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Subject: Bombay as a gateway game -- too fiddly? rss

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Craig Duncan
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My family of four (me, my wife, son 12, and daughter 10) enjoy gateway games. They've been resistant to more "gamer's games," at least as regards the Eurogame variety that has fiddly rules.

I've been tempted by Bombay as potentially a gateway-style game. But I do worry about the fiddly scoring. So I'm writing in to ask for the view of those of you out there who have taught Bombay to non-gamers. How did it go?

My worry about fiddly scoring pertains primarily to the "clients." I can already hear my family say "Why do you get a 'client' when you purchase PURPLE silk and not other colors? And why do clients pair with palaces for the game end bonus? Doesn't it make more sense for palaces and cities to be paired together?"

As a gamer myself, I understand the strategic rationale for clients, in terms of offering multiple paths to victory, creating balance in scoring, etc.

But I fear that non-gamers will find the scoring system somewhat arbitrary and off-putting, and I fear that the complicated-looking diagrams on the inside of the player screens (which depict the scoring system among other things) will intimidate non-gamers. That's too bad, because I find the supply-and-demand mechanisms otherwise interesting in this game. And of course the components are fantastic (plastic elephants!).

But, I could be wrong about the game's effect on non-gamers. Anyone out there have any experience teaching Bombay to non-gamers?

This worry about fiddliness of rules, combined with some reoccurring negative themes in the comments for this game (e.g. reports of unexciting play, fiddly setup) has kept me from buying it so far.
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Rik Van Horn
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Livonia
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This isn't a gateway game. It's pickup and delivery, but there are limiting factors that make this not a good choice for non-gamers.

But it's insanely cheap in relation to how good a game it is. I've played it a number of times and it's highly enjoyable and well designed.

Plus it has a pink elephant.
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Justin Robben
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I think it could serve as a gateway game, to a degree. At least as to represent the pick up and deliver mechanic/style.

My family loves this one.
My 2 children have been playing this with no difficulties at all, since its release, and they are 9 and 11 now.

Great game for what it is attempting to be!
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Kevin B. Smith
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"Gateway" means different things to different people.

I wouldn't recommend Bombay to a non-gamer family as their first-ever modern game, where they have to teach each other from the rules. And Bombay would not be my first choice as a gateway to teach to someone who has never played a modern game before, but it wouldn't be my last choice either.

It sounds like your family has mostly played children's games, but perhaps is moving into "Family Games", which obviously have a lot of overlap with what I call true gateways. Your family has played a few light modern games, and is open to playing more of them. The usual suspects here would include Around the World in 80 Days, for example (which I have not played).

Often when BGGers refer to gateways, they are really talking about games that shift from true gateways and family games into more strategic games. I like to call these "next step" games. The competition in that space comes from games like Stone Age.

I think Bombay is an upper-end family game, or is on the simpler end of next-step games. With that said, let's move on to your specific concerns:

I have only taught Bombay to serious gamers and casual gamers, not to any non-gamers, and I have only played it with adults. All have picked it up pretty well, and most have enjoyed it. It has been more popular with casual gamers than with serious gamers.

The scoring is a bit non-thematic, as you point out with the client tokens and palaces. However, it's really not fiddly. Players just have to remember 3 things about end-game scoring:
1) Money is points
2) Having 3 or 4 city tokens gives a bonus
3) Majority of (client+palace) gets a bonus

Compared to some other games, that's not much at all. And if you teach from the reference card, it's pretty easy to remember. You could even stick a post-it over the other player counts to avoid that confusion. And at various times throughout the game, you can remind people of those end-game goals. You can also play the first game open-handed, with everyone giving strategic advice to everyone else. That's what I did with my wife.

Nobody I have taught to has had problems with 2 of the silk colors providing an extra bonus: Yellow gives you an extra coin when you sell; purple gives you an extra client token; the other 2 give nothing (and are likely to be cheaper to buy).

I have learned to teach from the reference card. Start with actions and how they are represented by stars. Then go through the possible actions one-by-one. Mention hills as part of movement. I think one of the actions might be out of order on the card. Then stress that "most money at the end wins", before going through the end-game bonuses, which give MONEY, not points.

Setup is a bit fiddly, where you have to place the 8 palace bonus chips, and set up the market, and the city demands. If you always play with the same player counts, it's easier. With different counts, the setup varies quite a bit, so it much harder to remember.

