Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Risk Strategies

Risk board game strategies: Australia
by Craig Reade (

Risk board game strategies: Australia – Defensive Might


One of the most basic and widely-used strategies in the game of Risk involves establishing the continent of Australia as a defensive base.

Since Australia only has one entry point (Indonesia, through Siam), it is an ideal continent to keep and hold, especially when focusing on a defensive game. Because of its simplicity and popularity, at least one player in every game will attempt it.

If this is your plan, be prepared for fierce competition and make sure you have the stomach to 'risk' the game to gain that foothold.

Risk board game strategies: Australia - Initial Army Placement

There are four territories in Australia – Indonesia, New Guinea, Western Australia and Eastern Australia. With the exception of Indonesia and Eastern Australia (which cannot reach each other), every Australian territory connects with every other one, making it an ideal defensive position.

Editor's note: the version of the game which Dan describes is the one where players can choose which territories they own, rather than the modern, random element when you deal out territory cards.

If you want to take Australia, you must lay claim to at least one of these territories – the more the better. You probably won’t be able to claim all four during initial placement (since no one will want to hand you Australia at the start of the game), but the more the better.

If you can secure New Guinea or Western Australia first, this is ideal as it gives you the most flexibility in the opening turn. After all of the Australian territories are taken, you should claim some Asian territories – Siam especially if you can get it.

After all of Asia is claimed, you can place randomly – Africa and Europe might help you a little bit, but at this point these territories are so remote that they really won’t help you too much early in the game.

After the territories are all claimed, you must place all your forces on a single territory in Australia. Select the one that gives you the most flexibility of attack and the greatest leverage against any opponents who challenge you on the continent.

Be mindful of the units your opponent faces, watch for any players establishing a presence in Asia (as they may try to knock you out) and respond accordingly. Your first priority is having superiority in Australia, but if any potential opponents give up on the continent, you can move on to placing defensive units to keep people out of Australia (Siam is ideal for this – China, India, or Indonesia if you intend to move into Siam and weren’t able to claim it at the beginning of the game).

Risk board game strategies: Australia - Opening Turns

This is where you need to analyze the position of your opponents and determine your course of action. If you are alone or mostly unchallenged in Australia, the choice is simple – take it, and establish a defensive position in Siam. This is the ideal condition.

If there is one other player making a play for the continent, the choice is a little more difficult. By attacking them, you will severely deplete your forces, leaving you vulnerable for attack. On the other hand, in large army battles, the attacker has the advantage.

You can elect to forgo the attack and open the door for your opponent to move off the continent, but they may decide to take the odds for themselves. The best thing to do is to attack – it is an all-or-nothing proposition, but it is your best odds for success.

If you should eliminate the opponent, fortify as many armies possible into Indonesia or Siam, to defend your hard-earned continent. If there is a player with an established presence in Asia, you can almost guarantee that they will attempt to move in and take Australia for themselves.

When there are three or more players going for Australia, the resulting stand-off should seem like a game of chicken. No one will want to attack, because it would open them up to defeat from the third or fourth party. This is a tense situation, but the good news is that with so many players focused on one continent, that leaves the rest of the board open.

If you have an escape route, take it and let the remaining players jockey for position. By the time that conflict is settled, you should be well established on another part of the board.

Risk board game strategies: Australia - Asia and Beyond

After securing Australia, your ideal position is to have your entire force in Siam, with each Australian territory having the minimum of one army each. This is an ideal defensive position – every other continent has at least two entry points to defend, and most players should not be able to muster enough strength to penetrate into Australia in the beginning of the game.

Taking Australia is viewed as a defensive strategy, because while you have guaranteed yourself five reinforcements a turn, your next target for expansion is murky. Most players view Risk as a continent game, where ultimately you should take and hold one continent and work towards another.

With this strategy in mind, the prospect of expanding and taking Asia seems daunting. To really be successful in an Australia defensive position, you have to abandon the conventional continent model and instead focus on territory number.

India and China become your staging ground. While it is a good idea to keep a large force in Siam no matter what, the bulk of your reinforcements should go towards establishing a strong presence in India and China. Defensively this is to your advantage, because there is now a second layer of defense that any opponent who wishes to challenge you for Australia must go through.

From here, do what you can to take Asian territories – don’t focus on defending them, just go for numbers. Make sure you leave enough armies behind to keep your strong presence in China and India, but feel free to leave only one army in each of the other Asian territories you take. You may lose some, but it is unlikely that you will lose them all before your next turn.

Build off the territories you do keep – perhaps re-inforce them if you so choose, but continue to amass troops and slowly peck away at the Asian territories.

There are three more territories that will be ultimately critical for you – Kamchatka, Middle East and Ukraine. The next phase of your expansion will require you to take at least one of these territories as a new staging ground.

Kamchatka is needed if your next target is North America, Middle East for Africa, and Ukraine for Europe. You need to take and hold all three if you want to have any shot at defending Asia.

If you are making a play for Asia, Kamchatka should be the first territory you should take with any respectable force. Establishing a strong defensive position in Kamchatka will establish a "wall" to put your back against as you push west through Asia.

As your position in Asia gets stronger, your opponents will work to prevent you from taking it. However, any player approaching you from Africa or Europe also has to worry about weakening their forces along those fronts too much, so it is unlikely they will throw everything they have against you. By securing Kamchatka first, you have blocked a player in North America, who is in a much stronger position to attack you with more force.

Risk board game strategies: Australia - Conclusion

Once you have taken and secured Siam and established a strong presence in India and China, there is little advance strategizing you can do – so much depends on the strength and position of your opponents, any diplomatic relationships you have established and your own strength.

What course you take at this point should be dependent on the game conditions, not your initial strategy. Australia favors the defensive player, but not one who is afraid to make any offensive moves.

If you stay where you are, you will last a long time, but eventually an opponent will become strong enough to break through your defensive shell and defeat you. Expand too quickly, and the defensive advantage is gone.

Playing an Australia campaign requires patience, as well as a slow and steady expansion. It brings to mind a turtle – not only does your "turtle shell" defense keep you safe, but your slow progress will ensure that you have enough offensive might to claim victory in the game.

think that when playing for Australia, you should not take immediate territory there. Instead, only put one there and the rest in Asia; The majority of your troops will wait until someone claims Australia. When someone claims it (like in 3 turns), you strike.

The reason behind this is that the player taking Australia will have put the majority of their troops there and weakened himself everywhere else, reducing his income of troops; your troops in Asia will have some on each square and therefore get more troop income (no one will want to attack your troops because they know it is impossible to hold Asia this early in the game, this is how you have more troop income than the Australia player)

Then, when the time is right, pile up near Australia and strike. If you have cards, turn them in and wreck havoc.

This strategy works even better when you go before them because you will be turning cards in before them, you will have more troop income, and the you will have meat shields all across Asia to protect Australia.

... is an unbeatable RISK strategy for games in which a.) 4 to 6 players are playing, and b.) with rising "book" values, which I call "The Melbourne Method".

1.) Take Australia RIGHT AWAY, shift-move all possible armies to SIAM. Likely, you'll receive 1 card.

2.) Attack NO ONE. Accept your additional 2 armies each time it's your turn, placing your total of 5 armies ONLY on SIAM. Don't worry that you're not accumulating cards. Card sets or "books" aren't worth much yet.

3.) As your opponents trade "books" of cards for initially SMALL numbers of additional armies, begin to pay close attention to discern which of your opponents has ALL the following criteria:

a,) has ALL of his or her remaining forces fairly PROXIMATE to your own.

b.) has been "WHITTLED DOWN" somewhat by other opponents' attacks.

c.) has 4 or 5 CARDS he or she will soon be required to turn in.

4.) Once you've identified an opponent possessed of ALL these things, you will now BEGIN attacking from SIAM, with a force numbering approximately 50 armies and make a BEE-LINE for the aforementioned opponent meeting the criteria listed above, and continue your attack until that opponent is defeated, at which point he must relinquish his cards to you, and you will now turn in at least one 3-card "book" for additional armies, and continue your attack on the one among the REMAINING opponents who possesses the greatest number of the same 3 criteria discussed above, and when you've defeated his last army, you're entitled to turn in HIS remaining cards for MORE ARMIES, and then you'll select a new victim and ATTACK UNTIL VICTORY!!!

This is indisputably the best RISK strategy to win a 4 to 6 player game with "rising book values" rule invoked.

Regards, The General.

Risk board game strategies: South America
by Craig Reade (

Risk board game strategies: South America

Overview South America is more than the poor-man’s substitute for Australia. It is identical to Australia in every way, except that it has two entry points, instead of one.

Many players make the mistake of assuming that a similar defensive strategy can be employed successfully, and opt to begin their game in that continent if Australia is too competitive. This is a mistake. Australia caters to the defensive player, but South America very much favors the offensive player.

In order to be successful starting the game in South America, you cannot establish yourself defensively and then move forward, or you will be trapped. You must play more aggressively and the map is structured in a way that is is beneficial for you to do so.

Risk board game strategies: South America - Initial Army Placement

Obviously you want to claim some territories in South America from the start. If you can only get one, you should do your best to take Argentina, or Peru if that fails. Yes – that puts you in a position where you have to fight if someone challenges you for the continent, but your opponent will know that.

