Friday, 19 June 2009

different number of players

Playing games like Agricola and Le Havre made me think of how the same game can differ with different numbers of players. These two games are examples where the game components actually change with different numbers of players. In Agricola, some Occupation cards only come into play when you have 3+ or 4+ players. In Le Havre, the standard buildings that will appear will change. The number of ships (which is the same as the number of rounds) and the types of ships also change. Games of this type make me feel bad, especially if I like the game. Nowadays I usually only get to play 2-player games against my wife. Only occasionally I get to play 3P or 4P games, and very rarely 5P. So I feel bad for missing out on the chance the play these games with more players. Le Havre is not as "bad" as Agricola. Having played a 3P game, I realised there are only a few more buildings. And for 4P and 5P, there are only 2 more buildings than the 3P game. So I feel I have almost experienced the full range of possibilities. Agricola is the painful one. There are so many 3+ and 4+ (players) Occupation cards that I have not tried. I've tried playing a 2P game with the 3+ cards, and found that they don't really work in a 2P setting. I guess I need to find more friends.

Some games make minor adjustments to accomodate the different number of players, in order to make the game work. In Power Grid, with different numbers of players, the number of regions on the map to use changes, the number of coal, oil, garbage and uranium that you replenish into the energy market changes, the number of cities to trigger Phase 2 changes, the number of cities to end the game changes. The spatial change also occurs in Through the Desert, Metropolys, Wasabi, Attika, China. Other examples include Citadels (number of role cards to discard / display / pass around for choosing) and Through the Ages (number of cards change slightly to balance the number of players, number of cards that get removed every turn changes - this is for pacing the game, Pacts can come into play with more than 2P), Caylus (stable not used, turn order strictly alternates), Ghost Stories, Coloretto, Mamma Mia. In these games, there need to be some adjustments to keep the game interesting, or to simply make sure the game still works. This is not to say that a design is weak or less elegant because such adjustments are needed. If the game is fun, it's a good game.

Some games are designed with a specific number of players in mind, and they usually work best only with that intended number of players, although there are tweaks that can be made to accomodate a different number. Star Wars Original Trilogy Edition (3P), The End of the Triumvirate (3P, obviously), and I'd say A Game of Thrones (5P) too.

Multiplayer conflict games probably need more players to make things interesting - Risk, A Game of Thrones, Struggle of Empires, Samurai Swords, I guess Twilight Imperium too. These games thrive on alliances and betrayals and the tricky balance of power among multiple parties.

Some games have no rule change at all, but feel very different depending on the number of players. In 2P St Petersburg be prepared to be very cash rich. 5P Princes of Florence is much more tense than 3P. Ditto Amun-Re. These latter two are at their best when played with the full complement. 2P Carcassonne is much more strategic than 5P. 5P Ticket to Ride has much more tension and blocking (intentional or otherwise) than 2P. I guess you can also consider Attika to have no rule change at all. Only the "board" size is different to allow sufficient space for the appropriate number of players. The game has a different feel with different numbers of players. Pandemic also feels quite different with different number of players. Lord of the Rings (a cooperative game) has a clever and subtle way of balancing the number of players. At the end of each scenario, players need to collect 3 types of life tokens, but there are only 3 of the sun and heart tokens (and 5 of the ring token). So that means if you have 4 or 5 players, someone is bound to not have enough tokens. So more players means more cards and more resources that can be pooled together to beat the game, but it also means your hobbits will tend to be short on life tokens and will get corrupted quicker. Another aspect is the Gandalf cards. You can only summon Gandalf (sorry, I don't mean to make him sound like some lowly expendable minion) when a single hobbit has 5 shields. When you have more players in the game, it becomes harder for a single hobbit to accumulate 5 shields.

How important is "scalable" in determining whether a game is good. Now that I think about it a little, I think it's not important at all. As long as the game is good with the intended number of players, I'd say it's a good game. Take Mahjong. It's 4P, and if you love it, it doesn't matter that it's a 4P-only game (I am temporarily ignoring the 3P variant in Malaysia). "Scalable" is just a conveniece factor to consider when you buy a game, or bring a game to an outing.

Now I need to go back to wait for my children to grow up so that I can play a 4P game of Agricola.


Notso said...

Hey Hiew,
First I want to start out by saying that your blog is the best boardgame blog on the net. I have done a bunch of searching for good blogs to read, and yours is the best I've found. Why?
1) Updated regularly. This is probably the biggest key. It keeps me coming back.
2) Well written. Here I am talking about the flow of what you write as well as the grammar/punctuation and etc. Not that it is always perfect here, but a lot of blogs gets lazy/"casual" and totally forget about that stuff, thinking it is not important. It ends up making the blog tough to read; it gets to be too much work to read it. Grammar, flow/transitions, all that were made for a reason: to make it easier to read. So, I am glad that you do that.
3) The content. A lot of blogs out there seem to just to reviews or explain rules. I like the fact that you give your opinions of games as well as just your experiences with games and the context in which you experience them.

Okay, I do have some comments on this post; so, I will do another comment for that since this ended up being so long.

Notso said...

Okay, I have some suggestions for you. I think I am in a similar situation as you with number of players. I am in my late 20s (no kids yet), and I often only would have my wife to play with me, and that is assuming she is in the mood to play a board game. So, I do 2 things to get my board game fix.

