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Interesting post - issue of simple low evel species deck being the best?

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See http://havocjack.blogspot.com/2010/04/phylomon-and-fanatics.html but specifically this part:

Strategy consists of deck construction and piece placement. Piece placement is constrained by the availability of legal spots on the board and the possibility of a food chain being wiped out. Both of those can be dealt with by proper deck construction. Matter of fact, by giving it a moment's thought I've got the best deck designed. You want to hear it? Good:

8 Urban
32 Policeman's helmet

The proportion might be off but that's not important. You want it as close to 1/6 as random chance and the necessity to protect against challenges allows; each habitat can have six species next to it. You want a minimum number of habitats so that you'll go first and so that most of the cards you lay will be species. On your first turn (and most subsequent ones) discard and draw twice, then drop an Urban as your third action, or a helmet on a later turn. The discarding and drawing ("looting" in Magic the Gathering slang) allows you to bring the game to a close more quickly. The person who ends the game first has the advantage, since they'll have seen more of their deck than the opponent. Unless neither player did any looting. Since the number of cards increases by 1 each turn (losing a card to the discard makes looting neutral), there's no reason to rush putting your cards down; better to hold them in response if someone tosses an environmental challenge your way. You can always lay down your hand in the last turn or two of the game.

You'll usually win. You'll get relatively more species played (and hence victory points) because you'll always have a slot to place them on. If your opponent tries to flood your habitat you can always respond by placing another Urban next to your helmets. Go for a soccer ball pattern; you can always block a flood since any two helmets will be between two cities. That makes them much less vulnerable to attack. If your opponent isn't using the exact same deck he'll lose time and actions by trying to get his bees to connect with his helmets and his predators to eat his prey. You'll almost always have the advantage over less homogeneous decks. Nevermind the risk associated with making food chains longer than one link. (You mean all I have to do is kill the bottom link and everything else dies? At this point there is absolutely no reason to put any species higher than 1 in a competitive deck.) If your opponent does play the exact same deck then you've got a really boring game, functionally equivalent to war. Yeah, that war, with the playing cards and the fact that nobody over the age of three wants to play it, ever. Your deck even has a theme: Bridging Nature with Industry.

Please don't try to argue that people won't build competitive decks because they're not as fun. Winning is fun, and people are willing to do some pretty boring things to win. Ask any Magic player about prison decks. Well, any Magic player who played ten years ago; Magic developers have rightly tried to steer decks away from this category since then. But the point is, you can try to prevent this sort of thing by fiat and it won't work very well for you. You might be tempted to mandate deck construction into several pre-built types. If you do that you're sacrificing a lot of the inherent strengths of the TCG genre. I'd suggest that you shore up the game fundamentals before you let that happen.

I think he's got a good point here, but maybe this can be fixed by changing the point system (i.e. instead of one point per species, you get equivalent points to place on the food chain rank).

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I was also thinking about this earlier. A modification of the scoring system would be the simplest solution, but it wouldnt exactly be the most elegant. While a three tier chain would net you more points, there's still the issue that the system is very succeptable to minute changes, and as a result games would end up being made up of wild point swings as each side attempts to create and recreate their upper tiers.

I believe one of the problems is the attempt to keep everything simple. While there is a great need for accessability and children's education, the game will not be fun without complexity. I think we should increase the difficulty/complexity of the current ruleset to be comparable to that of Magic/Pokemon/YGO, while we keep the second Trumps style game as is.

. . .I dont think I've said anything new or of value in this post. I'll come up wiht a more thoughtful post later.

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If we want to mimic nature, perhaps that's where we should look to deal with this problem. Why don't natural ecosystems consist purely of huge supplies of the lowest species on the food chain and nothing else? Because those are ideal conditions for anything that feeds on that species, and so predators set up shop as soon as they stumble upon such a paradise. So what we need is a way to mimic this -- a way to encourage the placement of predators.

We could do this by giving point bonuses for who owns the top animal in a food chain, but that might not do too well. Perhaps with some tweaks...