Since South America is offensive in nature, you can’t win the game if you lose the bulk of your starting forces in a pyrrhic war over South American supremacy. Giving them Brazil or Venezuela to start with allows them an easy escape route, one they are likely to take.

After South America, you only have two expansion choices once the game starts – Africa and North America. It is impossible to say which is the more viable target until the game begins, but North America is the preferable point to expand into, so claim any territories there that you can.

You will have to quickly take and fortify Central America if you want to be successful, so it is a good idea to claim that as well.

Naturally you want to place the bulk of your initial armies on one territory inside South America. If your dominance is assured, you can work on securing your northern border by placing troops in Central America (should you own it).

Risk board game strategies: South America - Opening Turns

The first couple turns are critical. You need to take South America and have your positions in Brazil and Central America fortified as quickly as possible.

This is where the big difference between Australia and South America comes into play. No player has any reason to claim and strongly fortify Siam early in the game except a player in Australia. However, to the dismay of the player attempting a South American campaign, things are a little more crowded.

It is very likely that at least one player will be attempting footholds in either Africa or North America, and as such it is inevitable that another player will attempt to establish a strong border in North Africa or Central America. If this happens, your campaign will end before it began.

Locked at five armies for reinforcements every turn, you will be forced to divide those troops between Brazil and Venezuela, only to be unable to make an intelligent attack. Failing to take territories, it is only a matter of time before one of your neighbors hand in a set and overwhelms your forces.

So, speed and intelligent positioning are critical. Offense is the name of the game. North, or East? No doubt you now have the point – offense, offense. But where do you expand, North America, or Africa?

A lot depends on the game conditions and, like any reliable strategy, you don’t want to spread yourself too thin.

Of the two, North America is a better option. Africa has fewer territories that are easier to access, but Africa is in the middle of everything and is going to be a direct target of anyone who is stuck in Europe or Asia looking for a good place to establish a stronghold.

North America, on the other hand, is ideal because it is more isolated, and if you should somehow manage to take it, between the two continents there are only three entry points. Being able to defend 13 territories on two continents at only three points is an easy way of securing a good number of reinforcements – you couldn’t ask for a better stronghold.

That is the reason so much emphasis was placed on Central America during Initial Placement. Preventing any players from taking and holding Central America gives you the perfect staging point to attack the rest of the continent and secures the only path into South America from the north.

Risk board game strategies: South America - Conclusion As always, the game changes more and more as the game progresses. The three most important things to keep in mind when employing a South American campaign are:

1- Offense
2- Keep your back door well defended
3- Do not get trapped in South America
Ideally, you want to gain control of your second continent before the player in Australia begins to make real offensive pushes.

Once you have reached this point, it is a matter of addressing the current situation on the board and discovering what direction you should take to achieve the endgame.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Deck-Building in Magic - some lifted thoughts

Mathematically running a 60 card deck gives you the best chance to get any spell at any given time. I've talked about in a few other post but i'll say it again here. There is a basic rule when u start deck building.

[This is not really true, 60 cards is the minimum amount of cards one is allowed to have to make a legal deck and because of this is it is the optimal minimum. If 7 cards were alowed people would run 7 card decks.

Also 60 cards, being the minimum is the optimal amount of cards for 1 vs 1 tournament play where people start at 20 life. In multiplayer games deckbuilding is an entirely different ballgame. 60 cards becomes a weakness rather then a strength as a single game can easily take several hours and you will mill your own deck. It also becomes harder to have an answer to everything in a 60 card deck.

So yes 60 cards is fine if you have a single purpose like aggro or combo decks and you are racing. For control decks who try to stall the early game this 60 card limit becomes less important.]

It's Called the
Rule of Nine

This rule helps the deck have a focused direction and higher consistency and makes it easier to change as you play and test it.

First you pick the nine cards that will make up the core of your deck. Only 9. Once you have picked these nine you will have 4 copies of each. this will give you 36 cards with 24 slots left open for lands.

I'd like to expand the "9 cards theory" a bit.

When creating a deck, before selecting cards you'll have to determine what type of deck you are constructing.

Begin firstly by selecting 3 creatures, and 3 spells that go well with the chosen theme of the deck. Next chose 3 cards that you determine will protect, support or amplify previously chosen cards.

You now have 9 cards as a basis for your deck that should nearly be a 1 per 3 ratio of creatures, spells and lands. 2/3 of your spells should be doing what your deck is ment to do, and 1/3 of your spells should give your cards the advantage and speed required.

Also try to keep in mind the 1O1D guidelines. Magic is a game of resources - be it life, cards, mana or creatures. Your cards are either designed to take one (or more) of these resources from your opponent (being an offensive card) or either protecting (or adding to) your resources, being a defensive card.

The thumb rule of 1O1D is having a 1 offensive card per 1 defensive card ratio, making the deck able to be agressive and defensive at an equal ratio.

When analyzing cards out of this perspective, notice the cards being both offensive and defensive at the same time, such as "target player looses 2 life, you gain 2 life". These cards that both takes resoruces from your opponent while adding to your own. Simply put, these cards are "unfair" as they are both 1D1O in a single card slot.

[This is an interesting approach but in my opinion you are making it look far too simple. Lets say my favourite 9 cards all cost 9 mana and more. Playing 4 of each just doesn't make a deck. It does not work like that.

The important concepts of deck building are mana curve and mana fix.

These 3 points should be taken into account when building a deck:

- The mana cost of your spell should determine how many copies you play.
- The color of mana required should determine how many copies you play
- The importance of a card for winning the game should determine how many copies you play.

For tournament play there is a pretty basic rule that says if it costs more then 4 mana it better win you the game or it is not worth playing. Though there are exceptions to this rule it is a good starting point.

Mana Cost

If a spell costs more then 4 mana you should not play 4 copies simply because you don't need these cards in your opening hand (they will be dead cards for many turns). If these cards are part of a combo or if they are your only win condition you can play 4 despite their mana cost.

Type of Mana

A spell like Cruel Ultimatum is obviously more difficult to cast then a mono colored spell of the same converted mana cost. This should be taken into account as well. If your deck has lots of mana fix or you play lots of dual lands and fetch you might not care about the type of mana a spell cost. This depends on the meta game however. Obviously in tournament play like legacy where there is a lot of land removal even your duals won't cut it.

Concept and Aim

Rather then build a deck around 9 cards I would suggest building a deck around a concept, an archtype if you will. Do you want a fast aggro or combo deck that wants a short game or will you make a control deck that is able to handle any type of game. This is very important as a control deck needs means to stall the early game so it can dominate the mid to late game where an aggro deck most of the time does not care about the mid and late game and just wants a fast and efficient kill. This plays an important part in your choice of cards.

For instance I could make a control deck with a single card as win condition, a Nicol Bolas Planeswalker for instance can serve this purpose. That means I have a lot of open card slots to spend on anti cards that shut down my opponent.

Basic deck building tips

A good basic rule for a 60 card deck is the 20/20/20 rule meaning 20 land, 20 spells and 20 creatures. This is your template and you change these proportions based on your card choice.

If you play lots of spells that cost more then 3 mana play more land 22-26. 20 will be your minimum unless you are building a legacy tourney deck in which case this post will be pretty useless to you anyway.

Build in multiple victory conditions, for example a green deck with lots of mana accelleration can play a single Rude Awakening as an alternative kill while it will usually win using big creatures the rude awakening serves as a backup plan. Adding 1 mountain and a fireball to that deck adds another win condition. The more versatile a deck the stronger it becomes. Spells like Thought Hemorrhage, cranial Extraction, extirpate and the likes won't hurt you as much and you'll have a deck that is harder to predict by your opponent. He might opt to spend his last counter countering a creature that will kill him in 3 turns while your alternate kill can now finish him right away.]

After doing this you will have a "First Draft" version of your deck. Play with it, Play against your friends and at this point you may notice that the strategy isn't working or you missing a crucial card. This is the point where you may want to take 1 or 2 cards down to 3 copies to make room for 2 copies of another card etc.

Ps. If your going to play extended or legacy mana ramping is important the best things to do is look at tournament lvl version of the deck you are trying to build and try to understand why each card has its place there.

Now for the best Gf in the world that was actually talked into playing magic, god bless your soul.

A very easy way to figure out mana is to count all the mana symbols in your deck exclude the colorless ones. Once you do that you make a ratio and that gives you your split. for example:

Your Deck has 4 cards...
1uu - card 1
uu - card 2
bbb - card 3
b - card 4

So you have 4 blue(u) mana symbols
And 4 Black(b) mana symbols
This gives you a 50:50 split

so if you have another deck that has 9u:3b you have a 3:1 ratio so for every 3 blue mana you will want to have 1 black mana.

It may seem a little confusing at first but once you get the hang of it you will always have reliable mana : )

Perhaps you want to build a standard deck in the current format?

1) Are you familiar with the cards in the set - even if you do not own all of them?

2) Are you familiar with any current decks being used in tournaments?

3) What kind of decks are popular where you play?

4) What kind of player are you (this has to do with your temperment and personality)?

5) Are you familiar with the new game mechanics, i.e. Landfall or the rules for Planeswalkers, etc.

