subscribe to this somewhat as well. I really limit my exposure to iso (I play about six games a week). I enjoy it, but I don't enjoy getting thrashed by people who are way above my skill. Similarly, I don't want to come home and see my wife lose, simply because I've learned a whole new bag of tricks. In fact, we generally talk about strategy as we play.

And this to me is the best handicap of all, when your friends make bad moves, or you happen to know there's a great combo on the board, point it out. I do this frequently.

Then, as the player with more skill, specifically try to beat the good combo by some other method. You are doing two things by doing this: you are teaching your opponent to play better (so that handicaps aren't necessary) and you are forcing yourself to "think outside the box" which can make the game more challenging for you.

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Octo

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #9 on: November 10, 2011, 06:24:34 am »
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Dominion is a strange one, in that (for me and my friends at least) discovering the strategies is a large part of the fun.  I remember the discovering for myself that trashing stuff other than curses with chapel just sent your deck to the next level, it was a great moment. Even so, I've read about loads of crazy strats on here that I would've never figured out. Something that gets said a lot is "show don't tell" which does resonate with me, but with green players I'm wary of both approaches with cards like chapel - if you tell them then that spoils the surprise, and if you show them then you crush them mercilessly. It'd be ok.....if their weren't so many classic strats to demonstrate that they'll be bored of losing before you run out. Telling them can rankle a bit with some people too, some people don't really like that. It's tough, because if you just sit and wait for them to figure it out then, well, they may never figure it out which is probably even worse in the long run!

I suppose this kind of thing really does come down a frequent problem of mine: finding the right kind of playing partners. If someone simply isn't as keen and inquisitive at exploiting the mechanics as yourself (or perhaps they're more so than yourself and surpass you, which I've had) you can end up at a real mismatch that there really is no way out of, regardless of whether you tell them what to do, show them what to do, or let them figure it out.
« Last Edit: November 10, 2011, 08:17:26 am by Octo »
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Davio

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #10 on: November 10, 2011, 07:35:30 am »
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You could try playing with hands of 4 instead of 5 every turn. :)

And if you get crushed, you could alternate every turn.

If you have played Tactician or Outpost, you just draw one card less. Let's see you buy a Colony with 2 cards! (Duration cards obviously :))
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DsnowMan

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #11 on: November 10, 2011, 01:07:21 pm »
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What about an option like "your friends pick (one of) your starting buys"? I don't mean curse/curse, they just pick e.g. what 4$-card you will have to buy when more than one are available.

We really like this one. We are even thinking of doing it to each other when we play 2 player.

You start with not so desirable actions and have to make it work. Hilarious.
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fencingmonkey

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #12 on: November 10, 2011, 01:25:52 pm »
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Have you thought about pre-selecting Kingdom cards? I can't think of any examples off the top of my head that really level the playing field (Tournament? Various Attack cards?) but it seems like there should be some. Or you can sit alternating experienced and inexperienced players, and then put cards like Smugglers, Tribute, and Possession out.

Another way you could hinder yourself without giving your friends too much of a benefit would be to select cards that play differently in multi-player Dominion. It's often forgotten on these boards, but the game isn't always 1v1. Cards like Jester play completely differently when there's a lot of players around. Masquerade isn't quite as obvious, but it's a little less predicatable with 4 than with 2.
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ChaosRed

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #13 on: November 10, 2011, 01:52:30 pm »
+1

I chimed in with this once before, but once more I'd really like to point out that all the governors that have been suggested do is limit the advanced player, rather than truly educated the more limited player. All these handicaps do is ensure you have to continue to handicap, and worse, might even lead to a scenario where the handicap has to be increased to keep games competitive.

The better solution, (in my opinion) is not to look to challenge the "awesome" player to be even more "awesome" to win, but instead educate, inform and raise the level of the opposition.

You do this, by simply guiding the opposing player a little during a game, helping them with choices, informing them why their choices are poor (or could be better) and to encourage them to improve.

All you're doing otherwise is setting up a situation where your opposition feels even worse, (and even more discouraged) when they lose when you have one hand tied-behind your back. It seems like a self-centered approach. If you don't want to lose friendly-Dominion games, then encourage them and guide them to learn the very things you've learned. Don't punish yourself and then expect your opposition to be thrilled they won a handicapped game.

