Hiding the Resources/VPs

I apologize for the lack of activity here on the blog lately. I’m in the process of moving right now (stay tuned for pics of my new game room!). Once things settle down, we hope to create a backlog of posts we can draw on during busy times.

After playing a relatively high number of Euro games this summer, I’ve been thinking about hiding resources and victory points. Three games in my collection have this written into the rules: Power Grid, Settlers of Catan, and Small World. In Power Grid, you are told to keep your cash secret from the other players. As we’ve learned the game at home in recent months, we’ve usually kept money faceup so the other players can see if someone is sitting on a big stack of cash. Playing with the hidden money rule at the WBC tourney gave the game a very different feel; tabletalk was significantly cut as a result and we could only guess at people’s bank accounts. In this game, I confess I don’t understand why this rule exists. If you’re really playing a power company, then your resources should be public knowledge, right? Also, trying to keep track of other people’s cash flow is just another distraction in a game that already involves a lot of mental math.

In Settlers of Catan, you keep your resources secret. Again, we have often played with resources faceup, but that’s primarily because we’ve got new players at the table. When playing with Joe and other more experienced players, we’ve played with resources hidden. Again, I’m not quite sure why this should be the case. If it’s a game about resource trading, then you’d think it would be beneficial to see what people have so you can make offers or know who to target with the robber. Like Power Grid, hiding the resources adds a layer of complexity that doesn’t enhance the game any; it just makes things more complicated. However, I can see keeping development cards hidden. They do represent choices you get to make, and are much like the strategy cards in Conquest of Paradise or other games that involve buying cards.

In Small World, you keep your victory points hidden until the game ends. Considering how light the game is, I rather like keeping them hidden. Because you must count up your VP at the end of every turn and take them from the bank, it’s pretty obvious who is having a good turn (14+ VP, for instance). You can easily discuss it at the table and then turn on the current leader. It’s not a very complex game, and unlike the two mentioned earlier, hiding the VPs doesn’t add an annoying level of complexity.

I’m curious if there are other games out there that have you hide resources or VPs. This is a big component of Euro games–even  in Ticket to Ride you’re hiding your routes. Do you find this an interesting mechanic in some games, but not in others? Why?

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5 Responses to Hiding the Resources/VPs

  1. Rick says:

    In Dominion (not a board game but played at WBC, so it must be??) your VP are somewhat hidden. Everyone knows exactly what cards everyone else has – nothing is a secret – but it’s not completely obvious because it’s difficult to keep track. You know who’s been buying up VP, but with 4 players and trying to keep track of your own deck it can be confusing.

    In my first time playing I was convinced Russ and I were in the lead. When the game was over and we were counting up VP, I ended up in 3rd, Russ in 2nd and our little sister won by a significant margin!

    I think knowing the score is important in all games (boardgames, card games, sports, etc.). It allows you to change strategy during the game. In Here I Stand you can negotiate with other players to prevent the current leader from getting any good deals. In hockey you can pull the goalie near the end of a game.

    If hiding the score adds an element of fun and doesn’t hinder gameplay then I’m all for it: poker is fun because it’s all about not knowing. In poker you never know who has the best hand and even if you do, you could be bluffed out of the pot.
    If hiding the score means: someone is winning and no one else knows and therefore can’t do anything about it, then I think it takes away from the experience.

    So I guess it depends on how it effects the gameplay.

    • Russ says:

      Perhaps it is a question of “Can you create a viable strategy with imperfect knowledge of player status?”

      Oddly enough in most of these games, you can have perfect knowledge if you pay enough attention and can do the math to keep track. Dominion is a great example. A good player could watch all the moves and track everyone’s VP purchases. Same with Settler’s of Catan.

  2. Joe says:

    I can’t speak on the other games, but after dozens and dozens of settlers games with players at all experience levels, I don’t find that hiding the resources in settlers is a hindrance at all.

    I feel it is a key game mechanic.

    It is a trading game. It seems that games may get somewhat bogged down when someone can see that someone has a resource they want. I can see how someone might think that it would streamline trading, but I feel it would turn into a puppet game. Strong personalities would try to convince others how they should play. After all, “I can see your resources and your board position, so I know how I would proceed. You want my ore for that sheep that you clearly don’t need. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”

    In the games I play, someone makes a pitch, like “I’ve got wool for ore” not knowing for certain if they are offering something fair or not. No one has to feel like a jerk for passing on the offer. It also allows people to make counter offers that enhance their side of the deal.

    Example: I have 1 ore, 1 wheat, 2 sheep, 1 wood. I’m looking to build a settlement on my next turn. The phasing player requests ore and is offering clay or sheep. I can tell they really want ore, a rare resource, and they likely one ore short of a city. I could counter with, “I’ll trade you an ore for both clay and sheep.” They would be far less likely to agree to that if they see that A, I don’t need the sheep, and B, I need the clay as much as they need ore. It takes away an aspect of the game which allows for a sharp player to gain resources.

    additionally, not hiding the resources also makes the already super powerful monopoly card extremely potent.

  3. Joe says:

    I just realized that it would also kill the stealthy victory.

    “Wow, look Joe has the resources to build 4 roads on his turn! That will give him longest road! Quick, trade with Johnny so he can build 2 roads and prolong the game!”

  4. Sean says:

    It also changes the dynamics of the robber. “Let’s see, I need a wood. Who has wood so I can steal from them?”

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