6) How will my deck win or what is its win condition? Many players actually do not comprehend the importance of this and in a 2 out of 3 matches timed event they play on, for example, against a Control deck which is happy to win slowly so there isn't enough time for a second or third match. So if you can't realistically reach your win condition save the time for a second and third tie breaking match.

7) Do you have a relaistic win condition and implementable strategy?

8) Do I know what the 15 side board cards are for? Have I written notes so I know specifically which cards to add and which ones to remove when I sideboard against a deck.

9) This is a postulate or general rule and applies as appropriate, but like the rule of 9 (4 x 9 = 36) which establishes your core nine cards and how they interact is good. You are duplicating how those 9 cards interact. For example, the 9 core cards in a Kor Soldier deck may be Kor Duelist, Kitesail Apprentice, Brave the Elements, Armament Master, Trailblazer's Boots, Kor Firewalker, Kor Outfitter, Kor Skyfisher, and Magebane Armor - in order of casting cost.
Some of the new comes into play effects of mana (Lands) such as Sejiri Steppe should be counted in your land ratio, although if used they add synergy to your 9 core cards. My general rule is the rule of 3. If you wouldn't at least run three copies in your deck leave it out.
Exception: The Mana curve by groups and outliers. I like at least one card that cost one mana in my opening hand, two that cost two mana to play, one that cost three mana, and only one that cost 4 or more mana in my opening hand along with 2 or 3 lands depending on the average mana cost of my deck and whether or not I am playing two colors and or have a lot of cards that require two of the same type of mana symbols to be played. So in the Core group above I had 12 one casting cost spells, 20 two casting spells and 4 three casting cost spells. So add 5 lands for a single color deck and 6 lands for a dual colored deck. Try your miniature 15 or 16 card deck against another deck to play test it. What worked well, what didn't work well, or did you discover any surprises? Make some notes. In the above miny deck I noticed that I didn't consistently get enough artifact spells in my opening hand so a ratio of 2/9 isn't high enough. So 4 more artifacts may be needed. A weenie creature deck has less land and therefore less of the 3, 4, or higher casting cards than a deck with more land. The Kor Soldier deck, for example, has no 4 casting cost spells.

10) Card advantage, efficiency, and time (as it applies to a card game - not time for alloted match). Time proceeds in turns in Magic the Gathering. Efficiency involves how many turns it takes to play your cards on average based on your deck design and card advantage means that as play progresses you obtain more cards than your opponent. Do you understand your deck from this frame of reference? Lets consider some tradeoffs.
If black plays a tap land on turn 1. On turn 2 plays a basic land then plays Sign in Blood - draw two cards to replace one. On turn 3 plays a land and plays blightning doing three damage to an opponent and causing the opponent to discard two cards for one card played. That is a net card advantage of two cards in three turns. But was it efficient? White's Kor deck plays a Trusty Machete (Artifact equipment) turn 1. Turn 2 plays a Kor Outfitter and equips with machete. Turn 3 attacks for 4 points of damage. Then plays Armament Master and leaves one mana unused and holds a Brave the Elements Instant. So if white played first 9 cards were drawn, 6 permanents are in play after 3 turns, two are discarded, and 1 remains in hand. Black playing second has drawn 12 cards, has 3 lands in play and has seven cards in hand. Black has 14 life versus 17 life for white. How would you evaluate this? Can black's card advantage neutralize the real threats that are in play? Equipment in some respects acts like multiple cards because besides permanently boosting the creature's capabilities it is attached over and over again like it is a new card. So if it requires two spells to destroy a creature wearing equipment then white soon gains the card advantage. White's efficiency is on par with black's card advantage in this scenario!

These tips should give you a framework for building your deck - if you believe a Goblinguide - although i cannot remember if I've forgotten more than I've learned about MtG.

In current Standard (Eldrazi, M10, etc) the "fetch" lands that fetch a land "untapped" are expensive - $10 a pop since it requires quite a few pack purchases to acquire them. But to reduce the chance of being mana screwed because of a certain color, and dual mana symbols in the casting cost of a spell, decks that want to run more than one color and be consistently competitive require them. In a Pro-Tour qualifier, for example, which has more than 5 rounds followed by a play-off (top eight, etc.) decks will eliminate themselves from contention simply by getting bad land draws in one of the rounds. So to play dual or tri colors in order to play multiple Plainswalkers, Spreading Seas, and Day of Judgement, etc. consistent mana draws are key.
For a mere one life a fetch land can even get a land during your opponent's turn. Hint- do not use its ability until you need the mana - so if someone attempts to destroy it (non-basic land) or attach a Spreading Seas to it then use its ability which will cause their spell or effect to fizzle which means they have also squandered valuable resources!
Of course MtG wants to sell lots of packs so rares are important to compete, but I support local store owners who throw in "rareless" Standard tournaments to give everyone an opportunity to compete on equal ground since most of the common and uncommon cards are easy to obtain. So deck design, how you play, and the meta game will come into play but everyone can build something competitive.
But if fetch lands are breaking your bank (they do mine) try one color weenie decks. But even when two weenie decks built the same except for lands (fetch lands) the deck that can get land out of its deck without it coming into play tapped stands a better statistical chance over a number of matches of drawing that card/spell/equipment that leads to an advantage which otherwise may not be drawn. So if fetch lands remove 2 of 22 lands from my deck when I want to draw a creature, spell, or artifact (equipment perhaps) I have better odds of doing that in a randomized deck.
After 2 turns a deck that used 2 fetch lands has this deck ratio: 18 lands/50 (all cards) versus a deck without fetch lands (or not played on first 2 turns) 20/52 is 38 % versus 38 1/2 %. That 1/2 % of being more likely to draw a land impacts play significantly and is generally worth the 2 life paid for the cards drawing advantage. And as more Fetch lands are drawn and played in lieu of basic lands that 1/2% difference jumps to a full 1 % or more advantage.
So cards that have dual mana symbols of the same land type pose a statisitical risk. The tradeoff had better be an advantage of another type if utilizing these cards in a dual or tri color deck. For example, a creature protected from the color of deck you are facing may offset the disadvantage of key card draws (top decking), especially if it drawn in your opening hand.

Some new ones are "totem armor" for enchantments or "levelers" in Rise of Aldrazi. Allies was a new introduction, which seems an improvement over "tribal" cards. Repeated mechanics or re-introduced mechanics include "deathtouch" and spells/abilites that "tap".

There are two way to evaluate them generally. First is to determine which sets and colors have the mechanic and how many cards of a color have the mechanic. Compare the quantity, casting cost, and utility of the cards. Which color seems to benefit the most from a mechanic. Black mages seem to benefit from the "cycling" mechanic, because not only did it help you draw deeper into the deck to reach a key card, but it helped you get key cards in the graveyard which is one of a black mages's methods of disrupting the universl rules. Generally, one or two of the five colors (six if colorless is added) has an advantage over the others for certain mechanics.

Second is to compare mechanics to other mechanics. Do you prefer totem armor over levelers? In draft, such preferences can be very important to help you draft efficiently. Drafting cards that enhance the mechanic that your drafted cards may focus around, i.e. leveling
can be advantageous. Venerated Teacher, although not a leveler, adds synergy by rising all your levlers two levels when it comes into play. This can save mana and time normally required to increase a creatures level such that its power/toughness/ability may impact the game construct. On the other hand Aura Finesse complements Auras and Totem Armor. It also allows an extra card draw.

I'm evaluating a deck built around the mechanic of tapping, for example, and a key card "sleep" which is only uncommon. It doesn't target the creatures just a player and only impacts "all" your targeted opponent's creatures.
My list has sleep, Paralysing Grasp, Twitch, Wall of Frost, Alluring Siren (creatures forced to attack have to tap unless they have vigilence) Tempest Owl, and Surrakar Banaisher (which returns tapped creatures to a player's hands & complements the mechanic). Can you add others to the list?
What static ability(s) or mechanics are a hindrance to the tap mechanic? Vigilance is a minor one (takes Siren out of the equation) Another one is shroud - fortunately Sleep gets around it since it doesn't target as I mentioned above - like Day of judgement "all" is the key operative word. Be cautious of cards that use the word "all" as they can definately be game changing or altering.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

El Grande Tactics 201

Jay Fox's 10 Strategic Tips for Tournament El Grande

At the 2004 WBC I finally broke through the semi-final ranks and went on to win the El Grande tournament. Having had a long-standing affair with Kramer and Ulrich’s masterpiece, I feel I owe a debt both to my wife for the many hours (and days) spent apart from her while moving caballeros, and to for the endless resource of knowledge provided for all games. I only apologize that it took me this long to write something.

So with that mildly verbose introduction aside, I offer readers ten strategic points that finally helped me successfully acquire "wood" at the WBC for El Grande. I take no collective credit for these kernels of wisdom. Many of you will be familiar will some or even all of them. But perhaps I can lend a different perspective that will help game play in a tournament setting, where in my mind the real action unfolds.

NOTE – I do use him, his, he, etc., in this article. Rather than alternate or struggle for gender-neutral terms, please assume the player references apply equally.