My final thoughts on the matter, because clearly this approach seems dissonant to the other advice and overall intention of the thread, but wanted to reiterate my view one more time.
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DsnowMan

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #14 on: November 10, 2011, 02:20:41 pm »
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These people we play with a reasonably serious gamers that like to figure things out for themselves a lot. The main problem is experience: they don't know all the cards, or good interactions. We remind them of the power of attack, curse and trashing, but they occasionally ignore the advice out of lack of experience. They will learn over time, without being hand-held.

What we want is a way to keep them in the game that is both fun and interesting. My favourite by far is having them choose our buys.
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greatexpectations

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #15 on: November 10, 2011, 02:49:56 pm »
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These people we play with a reasonably serious gamers that like to figure things out for themselves a lot. The main problem is experience: they don't know all the cards, or good interactions. We remind them of the power of attack, curse and trashing, but they occasionally ignore the advice out of lack of experience. They will learn over time, without being hand-held.

the trouble is that there are a bunch of different concepts to learn seemingly at once.  they can learn a lot from watching an experienced player, but they can also be left just as confused as when they started. you don't want to hold their hands, but somewhere out there is a line between that and not overwhelming them / keeping them interested in the game.

as a sort of tangent, it might be beneficial for the community at large to develop a set of boards that could teach a learning curve to interested noobs.  something that focuses more on enjoyment factors than outright strategy.  principles of big money and trashing are huge to strategy, but mean a lot less for the enjoyment of new players.  i think the card combos and action chains are huge in attracting new players and keeping them interested, and moving away from that too fast might scare people off.

maybe start with a simple village/smith draw engine (does any noob not love these?  i still do...) and how to balance villages versus smithies. then maybe throw in a terminal. then shift that to how to balance your money in that deck.  then maybe move onto showing how a less complicated single/double smithy and BM could get the job done.  and then trashing, attacks, 2 card combos and so on.
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mischiefmaker

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #16 on: November 10, 2011, 03:57:33 pm »
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I think the question of how to handicap comes down to the personality of the other player and what she's interested in.

I agree that, all things being equal, what I'd like to do is help educate the other player so that eventually she is my equal and we have highly competitive games with arbitrary, unrestricted kingdoms where we challenge each other to get better. But, as some others have pointed out, sometimes your playing partners want to figure strategy out for themselves, so giving them advice is only going to make the game less fun for them, not more. Sometimes your playing partner just *doesn't care* about getting better, but you still want to play with him, so educating them isn't really a good solution there either.

When my wife (who is a very casual player with a loose grasp of strategy) is willing to play with me, here are the handicaps I use:
 - My deck starts with an extra curse.
 - I reject any sets where the dominant strategy is long chains of action cards (but this set is fine if there is an alternate strategy, e.g. alchemist v. BM-smithy)
 - Once I find a reasonable set, I explain briefly how I analyze the set and what strategies I might employ.

Also, our victory conditions are different: she wins if she has more VP than me; I win if she says "ok, we can play again". :)

I find that this helps teach the game in little bite-sized chunks that keep someone who isn't really interested in discussing the fine points interested. And explaining my strategy to her helps sharpen my game too -- I can't count the number of times I've lost a game on iso where we both went for the same strategy but he added a golem or an outpost or a navigator that made a crucial difference. Trying to beat someone who has the same strategy as you and a headstart by finding that extra little edge is, I think, what takes your game to the next level.

I do also really like the idea of choosing your opponent's buys for N turns, and might give that a try next time.
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ftl

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #17 on: November 10, 2011, 04:58:04 pm »
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These people we play with a reasonably serious gamers that like to figure things out for themselves a lot. The main problem is experience: they don't know all the cards, or good interactions. We remind them of the power of attack, curse and trashing, but they occasionally ignore the advice out of lack of experience. They will learn over time, without being hand-held.

the trouble is that there are a bunch of different concepts to learn seemingly at once.  they can learn a lot from watching an experienced player, but they can also be left just as confused as when they started. you don't want to hold their hands, but somewhere out there is a line between that and not overwhelming them / keeping them interested in the game.

as a sort of tangent, it might be beneficial for the community at large to develop a set of boards that could teach a learning curve to interested noobs.  something that focuses more on enjoyment factors than outright strategy.  principles of big money and trashing are huge to strategy, but mean a lot less for the enjoyment of new players.  i think the card combos and action chains are huge in attracting new players and keeping them interested, and moving away from that too fast might scare people off.

maybe start with a simple village/smith draw engine (does any noob not love these?  i still do...) and how to balance villages versus smithies. then maybe throw in a terminal. then shift that to how to balance your money in that deck.  then maybe move onto showing how a less complicated single/double smithy and BM could get the job done.  and then trashing, attacks, 2 card combos and so on.

