Thursday, November 17, 2011

Endeavor for 2 - A Selective Look at the 2P Variants

(originally posted on BGG August 2011)

Game Designer(s) - Carl de Visser & Jarratt Gray
Game Publisher - Z-MAN Games
Game Type - Euro efficiency engine/area control/set collection

This article will discuss the two most popular variants:

The Official Variant:

Faster, Friendlier:

Well let's start with the official variant. This variant introduces a 3rd neutral player whose markers are played by both players. This is sort of a dummy player if you're familiar with that sort of concept. Most of the rules are identical to the full player compliment with a few exceptions. Often, when you choose different options for your action you are going to, in-turn, place down the neutral discs. When occupying, you can place a neutral disc afterwards in any region in which that neutral player is allowed to play a disc. The neutral player placement follows the same rules as the active player, this neutral player must have presence in the region in order to place his disc. Very often you'll be using these neutral discs to interfere with your live opponents progress. Attacking works exactly as it would with normal scaling. When you ship, you place a neutral disc into any shipping lane, just as it would be for any other player. There are no prerequisites for shipping however. Drawing cards works in a similar way to occupation. When you choose your draw action you can "take" a card for the neutral player in any area in which he is eligible according to normal rules. It is important to note that the blue "action chits" when spent do not provoke neutral actions. There are a few other subtleties and options, but that gets to the gist of the official variant.

As for the Faster, Friendlier variant, it is obvious that it is based on the official variant with a few significant changes. Besides the drawing cards action the neutral discs are assigned or allotted to the different regions during setup. Each region gets a specific amount of discs to be laid out during the occupation of each area, the shipping lanes start with a pre-determined amount discs, placed in the first few spot in the shipping lane. The decisions on behalf of the live players, regarding the neutral player, take place when you choose to draw cards. When you draw cards you may choose to discard the next highest card from the draw pile. The neutral player "gets" this card.

The only reason I'm writing this article, is because both actually work! Obviously both, in different ways, simulate the tightness in available area that you'd find with more players.

-Here are some notes of comparison: (OV=official variant, FF=faster,friendlier)

  •  in the OV, your shipping is left inherently alone, the other live player may decide to interfere with you by placing neutral discs into your area, soaking up valuable space. Making you compete against the neutral player for control of the governance for that region.
  • in the FF, there are a certain amount of neutral discs present in each shipping lane during setup. The competition is there regardless.

  • in the OV, according to normal placement rules your opponent may place neutral discs into an eligible (for the neutral color) spot in an open region.
  • in the FF, the neutral discs are spread out among the neutral regions and are added when there sufficient room left for placement. So, if there is a disc set aside for the purpose of neutral occupation (counted out and placed beside the region as a reminder) it is placed as soon as there is only 1 space left to occupy in that region. If there are four  neutral discs for that region(europe only), they are played onto the board when there are only 4 spaces left unoccupied. Europe starts the game with 4 neutral discs to the side, whereas each other region has one neutral disc set aside for occupation.

  • in the OV, the active player after drawing his own card may choose to draw for the neutral player by placing an eligible (for the neutral color) card in the box.
  • in the FF, the active player after drawing his own card may remove the next card from the stack of cards he draws his own from, regardless of eligibility for the neutral player.

This pretty much breaks down the major differences between the two most popular variants. Now, which is better? Why would I want to write an article based on such a specific case of circumstances when there are so many other 2P specific games available?

 The inspiration for this article, is that they both actually work. As in for me, they each have their own unique appeals and turn-offs, they each expand on the game, or at the very least present the system in a different light. There are games published to scale down to 2, that don't work this well!

The official variant seems to try and simulate a 3 player game. Now I know what you're thinking, this game isn't even close to "best with 3". I think this is because of the size of the board. It leaves too much open space and freedom to expand without worry. If you've played a 3 player game of Endeavor, there still is too much room to expand your domain uninhibited by the other players. I've heard things like, "well, who would actually play the game that way, the conflict is part of the fun"... this is true but just having that idea in mind isn't enough to achieve that tension in a real game. Why? Because there's still too much damn room! If one player makes it their goal to be the fly in your ointment, he is going to lose track of his own goals and effectively only be able to disrupt one of three players. That's where the "dummy player actually makes it interesting. You see, he's soul-less. He doesn't care about his own win, he gets his jollies in creating havoc and disruption. That is because you are in control of him. So where maybe only a certain percentage of [i]your[/i] plays will be in confined spaces, [i]all of his will be[/i]. He is your drone. He thrives on conflict. This makes up for the plays where a live player would be seeking to "carve-out" his own territory.

The "Faster, Friendlier Variant" seems to try and shorten the board size down. There are spots on the shipping lane already occupied by the neutral player at the games beginning. So besides that neutral player being a legitimate candidate for governor, these spaces might as well not even exist. This is in stark contrast to the OV because the neutral counters are spread equal. You can't elect as the opposing player to push most of the neutral discs into one area. There isn't much to wonder about as far as the occupation strategy of the neutral player. It's pre-determined, in timing and amount.

