AoS Board Analysis
Let’s look at the board in three different ways: with no cubes placed, with starting cubes only, and finally with the combination board and the production chart both filled.
In all three cases, here are a few things you should keep in mind:
- any city may only have one track joined to it on each hex side
- maximum normal build is 3 hexes of tracks, 4 if you have engineer
- plain hexes are $2, river hexes $3, mountain hexes $4
- town hexes cost $1 for the town + $1 for every track leading to the town.
- only designated town hexes are eligible to be urbanised into cities
- after you do a bit of analysis (trust me on this one, I'll explain in detail later) the most lucrative first move on turn one of AoS is to ship a 2-link good.
The standard board for AoS can be roughly divided into three areas: West, Central-east (Central for short), and Northeast. The West, in my view, incorporates white cities 3,4,5,6. The Central area is white cities 1,2 plus black cities 1,2,4,5. The Northeast is black cities 3 and 6. All of these regions are extremely loosely defined, but the reasons I have divided them as such are the following
The West: contains no interior links to its own cities which allow a 2-link build on one turn. There is a decided lack of towns of any kind. The only two pink cities on the initial setup are located here.
The Central: has lots of towns, and most of the cities are generally close. Some river and mountain obstructionism but for the most part building is straightforward.
The Northeast: is a narrow corridor bound by the great lakes. It has two serious bottlenecks, in Detroit and south of Toronto. Like the West, there is no internal 2-link route possible on one turn.
TWO LINK CONNETIONS
Given that you are striving for a 2-link shipment on the first turn, there are only so many ways to build one. The only natural 2 linker (using max 3 hexes) is between cities Black 1 and Black 2, passing through the town to the west of Black 2. Note, however, that two people can simultaneously make this connection! The player who chooses engineer has a lot more options to create two link connections (White 4 to White 1, two ways from White 2 to White 1,two ways from White 1 to Black 1, Black 2 to Black 3, Black 2 to Black 4, and Black 5 to Black 6). Finally, Urbanization on any of the aforementioned engineer routes will allow a 2-linker to be built, and allow some additional 2-link configurations from the above. Note that there is only ONE town that you can urbanize to get a 2-link shipment which does not allow anyone else to reach the new city and create a 2-link (even with the engineer): the most northerly town on the board. Any other urbanization creates at least one other potential 2-link route for another player.
THE CHOKE POINTS
There are two methods of restricting access into a city: physical and economic. Physical restrictions can mean shutting someone out of a city by using up the open available hexsides to that city, or by taking the closest hexside and forcing someone to go to a more distant hex side, putatively putting it out of the reach of a normal 3 hex range. Economic restrictions involve building on the cheap hex sides, and leaving only river or mountain hexes, thus upping the cost to get into the city.
Only four cities are subject to physical choke points. White 3 and White 6 only have 2 hexsides as entry... and both are pink cube destinations! Black 3 and Black 6 have more hex sides, but due to the water, they are effectively subject to physical blocking.
Economic restrictions are a bit subtler. Cities Black 4 and Black 5 have only one cheap hexside each, and white city 2 has only 2.
Finally, choke points may develop as the game progresses. Keep an eye on cities that are already accessed by several players: once they have only one or two hexsides left, the competition to build to them can be fierce. Additionally, because track is usually so congested, the economic cost to lay all the complex crossing track required can be daunting.
THE STARTING BOARD
When looking at the starting board, think of two things: cube colour imbalances, and starting shipment possibilities.
Oh, how tempting it can be to try and snatch the starting position, when you see those cubes hit the board for the initial setup... but beware! It may not as tempting as you may think. Take for example, an initial setup where lady luck goes bezerk and deposits 4 blue cubes, 2 each in Black 1 and Black 2. How juicy. Looks like 4 cubes which can be shipped for an instant 1-linker ... no wait, each could be shipped for a 2 linker if you go through the nearest town! What could possibly be wrong? Well, if you plan on keeping your engine at level 1 or level 2 for the first few turns, it's pretty sweet. Unfortunately you can't win that way... you must ramp up your locomotive to maximise your final point potential. So one of those cubes, granted, is crucial to your efforts... but as soon as you ramp your locomotive up to 3, you will NOT be able to ship those cubes past the other blue city: it becomes a barrier, and the network you will need to build to move them will be a late-game development, if it happens at all. A more ideal starting deployment for those two cities would be one blue cube in each of them, plus a Red in Black 2 and a Yellow in Black 1. Those two non-blue cubes now give you a potential 3-link shipment. More importantly, this type of thinking lets you bypass the immediate euphoria of favourable adjacent cube placement, in favour of the more lucrative long-term thinking... "What cube would I need on the SUBSEQUENT turn?!" Doing a first pass analysis of the initial cube placement should give you should reveal potential shipment strings, and the holes missing from them, which leads us to :
THE STARTING BOARD PLUS THE PRODUCTION CHART
Think about the shipments you need now and the ones you will need later. Obviously the board setup must provide the cubes you need for turn 1, and can be useful for subsequent turns too. However, more goods will enter the game via the production table than are initially placed on the board. First, look at the It's a reasonable gamble to expect that the top cube in a city's production slot should enter the game in about 2 turns, and when the game is finished, most of the production will have been flushed. Therefore, the overall colour balance of the game is the sum of the cubes on the board and the cubes in the production chart. If there are a lot more purple cubes than yellow cubes, for example, you might want to make sure you are positioned for good shipping runs using purple cubes in the end game as they should be far more abundant than yellow. In addition, take a look at your proposed shipping runs: see which cubes will be coming into the cities you will have access to in a few turns, to find out whether a suitable run will be available. The further ahead the turn is, the more likely that existing cubes will be gone, so the production track becomes more crucial for seeing whether a shipment will be possible.
Analysis of the cube influx from the chart to the board before the game begins on turn one is probably the one element of AoS where improving your skills will get you the biggest payoff.
NEXT: The First Turn in AoS