If during a tournament one or more of my fellow players picks up an action card simply for the purpose of review, then I feel as if I already have an advantage. Nothing in the quest to improve your play in El Grande has more of an impact than knowledge of every action, and the frequency of each action in each particular pile.

The 3-pile contains two Score the Fives Regions action cards. In the 2004 WBC championship game, neither had come up through the end of round six. During that round, and then in round seven, I began taking up a stronger position in all of the Five regions. In round eight a Score the Five Regions card was turned over, I played my 13 power card, and earned fourteen points. At the end of the game, the final differential between first and second was twelve points.

Many players I watch focus on the Royal Advisor action for fear that it will ruin their well-planned 1 followed by 13 power card play. I hope my brief example demonstrates the power of knowing all the actions card, and planning on their arrival, particularly late in the game.


I am forever indebted to Jason Levine, the 2001 champion, for the following tidbit of good play. Whenever possible during the first three rounds (and even the fourth occasionally), take an initial position of at least two caballeros in a province. Intrigue actions and the normal placement of other players' caballeros simply wreak havoc on solo cabs. That wonderful board position of four single caballeros holding the fort in four separate provinces will disappear before (in the words of Moe Howard) you can say Ticonderoga.

There are exceptions to this rule. A lowest power card play, followed by the highest power card plays often work wonders for locking up a very strong region with only one cab (see point 9 below). An early Score the Firsts action will often necessitate solo cab placements to reap a full reward.

But exceptions (and there are others) aside, those who follow the Rule of Two will generally find happiness. Those who follow the Rule of Two will discover that other players are hesitant to use intrigue actions to move two cabs of one player early in the game. And those who follow the Rule of Two will find that other players are unwilling to compete early in regions where they now have to place three cabs for a majority.


When playing El Grande, my mantra is the chorus made famous by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – "Love the one you’re with". Five player El Grande games are the equivalent of hurricanes, both in swirling confusion and the unpredictable. Short-term plans get things done in the game. Long-term plans are as effective as levees against Katrina.

It is easy to spot the violators of this rule. They often have 15 cabs in New Castille battling out their opponent’s 14 cabs. Or they are trying to make-up a 25-point differential in the last three rounds; but they are just so primed to play that 1 power card in round eight, followed by the 13 in round nine. Or they just gave up a nice Score the Region of your choice action in round four, because it would have given them the lead and you know that in El Grande everyone goes after the leader (see point 10 below).

Addressing the first example, if someone is stealing your province, find another place to roost or shut him out with the king. 2 points for the Grande is not worth a commitment of several cabs that could be working for you elsewhere. And so on. And so on. Each El Grande game evolves differently. Love the one you are with and leave your grand strategy outside the tournament room.


Speaking of planning, it can be done. But my successful planning has always been short-term planning. And for that I use the Rule of Three.

In my view, El Grande is actually three games, consisting of three sets of three rounds, each culminating in a scoring round. Rather than trying to plan for an entire game, which I have already said is a recipe for disaster, my suggestion is to plan for the next scoring round.

For instance, after the flip in the first round, a nice early scoring opportunity may be available. Perhaps you can play a 11 or 12 power card, grab a Score the Fives and, because of the placement of the King and possibly your own initial province being a five region, suddenly you hammer home 17 points. At that point, Rule of Three planning says make the first three rounds a scoring set. Perhaps the second set of three rounds, you stock up your court and take up strong positions in two provinces, to avoid being readily clipped by intrigue actions.

Beware, though, that rigidity kills. Keep the blinders off. Round three affects round four, and round six affects round seven. The purpose of the Rule of Three is to give your game direction in the first round of each set, so that when you arrive at the scoring round you have not been wandering aimlessly through the desert.


In hockey, the guy who plays puck instead of the man often finds out what that little red light behind his goalie is for.

In El Grande, the rule is the opposite. Play the board, not the players. I have violated this rule more times than I care to admit (including the 2005 semi-finals where I was defending my title), and I always find myself well off the lead when I do.

If you are a tournament player and a known strong tournament player is sitting across from you, avert your eyes, focus on the board, or risk being turned into a pillar of salt. Almost all tournament El Grande games are 5 player affairs. Zoning in on one or possibly two players who you perceive as the main threat to your victory will lead to your ruin. Why? Because those two perceived weaker players now get free reign over the rest of the board you are ignoring.

Harder still is ignoring that strong tournament player if he is attacking you because he perceives you as the threat. Again, play the board. If you allow yourself to be drawn into a fight, the other players will be the only beneficiaries of your reactive play.

FIRST NOTE – Although this is a whole game strategic tip, if you and the strong tournament player are tied for the lead in round nine and far in front of the other players, you should be doing your best to beat the hell out of each other.

SECOND NOTE – the scoring track is part of the board. If the first place cab color has a lead of 25 points, rally your fellow players immediately.


Financial planners advise that you diversify your portfolio. Piggybacking on that wisdom, my advice is to treat El Grande regions like stocks. Since you have no idea in Round 1 which will pay you the best dividends, it is best to choose a few regions and capitalize on your opportunities as the game progresses.

One early strategy that I have found works well is to take up one position in each of the region categories (a four, five and six/seven region). Score the regions make up five of the eleven cards in the 3 pile. As those cards are turned over, your resources should shift accordingly. For example if both Score the Fours are gone by round three, begin to take up stronger positions in the other six regions as you prepare for the remaining score the regions cards to appear.

I consider the Castillo a weak alternative for 3-pile diversity. Score the region cards offer maximums of twelve to nineteen points (excluding bonuses); the Castillo is a flat five. However, if four of the Score the Region cards are out by the end of Round 6, load away in the Castillo for the last scoring set. Such a strategy might well produce fifteen points (two Score the Castillo cards and Round 9 general scoring).

And although diversity works well, guard against spreading yourself too thin. Again, tournament El Grande is almost always a five-player affair, where a weak board position is difficult to reverse after Round 5.


In tournament El Grande, if you lose count of how many caballeros each player (including you) has dropped into the Castillo, you will lose the game. If you lose count of how many caballeros each player (including you) has dropped into the Castillo, you will lose the game. If you lose count of how many caballeros each player (including you) has dropped into the Castillo, you will lose the game. If you lose count of how many caballeros each player (including you) has dropped into the Castillo, you will lose the game.

Point taken?

Okay, sometimes you get lucky. But in tournament play, I prefer to rely on skill, and rather than be thankful when fortune shines upon me.

In 2004, I won my semi-finals when my chief rival (who was in the lead) lost count in the final scoring round. His miscalculation lost him a shot at the championship.

Point taken?


My father is a wonderful poker player. His favorite saying is "they play the cards and I play with them." When he sits down to a game, he spends a lot of time schmoozing the table, getting to know the other players. Most people love to talk about themselves, and my dad does a great job of giving them that opportunity.

By doing so, he accomplishes two things. First, he makes the game an experience where you actually learn about your fellow human beings. Imagine that?

Second, he earns himself a few friends during the course of play. In poker, friends are good. They hesitate to screw you (choosing instead to screw the a-holes at the table). They often show you their cards, even when you do not call them. And when the game is over, you shake hands, share a laugh, and go your separate ways.

Lets return to my 2004 semi-final. I actually needed two things to win. First, was the ninth round Castillo count miscalculation discussed previously. Second, was the neutralization of an intrigue action the leader was going to use against me in Round 8.

Rather than detail the action card play, let me instead detail the human interaction. Player X (not the leader) had acted rather supercilious throughout the game. During the game, I had befriended Player Y (also not the leader) who had enough of Player X's antics. In Round 8, Player Y, who I was certain was going to execute a power card 1-13 play, threw down the 13, took the intrigue card that I had feared, and used it against Player X. Even better, it opened up a 1-13 play to me, which I could then use against the leader.

In the championship game that followed, I finished not only in first, but also with a genuine handshake from every other player, all of whom I learned oodles (job, family, interests, etc.) about while we played.

Yes. You are playing with human beings.


First principle – every power card played, every action taken, every caballero moved should in some way better your board position and/or bring you points.

To some degree, this personal rule builds off of point five (play the board, not the players). But the focus here is to have your decisions grounded in offense. And why offense?

Second principle – generally offense helps you and defense helps others.

Here is an example. In Round 5 Player X is the leader. Player Y is three points back. Player Y has selected the Score the 5s card. Player X will get 14 points. Player Y will get 11 points, and the remaining players get no more than 1 or 2 points. Player Y chooses not execute the action.

Select and refuse actions only as a last or unavoidable resort. In this example, Player Y lost the opportunity to distance himself from the field, because he did not want to give Player X an additional three-point lead. True, the example is abstract without a board in front of us to analyze. But from my experience, ninety-five percent of the time turning down the action in this situation is the wrong defensive move.

Intrigue actions are often misused defensively, as well. Many players see these moves as good opportunities to undermine their opponents' positions. Since an intrigue action often occurs as the last action taken (meaning the executing player has the lowest card), it should be viewed as a larger platform for offense in the following round.

Taking back-to-back actions (last in one round, first in the next) is usually one of the most potent plays in El Grande. Foreseeing them, and more importantly using both of them offensively for your position, will separate tournament success from failure.


Players who gripe about being ganged up on when they have the lead should be slapped. Alright, maybe not slapped, but at least chastised. Give me the lead any day, any time. I would rather protect a 15-point margin, the try to make up a 15-point deficit.

