Tobold's Blog
Thursday, May 09, 2024
Probability space

Last night I was at my usual board game night in the friendly local games store. I played two games, The Vale of Eternity, and a classic I had never played, Love Letter. When looking at these games, The Vale of Eternity looked more like my kind of game with a fantasy theme, while Love Letter looked a bit bland and thematically not my thing. But while playing, The Vale of Eternity turned out to be more and more confusing to me, while Love Letter ended up being far more fun to me. And I think the difference between the two is in probability space.

The Vale of Eternity has 70 different cards, and every turn twice the number of players in cards enter the game. Each card has a short text on it, but there are many different effects, and in our 4-player game everyone needed some time at the start of each round just to read those 8 cards. Then there is a drafting phase, after which players can take some cards in their hand, while playing others. Over the course of up to 10 rounds, players try to create an engine of card effects working together to make the most victory points. Now in order to not totally suck at this sort of game, you not only need to concentrate on your own engine; you also need to be aware of what the other players are doing, because sometimes "hate-drafting" a card that would bring the win to another player can be more important than choosing the best card for yourself. But I totally failed at that and got utterly confused. With so many different cards, and so many effects coming into the game every round, I quickly couldn't follow the action anymore. The probability space, the set of all probable outcomes, simply got too big, too fast. In the end, another player won with a huge combo I hadn't seen coming at all, although he had openly drafted all the cards used for it.

Love Letter was exactly the opposite. There are only 8 different cards in Love Letter, and you have a handy reference card showing how many of each of them are in the deck. Each player has always one card in hand, and in his turn he draws one card and plays another, so he still has one card in hand. As the most common card is one which eliminates another player by guessing what card he has, much of the game is about finding out about the card the other players are holding. The game ends, when there is only one player remaining, or all the cards have been drawn, at which point the player with the highest card wins. Now the discard deck is open; at the start of the game the other players might hold any card, but later I can see of which cards all copies are already discarded, which eliminates certain possibilities. The possibility space of the game is shrinking, and by watching what happens in the game I get a better and better idea what cards the others are holding, and might be able to eliminate them that way.

The game with the growing possibility space left me confused, and I couldn't keep track. The game with the shrinking possibility space got clearer and clearer in my mind while I played it, and I even won at the end.

Love Letter is an excellent game, but getting people to play it is pretty challenging as it doesn't really scream "play me"!

Maybe if we had some of the other reskins for that game... though it is strange that the Batman version of Love Letter has Joker as the "princess". :P
LOTR version of Love Letter is my favorite. Really great, short game for everyone!
I love vale of Eternity. I agree with the important space of possibilty, and this what I find interesting : I can play and replay the game and each game will feel very different. And I also love the satisfaction of a good engine.
Hate draft is very hard at 4 players, so I tend to generally ignore it, but far easier at 2 players, where the game strategic aspect really shine.
3 or 4 players is very good for low stakes fun game, 2 for more focus strategic and excellent game.
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