I'd guess how you teach someone comes down to what they know already and how they want to learn. Though I do think the order you put down at the end is wrong - BM+ should come before engine-building.

It would be an interesting thread though. Just two weeks ago I ran a 'How To Build An Engine' lesson for my girlfriend which worked out well.
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greatexpectations

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #18 on: November 10, 2011, 05:30:51 pm »
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I'd guess how you teach someone comes down to what they know already and how they want to learn. Though I do think the order you put down at the end is wrong - BM+ should come before engine-building.

in terms of learning solid dominion strategy i agree.  but i think that simple engine building is more interesting for the novice player and they would be more likely to stay interested.  while sound strategy, diving right into BM+ will be quite boring for a new player.
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UltimaPenguin

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #19 on: November 10, 2011, 05:59:33 pm »
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At first glance, the idea of having a Dominion handicap seems strange to me. I guess I just don't understand the psychology of it. If Bob is frustrated because he always loses at Dominion, is he really going to feel better about himself if he barely wins with a handicap? Because it seems like its 100% clear to anyone with half a brain (including Bob) that Bob played just as poorly as he would have without a handicap, and that the win is totally artificial. If Bob takes any extra satisfaction from "winning" with a handicap, it seems to me that Bob should be able to take the same satisfaction by playing without a handicap and striving to lose by fewer points. So I'm trying to think about what actually changes with any kind of Dominion handicap that makes it more appealing to anyone involved.

For example, consider a gold handicap. Two golfers might compete on the same course, but one starts off at a closer tee. This makes sense to me for the following reason. What do golfers pride themselves on? Well, barring Happy Gilmore, its probably not their brute strength. Most golfers probably take more pride in their accuracy, precision, putting/chipping, etc. So if you have two golfers with a huge strength difference, its probably not very interesting for either of them if one of them always wins due to brute strength factors. So having different tee locations allows them to still compete based on technique while correcting for strength differences.

So, back to Dominion, what skills are you trying to adjust for when you give a player a handicap. The best I can think of is that a player might be bad at analyzing the tableau, but somehow they are still competent with making in game decisions. For example, one problem with playing players of different skill is that if the inferior player makes poor choices early on, the end game just becomes super dull. If they're not even close to you in score, there's no interesting tension as to when to buy provinces vs switching to duchies. If there's no threat of them making a comeback, the timing for switching to VPs stops being interesting for both parties. If I'm winning the province battle 5-0 in a typical game, and my opponent decides its time to start buying duchies over gold, I feel like the rest of the game is pretty much a huge waste of time. So, in that sense, anything you can do to make the game closer results in a more satisfying end game for the entire table.

So I guess I've kind of just changed my mind about the potential value of Dominion handicaps mid post, which is fun, but there's still a bit of a caveat. Mainly that I'm a little skeptical that a player who is bad enough to need a handicap is going to have the late game awareness to make the endgame interesting even with a handicap. And if you have to adjust the handicap so much that they can be "competitive" without being able to analyze the tableau or make good late game decisions, then I think you're back to getting pretty much no value out of the handicap.

Personally, the most interesting and useful "handicap" from my point of view is arguably not a true handicap at all. If I was routinely playing with people who were frustrated from losing all the time, I think the best thing to do would be to stop before the game begins and jointly analyze the board. Point out what strategies you see as viable. Ask them what they see and talk about why it may or may not work. This will hopefully put them on the right track for a reasonably competitive game without any artificial junk, plus it will teach them a lot more than an otherwise handicapped game would. Along with this, go over a game afterwards and talk about what did and didn't work and why, along with how everyone might adapt their strategy in a subsequent play.

tl;dr I can see some value in a Dominion handicap, but it seems like a generally poor substitute for actually trying to teach the inferior player better strategy.
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Octo

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #20 on: November 10, 2011, 06:54:16 pm »
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What about dealing the cards out into two rows, and only allowing yourself to buy from one of the rows for the entire game?

Regarding it seeming strange to you UltimaPenguin - I totally get where you're coming from, but, well, some people just aren't as excited by that kind of thing and just want a good game. I have friends whose company I really enjoy, and I would like to share this game with them. However, when I do must accept that they come at this with a different perspective.

I had a really similar thing with golf but from the other side. I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed spending time with my mate playing it. But I wasn't passionate about getting good at it (money, time, the culture etc.), even though being bad at it was frustrating at times. He was always giving me tips on my swing etc., but eventually we stopped playing when he tried to foist this golf book on me and just had to tell him "dude, I enjoy it but not enough to read a book on it". I just wasn't the partner he needed. Even so, I still play the odd game with him, and I'm fine if he has a handicap, or we're set slightly different challenges. It's like "YES! I WON!", it'ss just "cool, that was a good game" or whatever.