I think the reason so many tournament players complain about the lead, is that they often violate one or more (usually more) of the previous nine strategic points outlined. I am reminded of a WBC tournament game I played a few years back, where someone took the Score the First Place in All Regions in Round 1 with a 13-power card and a well-positioned king. Obviously he was squarely in the lead by the end of the round.

But instead of point piling at the expense of his court and higher power cards, he consolidated, improved his board position, etc. In other words, he used the initial point padding as part of a balanced approach. We did close the gap, but by that time he was strong enough to complete his wire-to-wire finish.

Lesson – Bad play and weak positions ruin leads

It is true that the leader usually is the focus of the intrigue screw cards. That’s the point of the game, folks! But the talented leader should have the position to deflect the attack. Will it always work? Of course, not. Just like lying in wait behind the leaders does not always work.

The difference is the guy who built the lead has seen the action cards that got him there. The person lying in wait can only hope he gets the cards he needs to overcome the lead differential. And in my book that is a poor way to go about winning any El Grande Game, whether or not in a tournament setting.


I hope some of what I wrote has been helpful. Please keep in mind these are just my opinions. Respondents are asked not to take offense or offend.

In the end, we do the best we can, particularly with this game. The WBC El Grande tournament has gone through six successive years without a repeat winner. And all without a die being cast.

With that, see you in Lancaster! J

PS – Feel free to email me with any questions or points for discussion. I love talking about this game. In other words, you are not imposing.

Jay Fox's 10 Strategic Tips for Tournament El Grande

El Grande Tactics 101

Replacing the word "map" with "card" made everything almost understandable. So here are my quick and dirty interpretations of the 14 tips.

1. More Cabs on the board is good.

2. If your Courts have 5+ cabs, play a high power card. If you have few cabs, play a low power card.

3. If there are strong action cards available, play a high power card. If there are 3 similar strength action cards, acting third may be good enough. If there is a single very strong action card, then try to go first to get it.

4. Consider the power cards opponents have played in the past when playing your own.

5. Consider the cabs in the courts of your opponents when playing your power card. If all are low then you may be able to play a middle power card and still play first.

6. The 1 and 13 power cards are important, so don't play them thoughtlessly. The 12 is important when everyone plays their 13.

7. On scoring rounds, playing the King action card can be powerful. If you play the 1 power card the previous round, you can play your 13 to be sure to get the King card. The cards that score regions can cause large point swings, and if it is better for your opponents it may be good to not do the action. Consider player standings when deciding what to do. When in doubt, play the action cards that puts the most cabs on the board.

8. Where to place cabs? Coming in first in a region is not always best. Consider points per cab when deciding where to go. Getting two second place finishes may be better than a single first place finish. Consider player standings when deciding who to attack.

9. Consider what players acting after you can do to hurt you when deciding what to do on a turn. It may be better to attack someone who has already gone.

10. The Casillo: Cabs in the tower are used for scoring twice. Once when you score the Castillo, and once when the region they move to is scored. It is good to know exactly how many cabs everyone has in the tower. Consider where your opponents will go when making your decision.

11. The King protects a single region and controls where cabs are placed. You can use it to either lock up a region you are in first, or to prevent your opponents from playing in multiple regions you have an interest in.

12. If you have a large number of cabs in one region, the stack 1 card that allows you to move any number of cabs from a region can be used very effectively.

13. The Grande is only worth 2 points, so holding first in this region may not be as valuable as some other actions.

14. When shifting opponents cabs do so to maximize your own points and minimize their points. Causing ties in regions is often the best way to do this.

I would consider this to be basically a El Grande Tactics 101 and possibly 102 list.
The post builds upon these tips to be a 201 class.



This article originally written in 2001 -- Brian Bankler]

The local gaming group has recently re-discovered the joys of the 18xx series of games. And so have I. I played a ton of 1830 in graduate school, and played 1870 and 1856 a bit when they came out. Then, the group that liked those games dissappeared.

I've probably played 10 games so far this year. Considering that these games clock two hours at a minimum, and usually closer to four, that's a lot of time. More surprising than my willingness to play is my opponents willingness. After all, I'm winning these games. The 18xx series suffers from a very large learning curve. It can take five-ten games just to really get a good feel for what you have to balance, and that requires time. [I personally went bankrupt in my first five games of 1830, and probably didn't win for another five-ten games.]

So, what to do? Well, first and foremost, check out the 1830 Strategy Guide. What I'm going to say has been said before, so hearing it twice may help.

I should also state that I firmly believe that 1830 should not be played with more than four players if any of them are new. With more than four players, the chances of a new player being unable to run their own company (and effectively watching the game) are heightened to unacceptable levels. With four players, three of them will almost surely get to start a company, and the fourth may just have to wait a few turns (and will probably not be the worse off for the wait).

So, hear are my quick tips for new (and improving) 1830 players.

The Opening Auction

Put a bid on the Camben and Amboy, unless there are already two players bidding. (Having one player get the C&A cheap can be devastating). The C&A should go for at least $200, and many players feel it should go for significantly more. If there are two players bidding, you may consider putting a bid on the M&H.

Don't buy the cheapest item, unless you are happy with the distribution of the other privates. Buying the 'blocker' private in any 18xx game usually means all the others resolve in auctions. Even if not, don't expect to get anything you haven't already placed a bid on.

Pay attention to how much money you'll have left over. $402 lets you open a company without help. Don't expect help. People may buy your company once it's 'proven' to run, but rarely before.

If you get the B&O Minor, it is almost always correct to par it at $100 or $90. $100 if you don't want it to open, $90 if you do. (Since typically in a 4 player game you'll have a little over $360 left). I personally never par it at anything less than $100.

The 1st Stock Round (after the auction).

Companies to Open: NY&NH, C&O, B&O, Penn. B&O and Penn probably open because of the already existing shares. NY&NH and C&O are the best of the rest. NYC can open as long as you are sure that NY&NH won't open in the 1st or 2nd Stock Round. (If the NY&NH opens in the 2nd SR, it can still vindictively cost NYC a run with a judicious tile placement, assuming NYC aimed for NY).The B&O runs very well, either as a long term company, or as a fast-buck strategy. The Penn works reasonably well as a long term company, but is usually put at a low price, so it does not have a great treasury, and it's short term prospects are bleak.

Strategy: There are two basic strategies. Low share price, get a good P/E ratio. (NY&NH with the 'fast buck' opening of place a curve to the NE, buy three '2' trains, and then next turn place the city and token, is the best example). The other common tactic is to open a long term company (Higher price, fewer trains that aren't permanent).

Simply put, the fast buck strategy works better. Three '2' trains and '3' train can pay out enough money early on so that the investor can start a new company that intends to buy any replacement trains needed for the first company.


After the first '3' train is bought, major companies can buy privates for up to double list price. In general, do this ASAP. (Wait until the last OR before a stock round if you can).

Consider setting a companies par price low in the 1st SR, if everyone else goes for a fast buck strategy, you may be able to buy a few '2' trains, a '3' train, and your private before the 2nd SR. [If that private was the C&A, you may have just won.] Contrarily, if you have no private companies, you may not want to buy as many '2' trains. [The B&O president often fits the bill].

Take the maximum value for the company, although keeping $1 (to purchase a train from your 2nd company) or $41 (for a $40 token + $1) is reasonable.

Trains or How to beat the 'fast buck' and 'looters'.

There really is only one way: Race through the trains. If you have a long term-company, try to start other companies quickly. This isn't easy. At the very least, try to get the first '4' train out (killing all of those '2' trains) quickly.

The game may pause as nobody wants to purchase the final '4' train. That's understandable, but evaluate if you are better off waiting or not. [Often a new company with a large treasury will open, buy the last '4' and the first '5' at the same time.]

In general, get as many of the '5s' as possible. They are the best value. A company opening at $100 can buy two of them instantly, if they are available.

The Second company

Your second company should par for $100 (less the earlier it opens). It buys trains to feed to the first company (ideally it gets 2 permenant trains, and sells one cheaply).

Alternately, open cheaply and stays in the yellow. This allows the president to hold more shares (yellow shares don't count towards the share limit) and provides a constant revenue stream to the company.
Owning more than 10% of another player's company Can be the road to ruin. But there are times to do this:

* The player has no other company and no large private company.
* The player sits to your left. Unless he has priority, he cannot loot and dump the company on you.
* You can save the company, even if looted. (This is more likely in 1870, especially if you own the Frisco).
* Once permanent trains are out, you can own a large stake in a player's cheapest company. (You can't own a stake in the most expensive, because the cheaper, operating last, may purchase the big companies big train. But turn order prevents the cheaper from ever becoming 'trainless').

I almost never buy more than 10% of the company to a player on my right except during the endgame.

Miscellaneous Tips

Flipping (Buying from the Initial Offering and instantly selling it for more on the market) gets you some money, but also helps the company. (By putting a share in the market, where the company collects it's dividend)
Still, if someone else will probably do it anyway, you may as well be first. [This is mainly true of 1830. In 1870, flipping hurts the company, but the president can often protect the shares. In 1856, it can help capiltalize the company].