As for actually learning the game, I think the most common challenge is understanding that the 2nd rarest cubes in the market cost an extra action, not an extra coin. Costing 2 actions has the side effect that you might arrive at a silk production facility with one action remaining, but be unable to buy anything that turn, wasting one action. Another common misconception is that you have to pay to pass through a palace, whereas in reality the coin comes from the bank. Finally, it can take seeing a market reset or 2 to understand how that really works. It is those in-game oddities that seem more likely to trip people up vs. the scoring rules.

The game goes by very quickly, which is great. Whenever the first player changes, I tell people "OK, the game is now 1/3 over", or whatever.

I really enjoy the game, but then I like pickup-and-deliver games in general. I also prefer games that are lighter and "simpler" than your average strategy gamer. My sweet spot is with weights from about 2.1 to 2.9, and Bombay certainly fits that. I think a lot of the BGG comments about dullness are from serious gamers who crave more complexity, and many were expecting something heavier from Ystari, based on other Ystari games they had played.

So back to your specific situation. I don't recognize any games in your "owned" or "rated" lists that are really comparable. Bombay is probably a bit of a step up in complexity and strategy compared to Ticket to Ride. Some people really take to pickup-and-deliver, while others never do. The super-cute elephants will surely be a plus. The game length is awesome, and the price is right.

I would suggest that you show them pictures, and explain that you move your elephant around, buying and selling silk. If they seem interested go for it. If it sounds boring, try something else.

As an alternate suggestion, I think Forbidden Island would be perfect for you, if the idea of a co-op is appealing.
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Dan C
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I've been looking at this game on and off for the last couple of years, and finally pulled the trigger when it was offered on Tanga for 8 bucks(!) yesterday. I figured, even if I only get a couple of plays out of it, I'd get a return on that investment. I do like pick up and deliver, but don't have many; have to see how my family and friends take to this one.
 
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Craig Duncan
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Thanks Kevin for the detailed response.  Thanks to the other responders too.

I went ahead and  bought Bombay from Tanga ($15 including shipping!).  I'll report back my experience with my family (though this may be a long while; as you may have guessed from my original post my family is "new-rules-phobic" so it backfires if I try to introduce more than 2-3 new games a year to them!).

Off the top of my head, one idea for thematically making more sense of the "purple silks gives you a client token" rule is the following.  Since purple is the color of royalty, and since the woman on the "client tokens" looks somewhat princess-like, for my family I could redub the client tokens as "princess tokens" (my daughter would love that!).  You're selling purple silk to princesses, so you curry favor with them, as represented by the tokens.  Then it also makes sense that palaces and "princess tokens" are combined at the end to make one of the endgame bonuses, namely, that bonus = your "royal favor" bonus.  (The second city-based bonus is as it is in the original, i.e. your "reputation" bonus, based on your networking with city-dwelling customers.)

Now if I could just explain how you can build a palace so cheaply, and why the bank pays you when someone else passes through one of your palace spaces!  (The latter case is actually pretty easy, I suppose:  the trader pays you from his "bank account" rather than from his cash-in-hand.)

(On another note: already own Forbidden Island and enjoy it.)
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Aaron Bohm
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Appleton
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I would say Bombay is very easy to teach to non-gamers. It has some complex mechanics such as the scoring system and how the market moves but most of that you don't need to explain to people playing the game so long as you know how to "run" it.

I also wouldn't call the scoring fiddly. Sure, you score different points in different ways. Players who ask "why" should always get the answer "that's how the game works," often mechanics in a game don't make logistical sense but that doesn't mean they don't work smoothly. The thing that clinches it though are the player dividers - all the information is there as a reference and makes it very easy to keep track of what you can do and what things are worth.

All that being said, I would not recommend Bombay. It's not that exciting and the replayability is just not there for a gateway game. Every game you move your elephant and build some palaces. Sure, the resources change up a bit and the hidden tokens. But the choices are, for the most part, pretty easy and not that interesting (for example there are only a few "good" palace places to build and the rest range from "okay" to "very bad").

The limited number of actions per turn I think also hurt the game as you don't feel like you accomplish much on any given turn. This turn you move and trade, next turn you pickup and move. Woot? What this game needed was probably a bigger (more interesting) map and more action points per turn.
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Kevin B. Smith
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cdunc123 wrote:
I could redub the client tokens as "princess tokens" (my daughter would love that!).

