Wednesday, June 30, 2010

AoS - The First Turn

AoS - The First Turn

Although this is by no means a definitive analysis of the first turn in AoS, here's one way to approach it.


I consider a game to be either tight or loose. This can be determined by the availability of shipments and the number of players in the game. We have discussed cube analysis on a move-by-move basis, but when you are determining whether the game will be tight or not, you also need to look at how many moves are available for all the players in the game, not just your own. If you are playing with 6 players, and you see only 4 credible first-turn 2-link shipping routes, then get ready for a tough, tough brawl. If you are in a 4-person game and there are 7 such possible routes, then the pressure on the first turn will be lessened. Another good clue is how many cubes are on cities of the same colour. These cubes cannot be shipped back to their origin city, according the rules, so the number of destinations they have available is reduced, and usually those destinations are at a significant distance.

Then look at the overall cube balance in the game. If there are few blue cubes on the board and in the production chart, then blue cities may be of lesser use throughout the game. Conversely, the ability to corner deliveries to a city with the colour of the most cubes becomes invaluable. You can't make this determination if you don't look for the opportunity, so take the time to count some cube colour totals.


As previously mentioned, there is only one "natural" (maximum 3 hex) route giving a 2-link shipment on the basic board, between Black 1 and Black 2. Now is the time to see if there are the correct cubes to support one or maybe even two possible shipments. What other 2-linkers would be possible using urbanization or engineer?

Look at all those possible shipments, and think about the black hole of bankruptcy. How many of those links have only one cube available for a 2-linker? Could an alternate delivery route access that cube? If someone else gets to that cube first, you could be staring financial oblivion in the face.

The best first moves have a second cube available for a 2-link delivery. Count up the number of those moves and compare them again to the number of players in the game. Rethink your initial assessment of how tight it's going to be.


First, do an objective analysis.

If the first turn will be really tight in terms of decent routes available, and you think you will have to bid, you're going to need some bidding money. Don't forget that you will have obligations of 3,4, or 5 dollars, depending on whether you upgrade your locomotive and/or issue a third share. That leaves you 7,6,11, or 10 dollars to both bid and build before receiving income. If the game is tight and shipments are risky (i.e. can be poached by someone else) then do not cut this calculation too closely... you may need that extra dollar or two. If you expect that engineer is going to be a likely option for you in the auction, you'll need at least $9 to complete a two link, and will therefore need to issue a share.

Then, as soon as share issuing begins, perform a more subjective analysis: how many shares have other people issued? If you are last, and no-one else has issued a share, you may be able to issue one and be able to take advantage of engineer, but your financial obligations will be greater than theirs, so you had better make sure you can ship, and soon! If others ahead of you have all issued 1 or more supplementary shares, and you have already determined that there are lots of opening moves available, avoid issuing another share, confident in the fact that your capital position will be better than your opponents. If you have to go first in the share issue, you have no basis for comparison with others, so you had better make sure that your evaluation of the board is correct.

There is almost never any justification for issuing 2 supplementary shares: remember, if you will have $4 left at the end of a turn, you issued one share too many. $20 is a lot of cash to try and spend in one turn of AoS, and if you need that much money for your bidding, you might consider investing in some self-restraint instead. You are still arguably better off issuing no shares, shipping no cubes, upgrading your locomotive by 1, and laying 3 simple tracks for $6, as long as you can position yourself to ship for a 3 link next turn.


Bear in mind that when players are bidding, they FIRST define the turn order, from last player to first, and THEN get to choose the actions. The only player who knows for sure that the action they want matches the action they get is the auction winner.

Because of the AoS bidding mechanism where you may pay all, half (rounded up), or none of your bid, consider opening the bidding in even numbered amounts. If you have to start the auction, and you deem bidding to be necessary, and if you think you can afford it, try a bid of $2. It forces any overbidder to reach the relative stratosphere of $3, and if multiple people bid over you, consider your $1 payment as bonus cash - you got %50 refunded. Odd numbered bids aren’t as attractive as they have a potential refund less than %50, and make the %50 refund level obtainable by the overbidder. Basically, bid an odd number only on an overbid and only if you do not expect to be overbid; use an even bid when you want to economically pressure the other players and can afford to accept a medium turn order

Don't forget the relative position merits of each of the actions, as explained in AoS Strategy Article #2. The real key is urbanization, because it may open up potential shipment avenues for one or more players who follow. To take full advantage of someone else choosing urbanisation, though, you want to immediately follow that player, and since actions are not chosen till later, this is tough to predict.

Also, remember that the turn order applies to all phases of the turn: track laying and shipping are particularly sensitive to turn order. If you can get higher in the turn order for very little cash, you may be able to choose something other than First Build and First Ship and still snatch a great route or a choice cube.

In spite of all my enthusiastic explanations about the bid, through, I highly recommend examining the bid of "pass"... it's cheap!


Your action choice is dependent on your position in the turn order, the actions others have already chosen, the shares issued by all players, and how tight the board is.

If you are choosing first, your goal is to guarantee yourself a 2 shipment without allowing others to poach the cubes you must have. If you do not choose urbanisation, you will never be able to benefeit from it, which may be just fine - especially if you choose engineer. If the game is loose, consider locomotive. As long as you get the route you want, consider how damaging NOT having the action you choose would be to the subsequent players... and choose the action which maximizes the damage.

All other players must evaluate which options are going to appear due to the people ahead in the turn order. If you will build just after the urbanizer, you would have to guess where he would be placing the new city. This is not as much of a stretch as one might imagine, if you scan the board for cube placement. Consider whether new opportunities to or through the newly urbanized city might be profitable.

When you choose later in the turn order, more predatory options appear. Has someone left a crucial cube vulnerable to poaching, and is Ship First still available? Does it look like an opponent requires 2 cubes to be shipped to recoup expenses, and is one of them within your reach? You may be able to drive someone out of the game... and if that someone pounded you last time in AoS, it may be the most satisfying move you make all day.


Finally, by this point in the turn, some of the uncertainties have been removed. You know your relative position, and the actions of the other players. However, if you are building ahead of the Urbanizer, the location of the urbanized town is still undetermined. Any town you build through might be replaced by the urbanizer's city, and even worse, that city may be a colour which blocks a cube you wanted to move.

There are some areas of the board that will block other players out. For instance, if you are using engineer and are connecting White 1 and White 2, consider using the hex to the southwest of Chicago instead of the one directly south, regardless of which town you want to go through. This will block someone else next turn from using locomotive to connect White 1 to White 4! Similar moves can reduce access from two hexsides to one into certain cities.

If you are sure that you will not be able to ship any cubes on turn one, you might also consider whether building independent spurs in different cities will guarantee your access. As long as the gap is maximum 1 hex, you cannot be blocked out providing that the appropriate complex track is still available.


Move cubes, gain income... not exactly rocket science. However, if you have the possibilities for multiple shipments, ship the cubes that are vulnerable to being taken by other players first. This is usually both good for you and bad for them. Then choose cubes that do not have the potential to be extended to a longer track later, and leave cubes that are in cities you monopolize for that spectacular long link shipment late in the game.


On any other turn, having to undergo income reduction because you cannot meet your expenses is merely horrible. It destroys your economic position, and I have never seen anyone who had income reduction win the game. However, on turn one... it's even worse. Bankruptcy. Out of the game. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Don't let yourself go bankrupt, count those dollars carefully, and plan, plan ,plan.

Most subsequent turns in AoS involve much of the same thinking, slightly revised. I will leave it as an exercise to the reader.

NEXT: How well can you do in AoS? Some number crunching.