Trashing a stock (buying it in the market and then selling it instantly for no profit, but a paper loss to others) is quite powerful, assuming you don't mind losing the priority deal.

Don't flip if there is a shortage of good second companies to open and you plan on getting one. Buy the presidents share, then flip on your next turn (if it's still available).

Putting a token next to NY is probably better than a token in NY.

The way to win is to own shares that withold never (or perhaps once) and not have to dig into your pocket for a train. It takes a bit of timing, but that should be your plan. Worry about the future, but expect to use your ill gotten gains to allow you buy a saviour company.

1856 Tips

1. Be careful in the first Stock Round if three companies will go before you...expect them to each take two '2' trains. (You'll need to buy 3 shares).
2. Early on, buy a 3rd (or 4th) share of your company and then sell it (reinvest the money somewhere else for a turn). Then you can (during the next Stock Round) probably buy up to 60% of your company.
3. Decide fairly early (around when the first '4' train shows up) if you plan on saving your company or folding it into the CGR --
a. Folding costs value (2 shares become 1) but if you get to loot a company with massive loans, it's worth it. Also, if many companies are going to fold, then it will probably be worth fighting over the presidency of the CGR.
b. If you do plan on folding a company, load up on the loans. (In one game I purchased a share of a players company right before the first '6' showed up. His company had enough money to pay off the loans, barely, so didn't fold into the CGR and he had to buy a '6' train out of pocket).
c. You'll probably need a loan or two even if you are trying to save the company. Oh well.
d. Make sure you have an even number of shares so that you don't lose any value.
4. Companies can bankrupt when the first '4' shows up. FYI.

1870 Tips

1. Flipping is very powerful, but if your oppenent already has 60%, you are probably just helping him.
2. Don't be as vindictive as in 1830. Use your tokens to preserve you destination run, rather than just block someone else.
3. Even though the '5' trains aren't fully permanent, don't expect them to go away unless TWO companies actively try to force the issue. (This depends on group think).
4. The Frisco has slightly weaker short term prospects, but very good long term prospects. Especially if nobody buys early shares. Bid it up, and get it's shares out of the IPO as soon as possible. The Frisco starts with plenty of money. Letting it pay out and keep up to 80% is too good.
5. Remember that a person who owns 70% of a company can't dump it unless you own 30%!
6. As president, strive to have the company buy it's shares ASAP. It keeps others from trashing it (if you are short of money or at the share limit).
7. If someone flips or trashes your stock, consider not protecting, but buying it cheaper on your next turn.
8. Because of the tighter share limits, more trains, and the ability to pay 1/2 dividends, keeping a company in the yellow (until the last set of Operating Rounds) is a more powerful strategy than in 1830.
9. Read the 1870 Strategy Guide, which is good.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


[BGG: aaron belmer]
I have about 20 games under my belt from BSW, and have a few things I've learned, although I certainly wouldn't call myself an expert, however I do have a decent win percentage.

I do love the game, and it's taken my about 10 games before I finally 'get' how to win and what needs to be done.

I like the 'how to lose' format of strategy articles, so here are some thoughts on how to lose at Vikings:

(1) Not paying attention to blue fisherman. Fisherman are cheap, get them, and get them fast, because if you don't your opponent will. For an optimal strategy, you need at LEAST 1 for every 5 of your total vikings. But count on trying to get more than that.

(2) Not taking 'starting' island pieces. As far as island tiles go, starting islands (left side) should be valued much higher than middle or right side pieces. These are primo. Premium. Start islands > middle islands > end islands. Don't be afraid to pay extra for these, or get one with a viking that you 'don't need'. They're valuable, they start new islands, they're valuable in your first front column, and they give you lots of options.

(3) Don't monitor your mainland people. Be aware of who you have, and where you're going to park them. Optimally, you want to have 1 of each color, and a place to put them, so when you finally do use a grey boat dude, you can place them all nice and neat. example: If you have 2 red guys in mainland, and no green guys mainland, look at your board. Why do you have 2 open green spaces, and no open red spaces? Plan for this. This is just as important part of the game as taking tiles/vikings and placing them immidietly. Sure we'd all like to take them and place them immdietly, but doesn't always happen that way, and really you shouldn't be trying to force that anyway. Build smart. Boatmen are your friends.

(4) Leaving no options to build, taking all end pieces. It's very easy to do, but don't leave yourself with no options to build out. Completing islands is very important, but so is leaving options. Between being able to build up and down, and leaving open ended building situations, give yourself options.

(5) Taking money ships over points ships. It's the end of the round, and your staring at various ships. Which one do you take? The cheapest right? That's right (if you want to lose). Take the ship with the points, as the color is pretty irrelevant. You have warriors right (black vikings)? Well use them to block ships with points. 2/3 points are much > than 3/5 coins a the end of the game. And actually having little money isn't really THAT bad in this game. What's worse than being broke, is your opponent blocking 15 points worth of ships per round, and your blocking 8 dollars. Guess what, you lose.

(6) Not valuing warriors (black vikings). I've seen folks take warriors early game (9/10 cost), and I've seen folks waiting around until they're dirt cheap. The ones that take them early win games. Of course much of this depends on how many are available, the laws of supply/demand are in full effect, but basically if there is one black warrior on an island piece, you probably want to grab it. If there is a warrior on a STARTING island piece. Whoa buddy, grab it quick, cause it's not lasting long.

(7) Make things cheaper for your opponent. Taking the cheapest thing when you make everything else cheaper isn't (always) the best option. In a game like this, it's so dependent on the situation, however just becuase something is cheap and attractive, doesn't mean it's the right pick. Now if it's towards the end of the game, and you're low on blue guys, probably want to grab it. If it's a starting island piece, snatch it up. But just because it's cheap, look at your options. Where can you build that maybe the 2-3 range could benefit you. Are there green/red middle-island piece that would snag you some points, and help continue your ability to build out? Let yahoo take the cheap one, and make the better stuff cheaper for you.

(8) Don't look at your opponents board. Don't do it, who cares what he has, not effecting you right? We're trying to lose remember! Always look, always be aware. Be JUST as aware of what your opponent is doing as what you're doing. What does he need? What is he going to take next round? Anticipate and block his move. If he already has 3 warriors, and only 2 spots to place them, you can value warriors cheaper. If he needs starting island pieces, snatch em up even early than you normally would, they're never a wasted piece. Monitor his ability to block, to ship, blue fisherman, everything. Know thy enemy. Or don't if you want to lose. Also know what his 'last round strategy' is. See #9.

(9) Try to have AT LEAST two things you're better at than your opponent. And monitor what HE'S going for so you can help shape your strategy. Some talented players go for building the biggest island. Look, if he's already got a 6-7 space island going, forget it and move your strategy to MORE islands than him. And go for hoarding the fisherman strategy. And for hoarding boatmen. The player that wins will most likely have 3 of the 4 main end strategies (fisherman, most islands, longest island, boatmen). If you aren't working towards at LEAST two of those, you lose. Again, monitor, block, and be stronger in at least 2 of the 4 strategies. These aren't 'bonus points'. This isn't extra credit for high school. This is required reading, get em or you lose.

(10) Grey boatman on island pieces? No way. These are hot. But don't pay any attention to em. We're trying to lose.

(11) Placing of the first piece. You know, this is one area where I still struggle with, so instead of 'telling you how it is and what to do' I'm going to request some discussion from the community. My instinct is to say that your first piece strategy is dependant on what is immedietly available. For example, if there are cheap/decent starting island pieces, I'm usually tempted to snatch it up, and place the 2 starters in diff. places. But let's take a look at our options:

a. Going for the gold (build out yellow). You need money early right? 1st round is money round right? It would seem only natural to take a cheap (1-2) middle island yellow piece. Then place your first starting piece in yellow, and build out yellow. This is good for a few reasons. First, you now have dependable income for your engine. Second, you can 'build up' with all those cheap red and green points, which gives you lots of building options.

b. DE-FENSE. DE-FENSE. I notice a lot of folks will buy a starting island piece (cheapest, doesn't matter color), and then put their first initial piece on blue or yellow, and their purchased piece on black warriors. This is a defense strategy, don't want to be caught not being able to defend, plus gives you options of building out and down to red. I dabble in this, and usually to good success. Blocking ships is good.

c. Goin fishing. Some folks I play SWEAR by going blue fast and furious. The whole don't be caught without fisherman' strategy is usually right on. So starting strategy would be buy the cheapest blue, and then place your start piece in blue and build out. That way you can build up to yellow, still 'get paid', and hope to snatch a starting piece for black or red soon. In fact, if you see an excess of starting pieces for later in the round, this may be the best option so you don't have to 'worry about blue' later. If you don't see many starting pieces, I think I'd lean more towards starting off warriors, but I just don't know.

d. ? I don't know, what are your thoughts? Start out red to give you options to build out/up/down? Never really tried this. I tend to go a mix of the three.

I encourance others to post their thoughts, tell me what works and what doesn't. Very underrated and underappreciated game. Who gives a crap about the theme really. I'm usually Mr. Theme, and rarely play a game without it, but this is an addictive well designed abstract game, and it's amazing. I also think this is the type of game that really shines on BSW.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Advanced Strategy - Ra

The heart and soul of Ra is, of course, the auctions. Make the wooden Ra totem your friend and it will see you to victory.