The best solution I can think of for this is to simply change the scoring system, as has been suggested. This is by no means the only way to solve the problem, but it's the best one that comes to mind. Perhaps food chain growth could be encouraged by scoring them non-linearly -- maybe, for instance, as powers of two:

chain length : point value
1:1
2:2
3:4
4:8
5:16
etc

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We need to ask "Why is that deck so powerful?" That's a very broad question, so we'll ask several smaller questions that stem from the first.

First, "Why should I have a diversity of species?" Well, you shouldn't, at least not in the current implementation of the game. There is no benefit to "teching" up to higher trophic levels if they are worth the same points in the end game, and there is no detriment to having just one species populate all your habitats. A slew of first tier trophic species is worth the same as a few long chains of trophic hierarchies, but the chains are many times more vulnerable to detruction by the other player.

Second, "Why should I have diverse habitats?" I don't know, because there is no benefit, and in fact it is actually a detriment to your progress. Diversifying your habitats means that you're lowering the chances that any one of your species cards will be playable, reducing your chances of winning. In fact, other published games have very little diversity in their "habitats." Magic users usually stick to a single color, two at the max. Same with Pokemon, a single type, with variations on duel-type decks.

Let's look at the second question. The problem with the game currently is that the point of the game is to build a single connected habitat out of two deck which may or may not be drastically different in their climate choices. I think it would be unreasonable to expect people to keep an example of every possible climate type in order to connect with an opposing player. However, if we allow for pure specialization into certain climates, we will end up with many games being played out as two unconnected ecosystems, where challenges are they only connection between the two players.

I want to look at the Original Star Wars collectible card game as an example, as it is one of the games I have personal experience in with a similar situation. In that game, players had location cards, which usually corresponded with locals on a planet. Units could only move among locations if they shared the same planet. In order for units to move to an opposing player's locations (assuming it was a different location), the player would either have to play a docking station, or play a variety of vehicles which enabled movement among planets. I can see a similar situation arising in this game, where both players have decided on different climate zones, and need a feature which allows them to easily connect the two ecosystems.

The current climate choices means that if one player decided to build is deck around the cold climate, and the other decided to build his around a hot climate, there would need to be at minimum three specific transitional climates between them to connect. I think this is too many, since it's unlikely that both players would be able to draw the specific cards needed to connect the habitats in a timely manner. There are two ways (that I can currently think of) to fix this:

1. Reduce the number of climates to Cold/Temperate/Hot. By reducing the possible combinations of climates, you reduce the need for varying climate habitats in a deck in order to connect all possible options.

2. Allow adjacent climates to connect, so that a cold climate habitat can connect to a cool habitat, warm with hot, etc. This also reduces the intermediate steps needed for habitat connections to just 1, but also makes species movement and location more important.

I'm personally for the second option more. Wildly varying climates can be in close proximity to each other, so it's not unreasonable to think that a cold tundra could be next to a cool/warm temperate mountain range. This option would keep gameplay variable, while also simplifying the problem of connecting differing biomes.

That addresses one side of the "why diversify habitats" problem, but we still have to deal with terrain types. I believe that we should encourage players to build very tight decks around a low number of main terrain types. As I've said in my other post, I think the terrain types should be Desert, Mountains, Forest, Freshwater, Saltwater, Grasslands, Tundra, and Urban, as these in combination can describe all forms of habitat on earth. As with other published games, there needs to be a system of advantages and disadvantages that cater to various playstyles with each given terrain. Perhaps freshwater and saltwater terrains give bonuses to movement. once these pros and cons can be finalized and balanced, we will see more varied gameplay.