A game doesn't have be "all-out competitive" or "non-competitive", it can just be gentle and fun and not really about who wins, and any number of different shades of competitiveness inbetween.
« Last Edit: November 10, 2011, 06:56:28 pm by Octo »
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ftl

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #21 on: November 10, 2011, 07:51:30 pm »
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in terms of learning solid dominion strategy i agree.  but i think that simple engine building is more interesting for the novice player and they would be more likely to stay interested.  while sound strategy, diving right into BM+ will be quite boring for a new player.

On the other hand, BM+ strategies are *really* easy to learn. Once you demonstrate how silver->gold plus one or two cards for support is really good, it's easy for a player to immediately be pretty competitive; takes half a minute to explain, one game to demonstrate, and then even a newbie can play and be competitive on a lot of boards. Pick one or two action cards which look good, see how it works out.

It's also really easy for the person to learn from their experiences. They picked two smithies - did really well. Picked up a workshop to gain silvers - got nowhere. Simple to identify mistakes (since there's only a few real decisions to make), simple to see how it worked out.

Whereas if you start with engines, it'll take a bunch of games to actually get to the point of playing an actual competitive game of Dominion, since there's more pieces to put together and understand before you can actually play. And even then, if they mess up and do poorly, they'll have no idea what went wrong - they might have messed up in the distribution of engine components (too many villages not enough smithies) or forgot to get cash or just tried to go for an engine on a board that doesn't have a worthwhile one (village-smithy-treasure, your example of an engine, loses *hard* to single-smithy.)

That seems like it would introduce unnecessary frustration. Floundering and losing all the time isn't fun.

I guess in the end it depends on what sort of player you're introducing to the game, how they learn and how they have fun, and how often you play with them :)

For what it's worth, I personally like the idea of handicaps. It lets both people be competitive and try to win and have reasonable chances of doing so even when there's different skill levels.  But in Dominion, I think different sets of cards won't play similarly enough to be able to set a general 'handicap'. On some boards, not being able to buy Gold is a huge handicap. On others, you're going for a no-treasure deck anyway. On some boards, starting two turns behind is a HUGE handicap. On other boards, if you see the Right Combo to do, coming back from two turns down is trivial. I think that in the situation described, it's much better to decide on a handicap for yourself after looking at the board, and pick a 'challenge' for yourself that seems reasonable for the set.
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dondon151

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #22 on: November 11, 2011, 12:12:54 am »
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Idea: you and your opponent have the same opening, and you must mirror your opponent's first two buys.

Granted, games do diverge a lot after the first two turns, but at least they can see how their turns 3+ compare to yours.
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DStu

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #23 on: November 11, 2011, 02:22:52 am »
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For example, consider a gol[f] handicap. Two golfers might compete on the same course, but one starts off at a closer tee.
All this is a little strange given was the handycap in non-professional golf by definition is...

Quote
tl;dr I can see some value in a Dominion handicap, but it seems like a generally poor substitute for actually trying to teach the inferior player better strategy.
I don't think that it should be a substitution. I think there a two cases:
A) Your opponent (A) is not really interested in the most effective way two play the game, but wants to have fun. You (B) also want to have some fun, but you are interested in it. Playing lots of games whose outcome is more or less predefined is not fun. It's not so much that A has a problem with loosing, it's just not very interesting two always lose. You three-pile into your win, the game ends before the deck of A could really work, hurray, want to play another one which I stop before you come to play?  In this situation, (if you want to keep playing together) I think a handicap can be usefull. Nerf your deck that it takes longer for you to come out, or buff the other ones so that it comes faster to where it goes. A has some fun with his engine and you have some goal to achieve.
B) Your opponent is interested, but new. While of course it is important to teach them the tricks, I don't think it's very good to have too much at once. Teach him BM+X and than beat him with KC-something? Or NV/Bridge. Or HT/Dukes? He has to play all these boring BMs, and you actionchain him down? So just play a little less aggressively for these games...
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Kahryl

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Re: Handicapping
« Reply #24 on: November 15, 2011, 01:27:13 pm »
+1

I think the best and cleanest way to handicap would be for the more experienced player to skip his first turn (or multiple turns if necessary)

Doesn't distort the game like adding curses or drawing 4 cards would.

And you can even use this method on isotropic!
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