Calling an auction by invoking Ra is incredibly powerful because it allows the auctioneer to bid last; the batch of tiles can be bought as cheaply as possible or let go if the price is too high. Calling an auction is compelling because there can be no bluffing: even if an opponent would like to "stick you" with the batch and decline to bid, those tiles are lost to the opponent forever. The #1 mistake in Ra is a failure to call auctions often enough. The mistake persists because it is not as blatant as a misprioritization of tiles (too many pairs of monuments!) nor as memorable as pressing your luck with the Ra track--it simply results in your opponents getting more and better tiles than they should. I have chosen the theme of this article to highlight the importance of calling auctions: Calling should be your default assumption, and I will examine here the various reasons why you might not want to.

For strategy and guidance about the value of suns and tiles, check my earlier article here.

First, the easy ones.

The batch is worth too little for anyone to bid on it.
This is the most obvious one and needs no further explanation.

You plan to buy the batch with the largest sun remaining, and want to add value to it.
This is another obvious one. If you are definitely going to drop the biggest sun remaining, no reason not to increase your prize. You still might want to call if a particular disaster (Flood, Unrest) would be particularly devastating or if the Ra track has only one space left.

Now for the interesting ones.

The value of the batch is intermediate, and you would like to purchase it.
Example: Your suns are 2 and 11. The batch is worth about 7 points currently and is particularly attractive to you because it provides your 5th and 6th unique monuments. The 2 won't be enough to buy the batch, but you hope for more from your 11. So you draw. Note that if the batch were not particularly attractive--for instance, if it contained a flood while you already have one, or a duplicate civ--you would call.

Drawing a tile is likely to bring the batch into the "good value" range for one of your suns.
Related to the last point. If the batch currently does not look like a good value for any of your suns--but it might be, if an average tile were added--you may choose to pull. If the batch is currently better for you than for the other players, this becomes a better option; conversely, if you can force another player to take a batch you don't want sooner, calling is advantageous. If you pull, some other player will probably call an auction before you, but you will either win your tiles or force out a bigger sun.

You want a specific opponent to win the batch with a big sun.
Example: Because of the nuances of monuments, civs, and so on, the current batch is worth 8 points to Opponent A and 15 to Opponent B. Opponent A has the highest sun; B has another high sun; I have only a low sun and no particular chance of winning this batch. Furthermore, Opponent A is not doing very well but Opponent B is a major threat. If I call an auction now, Opponent A will probably pass, hoping for more from his supreme sun, and give this auction to Opponent B. Rather than letting this happen, I will draw, hoping to increase the value enough that Opponent A will eventually buy it and deny Opponent B this windfall.

You want to ensure a batch is not bought cheaply by a particular opponent.
Example: The batch contains nothing but a pharaoh and a monument--unremarkable except that it's worth 10 points to Opponent A, who is 1 pharaoh short of tying for the lead and already has 2 of those monuments. If Opponent A would be able to buy this fantastic batch with a low sun, draw to increase the value of the batch to the other players and force the price up.

You cannot win the batch at a reasonable value, and you have a god tile with a good target.
Don't be in a rush to use up your god tiles; they're worth 2 points which can be significant. If you have a good chance at winning the a good batch anyway, you might as well call the auction and get your desired target as well as the 2 points. On the other hand, if you might not win the batch--or won't want to, as the price will be too high--there's no sense in not maximizing the value of the god. Go ahead and use it.

You and your left-hand opponent both hope to win big batches.
Example: I have the 12, the second-highest sun, and my left-hand opponent has the 13, the highest. I won't be able to win a really fantastic batch if it comes around unless I get rid of him, since he bids after me unless I call the auction. If we both draw to an already-decent batch and he wins it with his big sun, that leaves me to take the best of what comes afterwards.

You are hoping to pull a Ra or disaster tile.
This is a desperation move, but sometimes the last few Ra tiles come in a hurry! If the Ra track is one space from full and you have little hope of gaining anything from your remaining suns, it can be valuable to draw, even to an already large batch, in the hopes of pulling Ra (denying the value of those tiles to the other players) or a disaster (reducing it).

And just to drill it in, some common mistakes; times when you definitely should call an auction.

  • The batch is already out of your price range.
  • Call the auction and get one of those powerful suns out of the way, giving the opponents as little as possible.

  • Pulling a tile won't make the batch a good enough value.
Example: Out of ten suns remaining, you have 1 and 13--the worst and the best. The value of the batch is currently in between, but drawing won't bring it up to be a good value for your high sun. In this case, just call. All the intermediate suns are the same to you, so get rid of one of them, again, giving away as little as possible.

  • The batch is worthless to you, but valuable to others.
Remember: Sticking you with it means that your opponents miss out too. Someone is going to buy it, so have it auctioned off and hope for further tiles to come that are valuable to you, not so much to everyone else.

Credit: Rob Herman, BGG

Friday, August 27, 2010

Ticket To Ride Basic Strategy Guide

This article has some fundamental strategy tips but also a game plan for a couple of deeper strategies to employ. I will also provide some comments on the subsequent ticket to ride games and how they vary from the basic. I will assume we are playing a four player game unless otherwise specified.

I write on the back of around 300 online and face to face games and I hope I can give my readers a bit of a leg up based on my experience. I have said complete strategy to engage the comment of the critics and I look forward to being proved wrong.

Founding principles

Long routes - If one considers each turn as an investment and tries to maximise the value of each turn then long routes provide the biggest return. In the first instance more trains can be used in a long route hence reducing the total number of turns used in building. In the second instance longer routes provide more points per train used. Although the same is true for TTR:E there are significantly less long routes and it is usually not an option you have to take the longer routes. In all variants the 6 train routes are optimal for points scoring.

Choke points - There are several choke points which must be taken as early as possible if they are part of your projected route. Failure to secure these routes will force you to waste valuable turns and trains taking an alternative route. TTR:E is an exception to this rule given you have stations available to you. In fact in some cases it is preferable in TTR:E to build stations.

The three choke points irrespective of game are LA-PHO, NAS-ATL, HOU-NO. In a two player game SEA - POR, DAL - HOU are also vital. Depending on the nature of the game (and the more players their are the more vital they are) you might also consider getting MON-NY, NAS - PIT, TOR-PIT. Needless to say if a route is critical to your success and the alternatives if it is lost are poor you want to get it.

Selecting tickets - Just as the long routes are most valuable, so are the long tickets. Where a long ticket is at your disposal early in the game, take it. Longer missions represent better economy in TTR because of the ability to use long routes to achieve them. TTR:M is a totally different ballgame and their is a significant cost associated with taking long missions and long routes. With this in mind most of the coast to coast routes are like gold. These include NY - SE, NY- LA, POR - NAS, SF - STL, VAN - MON. The exception is LA -MIA which does not pair well with as many other large missions.

In the same vein a horizontal mission that goes across the board is better than a vertical one. All the long routes are coast to coast and a substantial score will involve the two coasts.

Claiming routes - In opposition to the advice about claiming choke points early is the piece that says not to claim routes to early. Often a player will collect one colour and then add wilds to fill out the link then start on another colour. In addition they will build their routes sequentially to adjoining routes. In doing so they often give away the tracks they might want in the future and invite others to claim their critical tracks. IN general it is better to hold cards and play routes in subsequent turns for secrecy reasons.

Choosing cards - Claiming routes as above also allows you to collect from the pile rather than the face up cards. Drawing from the face up cards gives you the colour you want right now, but charges you a premium for wilds. In contrast if you pick from the pile then you often get the cards you will need in the long run and you get wilds as well but at the regular price. The more routes left not played gives you a longer time to get the long run average of cards and the colours you need. Of course you must balance that with picking up colours for the big routes, but the principle is sound.

Watch the cards being taken - With so much demand for the larger routes especially, one can often spot their competition for a route by observing what colours are taken from the face up cards. By spotting your opposition you can prioritise your collections and use those special wilds to get the jump on your opposition. It also allows you to measure how likely you are to get a card you like from the pile. Sometimes there are none of the cards you want in the pile and you need to collect wilds instead.

A single road - It is almost always as easy to build one continuous road than it is many pieces put together resembling a web or disconnected routes. Disconnected routes are always bad because it does not allow you to pick up and complete new missions as easily.

Picking up additional tickets - I always try to pick up my extra tickets earlier rather than later. The more tickets you can see the better you can plan your route to complete them. IN this light I will often pick up ticket early to try and get several across the board missions once I have claimed my initial choke points. The exception is where you have a good initial mission that goes along the perfect route (see below)IN this case you can build the best route anyway and then cash in on the investment later in the game when you know there is time to complete the extra tickets.

Finish quickly - The quicker you finish the game the less likely your opponents are to have completed their plans. Make it a surprise and hear their horror.

Game plans

A couple of broad strategy options that you may want to employ

The perfect route - Given that there are 45 trains in your arsenal how could they be best used? The maximum points from missions using only 45 trains is well in excess of 220. The core of this route is VAN - LA - NY diverting down to ATL/NAS and going through SANTA FE,DEN,CHI,PIT and up to MON. This takes in all the missions above 12 except for those involving Miami.

