The Comment system said this was too long, so I'll make it a blog post instead...
Aside from that random idea in the comments of that last post (which popped into my head while reading that post), I have stronger opinions on this which are as follows. Italics denote quoted text from Jeff's post.:
I first assert a well-worn design principle: rewards paid out by a game system should be commensurate with the opportunity cost paid to obtain those rewards. In this game, the reward is information, so the better the information you get, the more you should have to pay (or the harder it should be) to get it.
I do not disagree with that assertion.
In version 7, nine of the theme cards are out on the board at the start. All cards are equally good -- each gives a check mark which is worth one level of clue (although some have more categories than others).
... so they're NOT equally good. I do not think they're equally good, because even 2 cards that each give 1 check mark toward the location of the Manuscript (for example) give different additional check marks. That's a large fundamental difference, since even players looking for the Manuscript are not ONLY looking for the Manuscript.
The "problem" with this system is that it's a little boring, and that it doesn't differentiate between the cards. Yes, the Grail Diary has information about more subjects than Elsa Schneider, but if you're JUST interested in getting info about the Grail Room, they're equally good.
As I just mentioned, you're never JUST looking for information about the Grail Room. I also disagree that it's boring. However...
Increasing the number of check marks required to get a clue gives room for differentiation of the cards. Now, the Diary can know a lot about the Temple Challenges, by giving 4 check marks, whereas Henry Jones Sr, with his somewhat shaky memory, only provides 2.
I think this would improve things... Suppose each card had, for example, 4 icons... some had 2 or 3 of the same icon, while others had 4 different icons. This would definitely serve to differentiate the info obtained from Theme cards, even if only concerned with 1 category.
But adopting the same approach as v7, where all the cards are laid out from the start, would result in the opportunity cost being essentially the same for all of the cards, despite their unequal rewards.
I disagree with this assessment.
Yes, board geography and the game clock play into this somewhat -- it may be better, for example, to visit Jones Sr in a nearby city, accepting the lower payout, than to burn the time/resources to travel across the board to see that Diary.
Board geography, whatever challenge you face to get the check marks, and the opportunity cost of what other check marks you get (and what you DON'T get) when choosing one theme card over another. I think those are all significant costs, and not essentially the same.
But above and beyond this, it seems that the game has to "protect" the higher-valued information more aggressively. And leads are one way to do it.
This is a possibility, but I still don't think it's necessary - it still feels like additional hoop jumping for no good reason (because I think the cost of collecting info is already appropriately high and varied enough for the game as it was in v7).
In this way, the game can make the more difficult cards harder to acquire, but can do so in a completely organic way, as opposed to adding an additional cost or surcharge associated with accessing the better cards.
I think you don't necessarily want Theme cards that are "better" than other Theme cards - I think you want Theme cards that are better suited to one thing over another, but are less well suited for a different thing. The overall net quality of the theme cards should be more or less equal, I think, which allows for not having to specifically worry about "protecting" the "better" ones.
If theme cards have a hierarchy, then the game becomes about going for the best theme card you can get to. I assert that the game is more interesting if the theme cards you are interested in visiting depend on your strategy and course of action, not on the strict hierarchy of the cards (a hierarchy which would not change game-to-game or based on your situation).
I like the idea that all theme cards are functionally the same, and the game elements themselves differentiate between the various cards simply by the way their built, and not in a way that the players need to explicitly police. It keeps the bureaucratic overhead of playing the game minimal, and I think that's key to keeping the length and complexity down.
This sounds noble, and I like the idea of keeping down the bureaucracy and making the game easier to play for the players.
And I too like the mini-race element of the artifacts. As far as I'm concerned though, the Artifacts DID work the same way as the other theme cards, once you found them.
The info hunt to find the artifacts before you could look at them is similar to this leads idea you are proposing in that it adds additional hoops to jump through before you can access that information. I liked that that particular type of hoop jumping is the same type you're already doing in the game (to find the temple info), and I liked that you need not find those particular cards or that you could visit them once someone else did find them.
I do not think the game would work if every theme card required that type of hoop jumping - you need some place to get the initial info to find those other cards. And I think adding leads to each theme card (on top of, or in addition to) having to find the Artifacts is overloading the game with another system.
I liked the amount of info hunting that was in the game before, and I think making the icon system more fine grained will help. What I think you ought to be more worried about changing is the feeling of deduction - you wanted players to be able to deduce information based on player action, and I've never really seen that come through. I did have 1 player who actively tried to use that type of information, but it never amounted to much if anything.