The action economy in games

We booked our flights, hotels and games at GenCon 2013! This, plus playing many new boardgames with friends recently, has gotten me thinking quite a bit about how games work.

+Chris Parsons recently introduced me to both Hansa Teutonica and Agricola, both of which were lots of fun to play (winning helped I'm sure...). Both enable you to gain more actions as the game progresses (in Agricola you grow your family, in Hansa you unlock actions directly) but the way they limit the power difference that comes from being able to act more often than everyone else is different.

In Agricola, there's a cost to having more actions. You need to feed your family and since everyone is taking turns sequentially, later purchased actions are less valuable than early actions (everyone's taken the best things!). Thus, someone who has four actions is barely ahead of someone with three actions but someone with five actions is way ahead of someone with only two. On top of that, gaining new actions is a multi step process -- you need to build an additional room on your house, then you need to grow your family. So getting actions is hard. However you can take actions which make later actions more valuable. You can get improvements which let you create food from your harvests or bake better bread, or grow your farm in particular ways. (Basic game only, I haven't played with minor improvements & occupations).

Hansa on the other hand, lets you improve your actions in multiple ways. You can get more powerful actions (the round disks [I think they're called officers...]), recharge your action tokens faster, or unlock new tiers of actions so if someone is consistently blocking the action space you can take actions which simply aren't available to them. In that case, it's clear that actions are better but it isn't clear exactly how much better they are.

All this because in any game, more actions is the most powerful resource you can get. Being able to run circles around the other players gives you a huge advantage and should either be rate limited or there should be other mechanisms to power up as well. Hansa both rate limits and offsets it by improving the quality of actions, while Agricola has rate limits and diminishing returns on action you gain through the round-robin nature of each round.


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