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My group of gaming buddies, after playing plenty of Saboteur, has found that the "good dwarves" can pretty easily win consistently once they learn which pieces are most valuable and how to best respond to revealed saboteurs.

What are some good house rules to even things up?

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3 Answers 3

One technique we've used is to ensure that the saboteurs know each others's identities before starting the game.

After everyone has checked their role cards, everyone puts their heads down. One player calls out for the saboteurs to put their heads up and identify each other. They put their heads back down, then everyone puts their heads up and starts playing.

This lets the saboteurs be much more effective and strategic - if one of the other saboteurs reveals himself, you can play more cautiously to reserve for sabotage later. You can also collaboratively lie about Map results if you want.

With my group of (fairly experienced) players this rule has resulted in a much more balanced ratio of wins for the good dwarves and the saboteurs, while not going so far as to outright allow the saboteurs to directly communicate.

Another house rule we use is to always guarantee the maximum number of saboteurs, rather than having a chance for one fewer as in the normal rules. Otherwise the saboteurs are typically screwed when they're one man down.

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Although I agree with the ways @lilserf listed to make it less difficult for the saboteurs to win, the game is intended to be difficult for the saboteur team. From my experience, the saboteurs shouldn't be able to win any more than a third of the time. It is because of the difficulty that if the saboteurs win, each saboteur gets 3 gold.

A win by the good dwarves may result in one or more receiving three gold but it is likely that only 1 or 2 gold will be handed out to each since the gold cards are drawn randomly for good dwarves.

This alone has been sufficient to keep play balanced and fun in my many plays of this game.

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Yeah, we may have a saboteur win rate higher than 33%, but I think it's still less than 50%. It's just no fun when the good dwarves win 6 out of 7 games. –  lilserf Oct 25 '10 at 17:46
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I agree that's no fun if the saboteurs are losing that often. Your tip about ensuring the max number of saboteurs are in the game would certainly help there. I'll probably be using that when I play next. –  Marve Oct 25 '10 at 19:28

(8 players) Move the gold farther away

My group plays Saboteur most frequently with 8 players, and we've developed some house rules for that size that are probably not applicable for smaller groups.

We were already playing with a guaranteed 3 Saboteurs in an 8-player game and with the Saboteurs having knowledge of each other, but wins for the Saboteurs were still very rare and highly dependent on an ideal draw for the Saboteurs' hands.

We recently started moving the gold in this case - the middle treasure card moves back, so it is now 8 cards from the starting point. The two side treasure cards move out, so that they are 7 cards away in the "forward progress" direction, but 2 cards away from the middle.

We unanimously agree so far that this has led to some extremely fun games - the wider board gives more space to improvise, but punishes good dwarves who dig all the way to the wrong treasure card. We had one win where the Saboteurs didn't even play any "dead end" pieces, but used their near-monopoly on Map cards to confuse the good dwarves and get them to dig to the wrong treasure. At that point the good dwarves couldn't QUITE make it back to the correct one with the pieces available, but it would have been a trivial correction in a standard game.

Spreading the board out like this also makes the pieces that make "sideways progress", especially the one that splits three ways (3-way sideways piece), much more useful. Under the normal rules I will almost always consider a straight-sideways piece to be useless as a good dwarf (though obviously it occasionally comes in handy), but with the spread board these pieces can be very key.

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