09 February 2013

Dungeon Lords 3-player session

I played Dungeon Lords with my boardgame group last weekend again, this time it was a 3 player session, however, as I have mentioned before the game is cleverly made and fills empty seats with "AI players".

The AI participant (in our game “Yellow” player) is limited to the phase where players are bidding for resources using auction cards. Whenever you have an AI player the AI player randomly selects 3 resource types, and goes first when it comes to placement on the board.

Since the game is written and balanced for 4 players the main purpose of the AI participant is to make sure that the competition for vital resources is maintained. It is important since every "resource slot” only has three “player slots”. The way the game handles the resources and auction phase forces players to make a lot of tactical decisions based upon their needs, the probability of you getting a market slot, and which player slot you get.

You see, each player has a hand of 7 resource cards, of which only 3 at a time can be used during the auction phase each turn. These cards must also be placed (face down) in a specific order. The card you place to your left is always the card which allows you to put down your marker on the marketplace first. The card in the middle comes second, and the card to the right last. Players take turns in allocating their markers in the current player order (which changes each turn), and so when everyone has placed their first marker and resolved their first resource card, the second and third card is resolved. It happens that players are left standing without being able to get to a resource since the resource slot is packed with 3 players already.

This game mechanic is real interesting  because of several additional factor that are constantly in play.

First of all, the first card you place can be recycled and played again next turn, however the two other cards are "locked" and cannot be played again next turn. So you often have to plan 2 turns ahead. You also have to take into consideration what other players have played during their previous turns and what resources they have "locked" themselves out of. This increases the probability of you getting the resource you want if you play in a thoughtful manner.

BUT, here's the real twist, the marketplace has 3 slots for each resource. The first slot is in general the one that has the most meager award. The second slot is often the best place and the third slot is on two occasions resolved from bottom to the top order (meaning the player who placed last will pick first!). This creates a dilemma and a lot of tactical tension, sometimes you are dependant of getting one resource in order to buy the next one in line, if you end up on a slot in the "wrong" number you may get too little or too much of what you really needed. Sometimes you try to place your auction cards in such an order so that other players get to a resource type before you place your own marker, meaning you have the better turnout from your action.

The whole resource handling and auction is a real big part of the game and you have to think hard and focus on short term awards, long term strategy and in game events that are appear at random and force you to quickly adapt to a sudden change (tunnel tax, monster upkeep, random events such as Dungeon inspections, and the end year adventurer raid).

This makes the game really awesome on 4 players, what happens when you add "AI players" is that a lot of the human logic is removed. You can no longer anticipate and calculate what the other players will be doing to the same extent as the AI will randomly generate their auction cards.

It all still works very well with 3 human and 1 AI player, but I do not recommend playing 2 human and 2 AI player as too much of the tactical decisions become lost and the AI dominates the marketplace too much.

In any case, I pulled of an impressive victory in our last 3 player game ,probably the highest score we have seen to date for a victor (you can see my "Blue" player result ahead of the others). I had a fair share of luck in how I managed to pick resources in the right order in relation to other players and managed to handle the adventurers and my "Evil-o-meter" levels in such a way so that I got mostly low level adventurers which were easily defeated. I also took some risks at the start of the game which briefly had me as the most evil player, but I managed to drop down to becoming the "kindest" and thus avoided the high end adventurers later in the game.

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