Nice!

Quote:
Now if I could just explain how you can build a palace so cheaply, and why the bank pays you when someone else passes through one of your palace spaces!

I think the princess gives you a kick-back for building such a beautiful palace that it has attracted a tourist. What is the child-friendly term for "kick-back"?

Quote:
(On another note: already own Forbidden Island and enjoy it.)

Yay!
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Craig Duncan
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cdunc123 wrote:
Now if I could just explain how you can build a palace so cheaply, and why the bank pays you when someone else passes through one of your palace spaces!  (The latter case is actually pretty easy, I suppose:  the trader pays you from his "bank account" rather than from his cash-in-hand.)


Just got this game out again today and I had a further thought about this.

Perhaps you could think of placing a Palace token as not building a palace; instead a palace token represents your establishing a business relation with the princess of that realm--a business relation that gives you that status of "most favored trader" with that princess.

The princess of that realm likes traders to pass through her palace of course, but she wants you to know that YOU always remain her most favored trader. She doesn't want you to take your business elsewhere. So she gives you a rupee each time another trader passes through, to maintain her special business relation with you.

(Maybe convoluted as explanations go, but at least it fits the rules...)
 
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jon larsen
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I think this is an excellent gateway game.

My daughter is 5 and is enthusiastic about games. To make them accessible we just play 1 turn where we teach the rules. Heck, we might play a whole GAME without certain mechanics (like no score, colored city tokens, or palaces). Once she knows how to move around, pick up silk, and deliver it to a city. Then it's game on.

In general, always step up the mechanics. Tailor your delivery to your audience [interest and patience level...]. And - practice teaching the game out loud once before you trot it out. Then any game is about as easy as it's GOING to be to learn...

What makes this a good gateway game?
- Actions are listed, in ORDER no less, on the player screen
- You can show each action separately and explain the icon, symbology sticks with people
- There's a calm and sedate pacing to the game. You move slow and your options are relatively few.
- On your turn, just pick 3 things to do. An experienced player can clearly demonstrate 1-2 good tactical choices to the new player while they're learning OR explain WHY they're doing what they're doing on their own turn...
- It looks good. That makes people receptive to liking it.
- It's not too cute or too bloody...a nice accessible theme
- You are actually PLAYING this game. There's no dice to screw you. You can be as easy, fast, and awesome looking as you want...but you're not REALLY a gateway game unless you're teaching people HOW to game. Think ahead, make a strategy, adjust it as board conditions and player positions change. Rolling a die at the beginning of the game and doing something tactical relative to that info is one thing, but rolling a die on your turn to affect the outcome only teaches probability and doesn't completely prevent tactical thinking--but it does limit it. Random card draw, all that stuff - it just teaches you that you're going to go with the flow and your tactics are going to be immediate and fluid. I like that too--but short plans = low emotional payoff. It's super, super, important to lay a foundational mindset in new gamers so they "get it". And want to play more games. Nothing does that better than seeing the payoff of their choices. After the first 2 turns, a new player should reasonably be expected to be able to plan out a whole turn spread across those multiple activations. When you're rolling into your last activation and you're selling that yellow silk for it's maximum value because you planned out how the other closer player was going to sell that orange bale and bump up yours to the top of the stack...well, that's awesome. This game (except for hidden tokens...) is super visual--it's all out there for review instead of hidden and really encourages tactical thought. You can plot - you can measure against your expectations - and you can improve. Couple that with low complexity and I think you have a gem.


Here's some great gateway games. They each have different target audiences, but they're all very versatile both in # of players and who you can get to play them (almost everybody). After a good board game, people will be up for more!
King of Tokyo
Tsuro
Take it Easy
Slide 5


It bears saying that if there's a gateway, there's also a threshold. Some people are NEVER going to want to play Descent, D&D, Warhammer 40K, etc. And I'm not just talking categorically, like "I don't like futuristic games" or "wargames aren't for me" or "roleplaying makes me feel silly". I'm also talking hard limits - like game length, mechanical complexity [perceived or otherwise], # of components/set-up time, $, etc. And that's A-OK. People are different. I love exposing people to games when I can.
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