If you can get a route resembling most or all of those spots then you can almost always pick up tickets and be guaranteed points without additions. The perfect route will be tough to get especially in a large player game but the core down the west coast, through PHO-SAN F - DEN - CHI - PIT - NY and down to ATL-NAS will win allow you top cash in at the end of the game if missions remain.

Where I have a choice of missions I always take missions along that route.

The quick kill - Sometimes your missions suck and you can see people loading up for across the board missions. Your position seems precarious at best. One option is to go for the Quick kill. In this scenario the player achieves her short missions by building many long routes. They try to finish as many long routes as possible no matter where they are on the board. Where possible the player also tries to leave several long routes till last. In this way they surprise the opponents and finish the game before the others have completed their long tickets. Where a player has just picked up new tickets this is especially valuable. You may not score many points from missions but the number of long routes you have claimed has increased your score, decreased the others scores and left them with unfulfilled missions.

Closing comments

These tips have probably wrecked the game for life for you. Over analysis can take all the fun out of it. Still any game that takes 300 plays to lose it's life is a fantastic game in my opinion. Hence my BGG rating is a 9 despite my lack of desire to play it more. New players may dispute it but an old hand will beat a newbie nearly every time despite the luck involved in TTR.

I suspect most additions will be clarifications or fuller explanations of these principles, but please alert me to other i may not have come across. If you are just embarking on your TTR career, enjoy, and for the old hand I hope I have given you some more food for though. Either way TTR is my most played game ever and I think it is a classic that is the perfect introduction to Euro gaming for almost anyone.

So, I (BGG:ijmorris) decided to respond to this thread 'cause it has the most thumbs ups on it.

I generally play only 5 player games of ticket to ride, because as I have found, to my dismay, any fewer generally involves a whole lot of luck centered around which tickets you are randomly dealt at the very beginning. I have, however, identified what I believe to be the 4 or 5 absolutely primary fundamentals to winning consistently at 5 player TTR.

Let me preface this by saying the one largest misconception above all, I believe, is that you need to complete tickets to win. This is patently false. I regularly win without completing any. Here's why:

1) The single most important thing to do, above all, is to be the player that ends the game. This not only generally means the other players haven't achieved all their objectives, but also, in essence, gives you an extra turn!!

2) I completely agree that playing longer tracks is key. Avoid playing tracks that are shorter than three trains. They score fewer points per train (PpT as I acronym it editor: technically not an acronym) but, more importantly, cause you to have to play more turns to end the game. That is bad. This specifically brings up one point of refutation for many strategies I've seen displayed: you don't need to, and often shouldn't, try and connect your tickets through the shortest route possible. If you do so, you generally score fewer points and take more turns to do so. That is bad.

3) There are actually certain colors that are more important than others, primarily because the longer tickets require them. In order of importance, I see it thus: White, Black, Yellow, Blue, Green, Orange, Purple/Pink & finally Red. When faced with a choice of which card to take, use this as a very basic guide. Taking a card someone else needs is just as important, and sometimes more so, than taking one you may need.

4) Taking new tickets is not necessarily important, as I believe you don't need to complete them to win. However, if you do, wait until as close to the end of the game as possible. If you have built a good, long route that connects a few major cities (LA, NY, MIA, SEA, VAN, PHX & MON being the primary ones), you will likely gather one or two more fully completed tickets at the end. Even more likely near the end because, as others take additional tickets, they likely leave the ones for routes you are playing on!!!

5) Having the longest route is akin to having the VAN-MON 20 point ticket instantly added to your pool. You add ten points to your score but, even more importantly, you keep your competition from having the additional 10 points!!! Usually, this is the player with the second or third-highest score, also...EXACTLY the player you are competing against for victory!

Anyway, just my thoughts
Here are some thoughts on strategy in Ticket to Ride, written as overall strategy guide that could be used by beginners.

Ways to score points:

Longest Route – 10 pts

Length of Connections – longer is more points per train

Completing Tickets – 1 point per train segment

Not Completing Tickets – (-1) point per train segment

Selecting Tickets at beginning of game (must keep 2 out of 3):

- Select at least 1 long ticket to complete. (longer than length 12)

- Select at least 1 small ticket (preferably one that links up or is part of the long ticket).

- Take two small tickets if they link with or are part of the long ticket.

The beginning ticket selection is actually very important to determining the winner of a Ticket to Ride game. If you are stuck with a poor ticket draw where none match up, or you got all small tickets – you will be at a disadvantage from the start against skilled players. If you get all small tickets, you are going to want to draw more tickets early in the game to get a long ticket.

Train Card Selection:

- Collect colors of train cards that match the segments that you need in order to complete your destination tickets.

- Select from face-up cards first, only select from pile if no card showing is of any help.

- Take from pile if you have seen very few locomotives among the face-up cards.

- Take from pile if looking for a specific card that you will need in the short term (next few turns). You might get lucky and get a locomotive.

- If there are two locomotives showing, take your first card from the face-up cards showing. If another locomotive comes up the cards are shuffled and you have 5 new choices of cards to select from.

- Collect colors that no one else wants – this will enable you to mass a large amount of one color which might come in handy later.

- Select a locomotive from the face-up cards only if you absolutely need it the “next turn” and are afraid another player will beat you to a location.

Ticket Selection (During the game):

- When selecting destination tickets, make sure that you have enough trains left to complete all of the tickets.

- Also, don’t cut it too close. Keep a reserve of about 5 trains in case you have to make a detour.

- If you have completed all of your connections with only 1 path, select more destination tickets before completing connections with 2 paths (4-5 player games).

- 6 levels of selecting tickets:

1.) Select tickets that already exist within other completed tickets. (Always)

2.) Select tickets that already exist within other partially completed tickets. (Early in the game – Yes, Late in the game – check number of trains you have and the person with the lowest).

3.) Select tickets that link up with current tickets (Early in the game – Most of the time, Late in the game – check number of trains you have and the person with the lowest). Also if going for longest route – Yes.

4.) Select tickets that have longer train segments between cities over ones that have shorter segments. (Early in Game).

5.) If all tickets drawn do not meet any of the above criteria , then select the ticket that you have the best chance of completing.

6.) If no tickets can be completed, take the one with the least points (that will hurt your score the least).

Placing Trains:

- Build connections that only have 1 path as soon as possible (4-5 player game).

- Try to connect key cities (ones that are needed on the most tickets and only have 1 path):

- Focus on completing your longest tickets first.

- Focus on completing connections that require a certain color rather than gray (any color) connections.

- Save Locomotive cards until you absolutely need to play them.

- If another player telegraphs where they are going to place (left a gap that is easy to spot), and you have the cards, go ahead and block it if he has no other easy route to connect. If the location that you are going to block is still useful for you – (like for longest route) – even better.

- If you have two connections to make, which one to make first? - this should be based on where you think the other players are going and also if there is a detour route that you can take, should your connection be taken.

The more familiar that you get with the destination tickets, the better player you will become, because you start to get a feel for which ticket other players are trying to complete. This will likely take many games (30+) to get a grasp of.

Alternate Strategy:

Regardless of tickets, complete as many long routes as you can. If you happen to get a ticket that has a lot of long routes, this strategy will work even better.
My group of friends is, frankly, obsessed with Ticket to Ride. We've gone from playing badly to, I think, playing quite well. Here are some of the things I regularly do now that I didn't even think about as a beginner:

* Go to key cities for which I don't currently hold tickets (Example - playing to NY when my tickets only go to Chicago, Pittsburgh, or Nashville. I may even *start* from NY in a 3-player game because its hard to get to. Look at it this way - if I get an NY ticket, I need this connection. If I don't, someone else probably will get the ticket, and I'll be in their way)

* Choose my starting tickets and route shape based on what high-scoring tickets it gives me access to, as well as the more obvious criteria (points, ease of completion). (Example - Denver->Pittsburgh is a great setup for the longer routes. NY -> Atlanta or to Dallas mboth kinda set you up nicely for LA->NYC if no one is grabbing the big bottom routes).

* Study other players routes to determine the composition of the ticket deck to determine when and how many times to draw new tickets. (Example - I start with and (mostly) complete LA -> Miami and NY -> Atlanta. If SF -> Atlanta and LA -> NY look "live", with Boston -> Miami, Montreal -> New Orleans, Toronto -> Miami as secondary considerations, I will draw lots of tickets to find them. If they've been taken, I'll big build sets and try to end fast)

* Draw cards which are crucial to other players routes and I don't really need, but can find a use for. (Example - a player has taken Houston -> NO, and is drawing black/red/green. If one of these colors has been rare, and I can use it for a grey or short route, and it comes up, I will draw it for denial purposes). This strategy can be very frustrating to play against, but it sure slows down opponents.

Some more intermediate things, but perhaps useful to beginners:

* Claim a route as a stalling tactic because face-up cards are being churned, but what I want isn't there yet.
* Time a route claim just before or just after a shuffle, depending on whether I need more of that color, or I want to deny it to others.
* Structure a set of routes in a non-obvious way so as to stay as one continuous route and contest for the bonus.
* Choose my claim order so as to make it difficult to block, and possible to work around if I am blocked.

Edits: Spellchecked; for clarity.