Card drawing is significantly different between the two. In the OV the discarded card draws are going to be a little more spread out. Some defensive (blocking your opponents ability to pick up a card by snatching it up for the neutral player) or offensive (removing cards from regions you are in in hopes of getting through the deck a little faster to get to the more powerful). The FF just works on the 2nd premise alone. You can only draw cards out of the decks for the neutral players from the same deck as you just drew your own. There are rare circumstances that arise that may carry some of the tone of the defensive position. This happens when 2 players are competing along with the neutral player in one region. The neutral player will have a fairly decent presence to start and there really isn't much room at all in each. Therefore if all 3 players are present you can sort of snuff out the weakest player (always one of the 2 live players) from the quality cards... or really any cards at all.

"Are these really dummy players, I've already been told this is a terrible mechanic, I don't know why I hate it so much... I just do!" Well clearly that was the inspiration for the FF variant. Or atleast it presents an alternative for those with a similar attitude as the quoted fella. For the record, the official variant came first, the FF is almost, as I see it atleast, a variation on the variant. Get all that? A whole separate article could probably be written on the pro's and con's of such mechanics, from fun to un-fun, strategic to annoying. One thing that is very clear and I sort of alluded to it earlier, is that for every few moves you make in this game you're going to be getting into someone's business with your own moves. That is with the normal player compliment (3-5). Yes I am aware of the butterfly effect, not everyone likes to think of all remotely abstract games as being as fluid as GO and me thinks for good reason. The neutral player serves just to complicate and interfere. So yes, you might understand that although a normal live player's move might have some interference associated with it there are personal motivations for it. The move helps further their "efficiency engine", if it slows you down in the process, all the better, The neutral player's moves don't share that quality. If taken too emotionally and in context of normal play, they seem mean... because they are. Another reason for the FF as stated by the author is that it is easy to forget the neutral actions after taking your own. I would agree, but that isn't the fault of the variant. It definitely feels less intuitive to play these neutral markers, so I think in combination with residual habits formed by the normal order of procedure, it seems to break the flow of the game up. I think there's something to this, but it's definitely not the fault of the variant.

Something I found very interesting that I didn't expect was the realization that this is more of an abstract game than I had thought. Sometimes I get caught up in the distraction of theme. Pretty pieces, an interesting layout, these things are very much to the benefit to the game but sometimes these elements overshadow the beauty and simplicity of the abstract quality of the game play. The phrase I keep coming back to, whether it's because of the quicker games, lack of motion between turns, or just more directly seeing the implications of certain positions, "these variants strip away some of the mystery of the game". This phrase over and over in my mind has been ringing. But what are the mysteries? This is a game of open information and zero luck, so the mystery has something to do with the abstract play. Seeing the further implication of your placements and decisions in more brevity and clarity. This is the only thing I can come up with. I'd like to rant along more about this, but again it's a bit off topic and would make this article less appealing or digestible for some folks with a more casual approach to gaming. I also don't want to ruin the game by exposing people to strategy that I haven't fully thought out or they weren't looking for.

I must say I enjoy the official variant more than the FF for the following reasons:

  • The neutral discs set aside for occupation present a very stale set of circumstances once they enter the game.
  • I feel less of the original strategy remains viable when playing the FF version.
  • The card drawing aspect of FF feels cheap, for a reason I can't fully describe. I guess it just feels so much different than the normal game.
  • There are certain shipping situations in the FF that feel scripted, broken, or less than inspiring from a design standpoint. Even though the neutral player has a leg-up on the competition in the governor race, it feels as though at some points the strategy becomes far less elegant.
  • The spread out approach of the neutral player is a bit unrealistic. I like the ability to "preempt" my opponents future strategy by playing discs in a diverse and varied way, at a variable rate and concentration.

That being said, the FF is what it set out to be.

  • Faster,especially at first when compared to the original order of operations.
  • Friendlier, you get no choice where the neutral discs will be placed, well at least as far as concentration.

I actually very much enjoy both. I remember thinking, would I like this game if it was published as a two player game with either of the variants as the official and only set of rules? I honestly can say I would. This is one of those variants that if more people knew about it, I think sales might have been even better for this game. Endeavor really doesn't have a lot of "screwage" to begin with, and unless you've been coddled by non confrontational Euro's for most of your playing, you'd probably find that even with the intentionally blatant disruptive force that is the dummy player, it really doesn't feel all that nasty. The attack action is already weighted pretty heavily in expense, so if you could handle that and can accept the fact that your opponent taking up space to meet his goals is already hindering your chances to expand, the blatant motivation behind neutral play should be seen as nothing more than a little slap on the ass. Even though the dummy player can't speak up to tell you, his motivation are very much the same as yours would be, just remember that guy is a dummy after all.


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