The First question I asked is more tricky. First, let's look at "Why should I tech up to apex predators or long food chains?" Currently there is no benefit to long food chains: They give no benefit to winning the game, and they are very susceptible to changes in habitat. One way to fix it is to change scoring, as has been mentioned before. There are two ways to change scoring: Change it so that higher trophic level species are worth more points, or change the end goal so that high tropic level species get to you that goal faster. Perhaps the easiest way is to simply award more points for high levels, but that seems like a cop out to me. However, I don't really have another solution at this point.

the second part of that question is "Why should I diversify my species?" I believe this will answer itself as the game progresses, most likely when we begin to develop more keywords. Once we begin adding Migratory, pollinator, parasite, commensilism, invasive, commercial, etc. to each card, variety will inherently flow into the system.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't read)
Problem: "Deck with only Urban habitats and Policeman's helmets is not only legitimate, but overpowered."

Proposed solutions (or steps towards a solution)
*Allow adjacent climates to connect (Cold | cool/warm | Hot)
*Create system of advantages/disadvantages for each terrain type
*Change scoring system to encourage chain building
*Focus on creating diverse keywords that will encourage diversity

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Wow. The discard and draw ability instantly reminded me of skullclamp. I think it should be change to a better draw-discard proportion.
It also shouldn't be allowed to have more than x cards with the same name in a deck.
Anyway the point system should be changed too.

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This doesn't single-handedly solve the problem posed by this deck, but what if we limited a species to one per habitat? The original idea is that each species card represents the presence of a population of organisms rather than a single organism, so it seems like it would make sense to limit it this way. Also, why not impose limits on each level in the food chain? I'm not sure how this would be implemented in a practical way, but it seems like the reason this doesn't happen in the real world is that organisms at the same level of the food chain compete for resources. We could introduce such competition to force vertical diversity. This could be accompanied by Environmental Challenge cards that favor fully developed ecosystems (just like regular environmental stresses do).

I don't think this deck is a silver bullet, but it does point to some significant gaps in how the rules are currently conceived. Rather than give up or start from scratch, I think looking to real ecology can yield some interesting solutions.

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Havocjack is basically saying that a monoculture deck is unstoppable. Well, maybe. The question is, what happens to monocultures in a real ecosystem? And how come you rarely, if ever, see monocultures in a state of nature? It seems to me that natural ecosystems have some built-in qualities that select for diversity over monocultures, and if the Phylo rules reflect those built-in qualities, we don't have a problem.

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One could make diversity chains a Settlers of Catan-type reward - extra points for the person with the longest chain, and only the longest chain, with the amount of points increasing the longer the chain goes?

(And monocultures tend to die when their environment changes or a predator is introduced that likes to eat them. Might be that the best way to beat a monoculture deck is to make it easy for predators to eat opponent stuff.)

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I think the points system should be changed to give greater amounts of points to higher level predators as has been stated.

I definitely think there should be a maximum number of low level cards allowed. In nature to many of a species will compete for food and lead to disaster.

EXAMPLE:
When elk herds in Yellowstone got to large they ate too much vegetation and did not allow new plants to grow. It made the land inhabitable by beavers, birds, ECT. But with the introduction of wolves the problem was solved.

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From the science viewpoint I really dig Cubist's point (i.e. why are monocultures good and bad in real life). i.e. playing a monospecies tactic is easy (and they are easy to set up in real life too), but only in the right conditions. i.e. in terms of biodiversity, monocultures are particularly susceptible to change or a single event (like disease for instance).

So I think making sure that some of the environmental challenges reflect this is important. i.e. a challenge (that happens to work on a species) can effect ALL cards of that particular species. Or an invasive species coming in on someone's territory can effect a single species, but woe if you have 10 identical cards (they'll all be affected).

The idea of sticking to low level food chain rank is also something that can be addressed by looking at what happens in real life. Firstly, making higher predators worth more points does make sense - it does take more effort to set up.

As well, the reason why a robust ecosystem needs these higher levels, is because they allow control of overpopulation of lower trophic level organisms. In other words, in nature if there was a field (or say 32 identical plant cards), that would be like the best meal ever for a certain higher trophic organism! This could easily be translated into an Environmental Challenge card (which I'm thinking of calling it an Environmental Event or Ecological Event card - i.e. an event card)

Game on!

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