Thursday, September 25, 2008

TE's Big Pie

One day, one of my subjects asked me a question. It was one of several, in fact, and like the others, it was a good one. She asked "how much land should I give to my subjects? Is there an optimum ratio?"

First, a bit of background as to the reason for her question. Anyone who plays Tiny Empires for any length of time (and by this, I mean more than half an hour) notices that the price of land goes up as you buy more land. The exact formula for land prices can be found on the TE wiki, but for our purposes, it's enough to say that the price of land goes up as the square of the amount of land you own. For those less mathematically inclined, let me put it this way: when the amount of land you have doubles, the income from that land doubles... but the amount that you pay for land will quadruple.

It doesn't take much to see that as you get more personal land, your ability to buy it decreases. The only thing that saves it from being a total disaster is that such things as census gold, gold windfalls, poll bonuses, and riddle bonuses all increase at the same rate as land costs.

But all of this leads to a basic strategy in Tiny Empires. As you buy land, pass it down to your subjects. By doing so, you increase their rank, their loyalty (one would hope) and you preserve your ability to buy land. At some point, in fact, you would hit a balancing point at which your ability to buy land matches your ability to give land away. At that point, you can sit and give land away all day and maintain your personal land throughout the whole process... while your total acreage and rank goes up if you're giving to your subjects.

There are other considerations, though, as I told the lady who asked me. For one thing, consider how many direct subjects you have-- the fewer you have, the less secure your position is. (This is explained in more detail in 'chains vs. layers') Accidents happen, and a subject leaving may not be an accident. Maintaining personal land may slow your ability to buy more, but it also makes your rank more secure, since less of it depends on those underneath you.

This last consideration leaves the realm of the mathematical and enters the realm of human psychology. A story has been told of a woman who was made the manager of an industrial plant. Unfortunately for her, this plant was in poor condition. Morale was very bad, production was bad, and almost everyone there expected it to go bankrupt. Her job was to prevent that from happening. Fortunately for her, she found a very wise man among her employees who taught her how to increase morale and productivity. One of his analogies applies particularly well to Tiny Empires. Consider if you will...

Imagine a pie. Fill this pie with your favorite delicious goody (apples, blueberries, rhubarb, whatever.) You'd love to have some of this pie, wouldn't you? Of course you would.

Now you look around and you see other people. And you realize that they want some of this pie as well.

You look at them.

You look back at the pie.

Now the question: How big is that pie?

There are two instinctive gut reactions here.

Little Pie people will see the pie as being too little to go around. They will immediately scheme ways to get as much for themselves as possible.

Big pie people will see the pie as being big enough for everyone. They'll gladly serve slices to others, because they know there will always be more delicious pie.

It's my contention that Tiny Empires is a big pie game. There is a potentially nearly infinite supply of land and gold. The only limiting factor is the time and enthusiasm of the people playing it. Thus, increase the time and enthusiasm, and the pie will always be big enough. (This is also why one expert on the game once told me, bluntly, 'war's out... TE is just not that kind of game'. A war game involves little pie thinking.)

So, when I want people in my kingdom, I want to make sure I get big pie people. Why? (Note that little pie people will instantly say 'so she can keep the pie for herself and convince the others not to complain about it')

But the real reason is that your expectations are a large factor in the eventual size of your pie. If you see the pie as being big, it will be big. If you see the pie as being little, it will be little.

Much of the drama in Tiny Empires comes from little pie thinking. Scheming and backbiting to increase one's position, rank, prestige, at the expense of others involves either fear that the limited supply of desirable land, rank, and position will go to someone else instead of you, or a malicious desire for such things in and of themselves.

As for me, I want a big pie! I want a pie that keeps growing because people are enjoying themselves in making it bigger. I want to see success come to me and those around me not as an "I win and you lose" little pie factor, but as the truly TE "if we work together, we can all win together" big pie world.

So, in the end, I told my Countess (now Duchess) that I couldn't give her an exact answer to her question. She nodded wisely and replied, "yes, it's the human factor."

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