Over the past little while I have been playing a lot of Castles of Burgundy and Castles of Mad King Ludwig with just 2 players. I really like both games, though certainly Mad King is the better of the 2 castles games, but I am struggling to love the 2 player versions because the level of randomness is ratcheted up in ways I disapprove of.
This weekend I played 2p Mad King against Naked Man and came out victorious. He had beaten me the past 8 times we played so this was good for my ego, though honestly when many of those victories came down to just a couple of points either way one should hesitate to draw significant conclusions from a streak. When we play 4p we both consistently clobber the other players so I don't have to sit up at night worrying about being total rubbish.
The weird thing about both Castles games is that the tiles that appear in the 2p version are roughly half the ones that appear in the 4p version. In the 4p game you can predict things. You can assume that there will be basements in the game in Mad King, and you can expect the "Points for shipped good types" tile in Burgundy. You can plan!
But when half the tiles are removed from the game randomly you have no idea what sort of stuff is coming up. You can decide to go for sheep in Burgundy and then never see another sheep tile. You can finish a blue room in Mad King and dig into a pile looking for more blue rooms and find none at all. I had this come up in my last game because I was staring at 4 200 size tiles knowing that there might be 2 blue rooms in there, which would be great, or there might be none. The mean and mode of the distribution is 1, but you just don't know what it is until you invest resources to find out.
This doesn't make them bad games, but it seriously changes the flavour of the game. Memorizing all the tiles and planning around them is great and I enjoy it but you can't rely on your knowledge when you don't know what stuff is available at all, which forces you into either safe plays or big gambles.
The 2p version of Mad King also has greater randomness in the bonus card draws. When all the tiles are in play you have a lot more control and you know with greater accuracy what stuff will come out so all bonus cards have potential. But in 2p some cards that you select correctly will end up being rubbish with little you can do about it.
This effect doesn't make these games bad. It just changes them in ways that feel like they break the feel of the game. It isn't just a new set of strategies, it is a new game entirely in terms of the way randomness and preparation affect results. It is odd particularly because most games that scale down to 2p seem to up the skill factor a lot, and while these two games do that, they also ratchet it back down again by randomly tossing out half the game without anyone knowing *which* half.