The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits


Now that I’ve played three times; Homesteaders fulfills its promise. The “tech-tree” (as Alex calls it) aspect works. You have ~25 or 30 odd buildings and while its theoretically possible to build 11 of them, realistically you’ll probably get 7-8 (less in a three player game). That’s a huge number of combinations, and there’s good variety in paths. Homesteaders captures my “perhaps I should have done this” interest. I’m also mentally poking at the various mechanisms to look at their interactions. I’m sure a few thousand words will spew forth, like an illness.

Which is not to say that Homesteaders works on all levels. The “11th turn,” where players produce and can sell/pay off debt, means that the game ends with more whimper than bang, particularly if a slow player can’t quite figure out the optimal way to pay-off debt and sell. Given how some games have a few “pre-decision turns,” I figure this is acceptable. In theory the 10th auction is completely calculable, but in practice most people don’t seem to do that (yet).

The auctions also dampen speed. If Plot A is worth oodles more than B, it will inevitably be bid up until it’s a close call, at which point players stop and reconsider. So despite being “only” 10.5 turns, Homesteaders takes time. Time well spent, but time nonetheless. I wasn’t expecting games to actually take 75 minutes, but they are.

So, kudos to Alex on his design. If you like the sort of games that I spend too much time thinking about, you’ll like this.

Update — Why no, the medicine doesn’t cause side effects. I’m just quirky. (And writing koans is hard work).


Written by taogaming

December 1, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Posted in Reviews

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  1. Yeah the ’11th turn’ debt payoff can be tough for some new players. When you know what you’re doing its easy, but its quite complicated at first. (Fortunately, it at least occurs at the end of the game, giving a game to figure out how the trades work).

    After being frustrated by how the final turn always played out, which was that multiple people tended to want to pass and sell resources for money to pay off debt, (which was kindof anticlimactic, and also frustrating when you need to pass but bid 3 to start bidding things up, and another player passes), eventually I cut two rounds off the game (from 12 to 10) and replaced them with one income phase. This gives players one income phase thats specifically for paying off debts, because otherwise they just end up spending the last turn of the game not caring about the auctions and doing the same thing. I’d rather have players care about each auction phase that occurs. Limiting the city phase ‘big buildings’ purchasing time to only 2 rounds also increases the endgame intensity.


    December 1, 2009 at 9:57 pm

  2. As far as the auctions taking time, I’ve found from one of my own designs that you have to be very careful with Evo-style auctions. They work very well if the number of potential raises of each auction is small. For example, in Evo itself, most tiles went for 2 or less, so this went quickly. If the number of potential raises is large, though, the auctions can bog down since, human nature being what it is, most folks will work their way up the track one unit at a time.

    For the most part, I thought Alex handled this well in Homesteaders. Starting at 3 silver helps, as does the skips once 7 silver is reached. For the first 5 or 6 turns, the auctions moved along quite briskly. However, things did start taking more time as 7 silver results, or more, became more common with later turns. Maybe with experience, we would just start an auction out at the 7 level, assuming it will get there anyway, to guarantee that WE’RE the ones who are at the level before the first break. But for now, I expect things to move more slowly. One thing he could have done is to implement a higher minimum bid for the later rounds. So you turn over the tile for the first auction of Round 9 and it says that the minimum bid for all the auctions is 5 silver. From my one game, this wouldn’t affect the strategies at all (it’s probably worth at least 7 silver not to be consigned to the Railroad at that stage), but it would speed things up. That was just my first thought–it may have ramifications I haven’t considered.

    But as you saw from my BGN article, I really enjoyed Homesteaders and am looking forward to exploring the system some more.

    Larry Levy

    December 2, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    • Glad you like it Larry!

      The minimum bid of 3’s primary purpose is to speed up the game, as Larry mentioned. The second purpose is to help guide new players to more reasonable bids. When I began with a minimum bid of 0, MANY new players would bid it up three times and then pass at 3. When I started it at 3, many new players would bid it up three times and pass at 5. (Guess what people would tend to bid if it started at 5?)

      The 3 start tended to put new players at least somewhat in the ballpark in their evaluations

      The third purpose of the minimum was to prevent people from getting stuff for free if someone just went and passed. I wanted to allow ‘cheap’ buys in this case but not free.

      At one point in development I actually tested a minimum bid changing from 3 to 4 to 5 as the game progressed. In the end it didnt seem worth it and was more confusing/unnecessary than worth it. I also didnt want to remove the potential for someone to get an undesirable (to others) auction for cheap, because they were the only one who had set up to effectively use it.

      There is also the idea that if certain people kept overbidding you, but you still make intelligent decisions with the fewer items you do buy, and making them pay sufficiently to overbid you, that eventually you should have a chance to ‘break them’, such that they have too much debt, and have to pass. This actually does occur sometimes, even in rounds 9-10 (maybe even especially then).

      When this occurs I do want the potential for others who had been passing to really get a bargain on something, $3 not $5, or for that player to feel the pressure to still bid up on something they dont want. Part of the strategy is to ensure that you arent in a position where you cant afford to win something, because then you cant bid it up, and you cant make opponents pay its true value!

      I do think that as people progress, there will be more exact bids placed, starting out at a specific higher level to ensure that you are the one in that position. I have noticed this occur more as people gain experience, and it also occurs in Amun Re, where in an experienced group you see people make the ‘correct bids’ to start much more often. 7 on the thing you want to lock it down early on. 6 on the thing you know they desperately need but that you dont, forcing them into paying the 7. I’ve see nthe $9 lockdown fairly often, and even occasionally at higher values.

      When you go into round 9, thinking you are going to bid for a certain item, and that first guy just slams a 12 down, and you know he is stealing your building – that is so awesome. Well, at least its awesome to the others who are watching it happen. 🙂


      December 2, 2009 at 5:24 pm

  3. Thanks for the detailed response, Alex. It’s good to see that you were as thorough in the design of your own game as you’ve always been in the analysis of those created by others. I can’t say I’m too surprised! 🙂

    Larry Levy

    December 2, 2009 at 6:07 pm

  4. […] a comment » Now that I’ve played Homesteaders again, I’m (possibly prematurely) updating my rating. I’m still not sure how many paths […]

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