Design Blog 5-01

For this week’s Ghostel blog piece, I’d like to look at the player order impact. A quick warning: this piece will talk a bit about the strategy of Ghostel and as such could be considered spoilers for those that like to learn as they play. If your that kind of player, I advise you to look away…. NOW!

Still here? Cool. Now, player order is a hotly debated topic in board game design. First/last player advantages need to be mitigated to prevent situations where winning the dice roll or coin flip at the start of a playthrough makes the rest of the game a waste of an evening. So what is the impact of player order in Ghostel?

Well, during playtesting it rapidly became obvious that going as far down the player order as possible was better. Player interaction was a huge bullet point on the Mission Statement when I first conceived Ghostel. To this end, the board is small and the movement deliberately limited to ensure this happens. So going first means making the first move and staking your claim without any inkling what the other players will be doing.

This is incredibly powerful for the other players, especially last place, since you now have the chance to calculate the possible routes the other players can take to maximise their own scoring. This in turn allows them to make their own plans with reduced risk of being intereferred with or to gun for another player and keep their scoring lower.

So to mitigate this advantage, the solution was simple: the player with the best score should have to make the first move. For the first round of the game, where no player has scored any points it’s based on the terror dice roll scores. For the rest of the game, it’s down to victory points. This is shown by the score tracker around the board; if your score tracker marker is in the lead, you’re the first player.

Player order is very important in Ghostel so it's advantages must be mitigated
Player order is very important in Ghostel so it’s advantages must be mitigated

This cleanly ensures the players who may have enjoyed some advantages in the early game don’t run away with the rest of it without players needing to change their seating around the board. It acts as a kind of soft catch-up mechanism, giving a small advantage to players who may not be doing so well. Of course, you can affect your position on the score tracker during the purchase of cards; this creates another strategic layer to play as you can jockey your turn order position by maybe buying a more expensive card during the Day Phase, even if this would be sub-optimal purchase.

Of course, this isn’t to say you can’t use first player to intimidate the other players by slapping a six pip die on the centre of the board!

How do you mitigate player order advantage in your games? Does singling out the lead player for a less enviable player position seem fair? Do you think games should consider catch up mechanisms or not? As in every blog I’d love to hear from you!