Mark Johnson's occasional & opinionated podcast about family strategy boardgames

Monday, January 31, 2011

BGTG 112 - Five-Player Games (with Dave O'Connor)

Here's a podcast that I recorded with my buddy DaveO last summer. You probably know that I prefer lighter games. Well, DaveO likes the heavier stuff (as well as some quicker games). We got to talking about that, and the conversation drifted to our differences in opinion about the number of players in a game. I felt that five was a troublesome number, while he could quickly think of several games that he strongly preferred with five. Me? I'd suggest splitting into a 2 and 3-player pair of games, but most wouldn't agree with that!

We talk about some 5-player classics like El Grande and Mu, but also drift toward a disagreement about playing Web of Power with that number. Add in Medici, Die Macher, Agricola, Age of Steam, and others to round out the discussion.



Anonymous Tim Huesken said...

I n regards to the Daves we all know....

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Rick Heli said...

Hey, really good to hear your voice again, Dave. You have a good radio voice; Mark should have you on more often.

Regarding six-player games, I hope what I said was actually not related to family size, but to downtime issues. With six players it's difficult to keep downtime low enough and still have enough decisionmaking in each turn. The few games that successfully do it either use simultaneous turns or very simple actions within a turn.

I do think that in general the player range should be at least three. If a game tops out at six players, it's okay if it doesn't support two, but if it takes at most four, it should also accept two. Only a game as good as Settlers of Catan can get away with that. Two-player only games are a breed apart.

I also think that the number of players in a game is going down because the low hanging fruit has been picked. The easy, elegant turn is getting hard to find and to attain originality more complicated turns are becoming necessary. This means number of players needs to give.

By the way I'll happily play Web of Power with five anytime. That versatility is one of its many strong points.

5:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great podcast guys.

Optimal player count is a big deal for me. I prefer games that scale well from 2-4 players; I can use them for 2 player nights with my wife as well as for group nights. Of the games that fit that bill my favorites are Reef Encounter and Cavum.

I don't play often with 5 players as the potential for downtime tends to go up; however. there are a handful of 5 player titles that really shine. Container, Traders of Genoa and Modern Art, all play best at 5 and ironically each fit into that economic/trading profile that Dave mentioned.

I've tried a handful of titles at 6, Power Grid, Age of Steam and Chicago Express, but the sessions were brutal. Downtime and overall length sucked all the fun from those plays. The only titles I play on a semi-regular basis with 6+ are Warewolf and Bang, both of which play better with higher player counts.

Thanks again for the great podcast. Can't wait for the next one.

John Rogers

9:10 PM  
Blogger Joe Berger said...

Fantastic listening as always, thankyou.

Course this podcast was recorded pre the 7 Wonders buzzathon,and I have to say, that would be my go-to game for 6 players now - or even 7. The very idea of a game (and not a party game) for that many with NO downtime is pretty astonishing.
It isn't the deepest game, and with 6/7 you're only going to see each hand of cards once, which further limits what strategy there is, but it sure rattles along and is lots of fun.

And on the subject of Agricola — inelegant? Okay forget the cards — I'm more than happy to play the 'family' game on a games night, and I'd heartily recommend it. But Agricola's real triumph is it's scalability - more than any other game, it works brilliantly for 2 to 5 players out of the box, as a result of the carefully considered action cards for each number. An elegant solution if ever there was one.

Okay enough with the Agri-love . . . keep up the great work Mark — best boardgame podcast out there. Seriously!

1:05 AM  
Blogger Gregarius said...

Another great podcast, as usual.

I enjoyed hearing both of your thoughts about different player numbers for different games.

I think it's great that BGG has incorporated an "optimum number" of players metric within the stats for each game. However, has anyone tried to make a list of games with a "Do Not Play with X Number" list?" For example, DaveO won't play Taj Mahal with five, and I think you were both strongly against Big City with five.

Are there any others you can think of that you should never play with a particular number?

8:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That last podcast really got me thinking about player # and fun. You mentioned puerto rico and how when you add people, the only difference was adding the "take 1 doubloon" action. I love puerto rico with 3-5, but they are different games. With 5 you really have to pay attention to who is doing what and in what order. In a 5 player game, when goods are produced, you may not get the goods you produce if you are 4th or 5th to get them. This may give you enough pause to not select your best move, but you might produce just so you wont get shafted. This really applies to mayor and trader as well, but with 5 people, the decisions get tougher, because now you're asking yourself, "if I as that gut, what would I do?" On another point, though, I thoink some games are just different games with different amounts of players. My best example, I guess, would be Age of Empires III. I play a totally different way depending on the # of players, just as when playing poker, the average winning hand totally depends on how many are playing. There are some games like this though, that I truly don't like with certain #s of players. I wonder how much the bgg rankings would changer if each game had a separate ranking for # of players. Ex. #1: El Grande5, #2:Puerto Rico5, #3: Dominion3, #4: Brass4 etc. Hope that jogs some part of somebody's brain. I think that would be very interesting. Love the podcast. You offer something different, but very engaging. If I miss 10 seconds, I'll rewind it, because everything said is important to the conversation, whereas with some other podcasts, I can fade in and out and not miss much. You do good work, sir! I'm currently listening to older podcasts from you and it's interesting how your impressions change (Brass in particular) Keep up the good work.
DAve Parsons

6:49 PM  
Anonymous Alan How said...

Great podcast.

I liked the discussion on optimum number as this rarely happens in my group. People turn up and games are played. We have the opposite issue. Do not play X with this number of players. An example would be Le Havre with more than 3 players. I note that Dave like Le Havre with 5, but I think there is too much downtime even when you have a good person pushing the game through the speed barrier.

I played a 5 player Agricola (plus Horse expansion) in 75 minutes using a timer. It was an intense experience, especially for the newcomer!

One five player game that you didn't mention is AH's Guerilla. This absolutely sensational with 5 as you have two teams and one neutral player, with the possibility of swapping roles half way through the game.

It is an ingenious design and not one that I can remember being repeated.

I find Medici works just fine with 6. What you lose on knowing the card mix you gain on the risk of a bad card or cards not being bidded on and reducing at least one person's hand to less than 5 cards. It is one of my staple 6 player games to get out.

Thansk again for a tsimulating podcast and I'd echo Rick Heli's points about your radio voice Dave.

6:20 AM  

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