1) I play online.
If you like Risk, (I would expect) you will love It is basically risk with over 100 maps. Some of the maps have very different rules from traditional Risk, so you can really get a variety. Also, it has different modes you can play. For instance, my brother and I often play doubles recently, which means that we are on a team of 2 against other teams of 2. I really recommend Conquerclub. It is the best "online boardgame" site out there in terms of useability, options, and just having a good-looking interface.
I also have started playing Tigris & Euphrates at It is not as pretty and user-friendly as Conquerclub, but it works fine.
Sadly, those are the only 2 sites/games I found so far that I like and that I think are playable online, but it is nice to be able to get a "constant" bg fix online.
2) I went to (I guess they have similar groups on bgg as well) and joined a meetup in my area for eurogames. They have meetings almost every week, and I am able to make it about once every one or two months. It is a great way for me to find other people to physically sit down and play with. Of course, it helps that I am in a big city; this may not work in a small town as there may not be enough interest.

3) If you are ever in the Minneapolis/St. Paul, USA area, give me a call. I'll play with you. ;-)

Chris Norwood said...

Another new game that I just picked up with scaling mechanics is A Castle for All Seasons, which varies the number of turns and how many actions you take with different numbers of players.

But above and beyond rule changes for different numbers of players, I think that it's interesting to talk some about games that change drastically in the way they feel or play based on the number of people playing. There are lots of games that are very strategic one-on-one, but which become far more chaotic and tactical with larger groups.

Arkadia (one of my top-10-favorite games) is like this. While the rules are the same, the timing and ability to think ahead changes drastically from 2 to 4 players. While I like both, they are certainly very different experiences.

@Notso - I'm not saying that I'm as good as Hiew, but give my blog a look as well. I try my best to meet your criteria...

Hiew Chok Sien said...


Thank you. I'm happy that people enjoy reading my blog. I actually expected to write much less than what I'm writing now when I first started the blog, but I guess I got carried away. :-) The blog was initially meant to be just a photo book (see my old version "blog" -, with some short comments on games and sessions.

One blog which inspired me to try to write better is Tom Rosen's blog - NYC Gamer ( I try to write something that would interest people. I tend to skip details, esp rules details, and try to be succinct in describing a game, and in describing why I like/dislike it. I think I probably still end up rather long-winded. :-D But I hope at least I am long-winded in an interesting way.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

I rarely play online, and when I do it's usually on BSW (, with friends or my wife, as opposed to playing with total strangers. Somehow I feel a little uneasy / shy playing with strangers. There is a gamer group that meets every Friday at a public location near my home. I've even exchanged emails / blog comments with some of them, and have planned to join this group, but somehow I still haven't got around to actually do it (they'll probably tease me again when they read this). I guess it's also because my wife is often willing to play, so I do get to do quite a fair bit of gaming at home even though just 2P.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

How is A Castle For All Seasons? I never took a closer look because I get a feeling it's very samey as other Euros.

Notso said...

Well, now I have more comments. ;-)

A) I took a look at and the reason I haven't given it a fair shake (and should probably try it again) is 2 reasons
1) You have to download an app. I like Conquerclub better because it just runs in my browser. I just find it nicer that having to launch an app. That's just me.
2) It doesn't seem like it allows a "casual timeframe." What I mean by that is being able to have a lot of time between turns. For instance on, you have 24 hours to do your turn instead oh having every player online waiting for you to finish your turn.

@ Chris- I took a quick look at your blog. It looks interesting. I will give it a shot.

In terms of my qualities of a good blog, I need to add a 4th.

4) It looks nice and does not look daunting.
I say this because when I look at Rosen's blog I see 2 things. First, it hurts to look at it. For example, the colors are poorly chosen and the layout is not clean; it's almost a little confusing at first. Second, when I click on the posts, it is too daunting. I like Hiew's blog because he writes enough to make it interesting but not so much to take too much time to read. Rosen's blog entries are so long that I feel like I really have to make a big time commitment to read all that. Consequently, I don't even start reading a blog that may have some very good thoughts. I will say that some blogs just have short paragraphs or etc for entries, and if they do that a lot, it is not enough to keep me interested. At the same time, I don't want to feel like I'm reading the blog version of War and Peace.
I don't mean to be mean. I am sure some people love Rosen's blog for all that content. It's not for me, though. I like to be certain that I could get through a whole blog post/article over a 30 min lunch break (including reading slower because of distractions and eating & etc.).

By the way, Hiew, I also like the way you break it up sometimes with the posts that are mostly pictures.
Keep up the good work.

Notso said...

kind of ironic how long my comment was after that #4. hehe. Like I say, I like it to be long, just not too long... oh I better shut up I'm getting too long... hehe

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Yeah, the format of BSW is "live-playing", as opposed to the Play-by-E-mail-like format of So indeed you need to be committed to sit down to finish a game in one sitting. Try I've tried it before. It's the PBEM-like format.

The other thing about BSW is the interface is sometimes not intuitive. Takes some getting used to.

My mostly-photos blog posts are a legacy of my previous version boardgame "blog" (that link above). :-) Sometimes I enjoy browsing these older photos and reminiscence-ing (sorry that's bad grammar).

Notso said...

I'll try that site out.

hehe. Don't worry about the grammar/punctuation too much. I just hate it when people write like "i went to the store and argicola was there agricola is a great gam i had lots o fun plyn wit my bff."

Hiew Chok Sien said...

I totally agree. I can't stand internet forum-style / SMS-style (text messaging-style) grammar/spelling.

Aik Yong said...

Hiew, tease, tease, tease, tease!

So when are you coming to join us? Get in a game of Imperial, perhaps.

Player numbers is always a pain. So much so that I always bring games suitable for different number of players. I don't think there exist a game which scales perfectly.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Aik Yong,
I saw that coming from a mile away. :-D