Monday, February 11, 2013


I recently learned an interesting board game that felt really cool but feels like it doesn't actually have a lot of play due to a dominating strategy. The game is Gingkopolis and I wanted to talk a bit about it to try to quantify my issue with the game. I have only played it four times so it's possibly I'm missing something and it may be better (or just random) when everyone uses the right strategy from the get-go.

The basic idea of the game is each player has a hand of 4 cards. Draft one, play it, pass the other three to your left. Everyone then draws a card from the deck to fill back up to 4. Repeat. Playing a card means taking one of three actions, dependent on the card chosen. There are three different types of resources in the game, and they're pretty interchangeable in terms of how you acquire them and what they're worth. Raw materials are probably worth the most points over the course of the game, but you can only spend as many of them as your card allows so you can't just stock up on them. Tiles are mostly used to facilitate using raw materials but extra tiles can be converted into points near the end of the game on a 1-for-1 basis. The third resource is victory points and they just seem worse than tiles until the very, very end of the game. You need to built up a good balance of raw materials to tiles and topping up with points is just fine, but I'm going to pretty much ignore the distinction between them and just refer to how many total resources an action gains or loses.

The first action you can take is exploit. It doesn't cost you anything at all, and gains you at least one resource. The type of resource depends on the colour card you drafted, and the number you get varies based on how developed the space represented by the card is. For the most part this number is going to be one, but sometimes you can get 2 or 3 resources.

The second action is expand. This costs you 2 resources, lets you put a new tile in a specific spot on the board (based on the card drafted) and claim it for potential end game points. Probably 1 point. In addition, you get to exploit every adjacent space that exists beside your new tile. This is guaranteed to be at least 1 space and is sometimes 2 spaces. On a very rare occasion it will be three spaces. So compared to exploit this is mediocre with 1 adjacent space (spend 2 resources, probably get 1 resource and in both cases you exploit one tile). With 2 adjacent spaces it gets better than the exploit.

The third action is the overbuild. This lets you upgrade the tile listed on the card drafted up a level which makes it more likely to score extra end game points. Doing so costs you n+1 resources where n is the new level of the tile. It likely scores you n points, and could be even more depending on the end game area control stuff. It does not let you exploit a space, so for the most part this is a way to spend your stockpile of resources to earn points. Oh, except for one other bit. Because you overbuilt a tile it wouldn't make any sense for that card to go back into the deck of draftable cards. Instead, you get to keep that card and put it in front of you. About half of these cards have a good amount of end game points on them. The other half give you resources for performing specific actions. So you might get an extra tile every time you exploit, or an extra raw material every time you overbuild. You also get to start the game with 3 of these powers.

There are two ways to score end game points: controlling leveled up spaces on the board and collecting bonus point cards. Both of these require you to take the overbuild action. So the point scoring strategy has to involve gathering enough resources to overbuild frequently. It might seem like exploiting a bunch would be a good way to do this, but gathering a bunch of overbuild related powers seems really strong. Compare, for example, someone who gets one of each type of power vs someone who has 3 overbuild powers. When the first person exploits to get some resources they'll spend nothing and gain 2 resources. When the second person overbuilds they'll spend 3 resources, gain 3 resources, 2 likely points, and another power card. The second option is way better! And if those 3 overbuild powers happen to be specifically a tile and 2 materials they can take this action pretty much every turn for the whole game while accumulating more and more powers.

Two of the four games I played featured someone starting with 3 overbuild powers and quickly getting extra ones. The game was pretty much over at that point.

Now, if everyone started the game with the same number of overbuild powers, and everyone knew to always draft overbuild power cards, then maybe the game becomes interesting. At that point the decisions on how to split up your different types of resources, or how to build areas on the board for end game scoring, might matter. Or maybe all the overbuild powers that get added to the deck will just get dealt to one person over and over again and it won't really be a game.

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