Mar 15, 2010

Overcorrections to Overconnections

Municipality has been having a recurring problem. By the end of the game, almost all properties have been connected by the players. Ideally, I'd like see two or three smaller groups of properties instead of one large group.

Originally, I attempted to accomplish this by allowing some permit types to grow merely by being adjacent to something and not having to connect to it. This way, players who were placing such a permit would have an incentive to intentionally not connect permits, especially if doing so would add to opponents' growth more than their own.

However, playtesters still connected to opponents' properties at every opportunity. When asked about this, it seems playtesters were only concerned with maximizing their own positions and the possibility that they were helping opponents more never crossed their mind.

My next tactic was to limit how much an individual permit could grow on a single turn. My hope was that players would realize an additional connection would not actually help their growth, which was already at the limit. My hope was false. Again, players just continued to connect to each others properties at a rate reminiscent of a social network.

I finally gave up on trying to convince players to not connect all willy-nilly. I decided that I would just prevent them from doing it outright. There are two obvious methods for doing this:
  1. Set a rules-based limit (i.e. You may not create a connection that would create a group larger than #
  2. Make it more difficult to do it in the first place
The first choice is not only clunky, but is something players are likely to forget during play. The second choice was clearly the better option.

I decided to implement this by reducing the amount of road on each permit card. You can see the changes below. On the left are the original layouts of the Housing and Special permits for version 1 through version 4.5. On the right are the 5.0 versions of those cards.

As you can see, I only removed 25% of the road from the Housing (and Office and Industry) permit. Although I removed 50% of the road from the Special permit, those only represent 20% of the deck.

This doesn't seem like a large reduction, does it? Pre-testing, it appeared to be exactly the fix I needed for the connection problem. Post-testing, not so much. Take a look at some end-of-game statistics:

Version 4.2
  • Total Popoluation: 108
  • Highest Player Population: 54
Version 4.4
  • Total Popoluation: 52
  • Highest Player Population: 27
Version 4.5
  • Total Popoluation: 71
  • Highest Player Population: 37
Version 5.0
  • Total Popoluation: 20
  • Highest Player Population: 8
I use population statistics as a proxy for connectivity as a high number of connections leads to massive growth. My goal has been for players to end the game with between 10 and 20 population apiece.

As you can clearly see, I have wildly overshot my goal with version 5.0. At least, I might have. So far, I have only had one playtest with this new version. So it is entirely possible that this test just happened to be at the tail end of the bell curve caused by the styles of the specific playtesters involved.

If so, then this test was was an aberration and should be ignored. If not, then I need to backtrack and find a new solution.

I'm not ready to abandon this new layout just yet. I am going to run a couple more playtests and see if other groups of players also build in such a way that populations stay this low.

In case I do end up having to scrap this change, does anyone else have more ideas on how to indirectly control connections?


  1. I don't know anything about the game, but I would say that in general, denying yourself something because it would help someone else more can be a difficult thing for players to wrap their minds around. Ultimately, maybe you want your players to be thinking not "do I connect to the cluster, or not?" but "do I connect to THIS cluster or THAT one?"

    How can you promote this using only the physical components (as opposed to adding rules providing incentives or punishments)? I don't know; it looks like each tile has some "roads" on it, and I'm assuming that as long as two tiles share a "road" on the border between them, they "connect". The simplest thing is just to do something Carcassonne-style, where roads run perpendicular to the edges of the tiles instead of parallel to them, and the roads on adjacent tiles have to physically match up for them to be connected.

    Another more difficult-to-implement idea could be to add stoplights to some tiles, and the idea is that two tiles are only connected if the path between them contains less than X stoplights. This permits primarily local clustering, but still permits some far-flung tiles to connect. (This assumes that what you are primarily interested in tiles forming *connections* with other tiles; if instead you're looking to create actual *clusters*, this is too fluid for that).

  2. You are correct in how roads currently connect.

    Your Carcassone idea is definitely worth exploring. With it, I could go back to more roads but harder connections.

    The stoplights thing is problematic because it would become difficult for players to quickly figure out what is connected. This would be especially true towards the end of the game.

    Originally, connections were indeed limited by the number of intersections you crossed. Players had extreme frustration in determining connections and quickly gave up trying.