First Turn Advantage

So this week’s Extra Credits did a great discussion on First Turn Advantage in turn based games.  It’s pretty solid and you should definitely check it out.

Today I’m going to talk about this issue as it presents in the My Little Pony card game.

Presenting the problem

So the win condition of the My Little Pony card game is to be the first player to reach 15 points.  There are a number of ways to do this but the most straight forward is by confronting problems.  There are at any given time two problems available on the board.  The problems require you to play friends to those problems in certain quantities in order to score points.

pony_problems

 

That card in the middle is the problem.  On my side it tells me I need 2 Orange and 2 Purple power to confront.  On the other side it tells my opponent he needs 6 total power to confront.  On our turn, when we have this power threshold met, at the end of the turn we score 1 point.  If we are the first player to confront that problem, we score additional bonus points, in this case 2 points.

You play friends to these problems by using action tokens.  Action tokens trickle in at a steady rate at the start of your turn.  This is sort of the core issue with the game.  At the start of the game, the start player gets to play with a board state where they are 2 Action tokens ahead of their opponent.  The next turn, his opponent is playing in a board state where he has the equal number of action tokens.  For the rest of this game, the start player has effectively 2 bonus resource tokens on their turn and the initiative.  This is pretty huge.

That said, at the GenCon nationals, the advantage was definitely with the second player.

Explaining the contradiction

So in ponies, for the most part you can score points in small increments.  Whenever you do a move that scores a large amount of points, it typically changes the board state to a position where your opponent is able to easily counter that large gain.  This leads to a lot of standoffs where neither player is doing much out of fear that a big play will cost them the game.

In close games like this usually come down to a single faceoff for all the marbles.  However, at a tournament if the game goes to time, the second player is granted a massive advantage.  If I am the start player and time is called, my options for gaining points is still limited, because whatever big move I make will allow my opponent to counter.  However, if I am the second player, since the game must end with my turn, I am able to act freely without concern that my opponent will be able to take advantage of the amazing board position I open up by whatever I do on the last turn.

This means that if I am a control deck, and I have locked my opponent out, I can spend my last turn clearing my villain (scoring 2 points), double confronting (scoring 2 more points) and then winning that faceoff (for another 1-3 points).  In a normal turn I would never do this, because I am score 5-7 points and opening my opponent up for a juicy 10 point turn, but in the weird ‘player 2 ends the game’ I am free to get as many points as I can.

So I guess what I’m saying is that first turn will typically have an advantage, but if a game does not always end with a decisive victory, and the second player is ensured the last word, second turn may be more valuable than one thinks.

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