Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Stone Age Strategy Compilation

This is my 1st in depth strategy posting for a game but my win ratio in Stone Age has been pretty solid so hopefully I can add at least one branch to all of your strategy trees.

I'm going to divide this Stone Age strategy guide into two sections.

1st, and I know this has been talked about ad-nauseum, my take on
The Relative Strengths of Meeples vs. Fields vs. Tools.

2nd. Huts vs. Cards

Before I go into depth about the 1st, let me clearly and concisely give you my take on the 2nd.

Cards are almost ALWAYS better than huts until the end of the game. Here's why. You must evaluate every card on a cost basis of giving up 3 VP (1 wood hut value) per row. The most expensive card will cost you 12 VP worth of hut VP. Now barring extreme aberrations in your board, every single card (maybe with the exception of the 1 free food raft symbol if you have no other symbols) is going to earn you more than 3 VP. You should have more than 3 fields, 3 tools, and 3 huts by games end, and you start the game with 5 meeples, so any 1X multiplier should score you more than 3 points. Many 2X multipliers will likely provide you with double-digits points come scoring time, plus whatever other benefit they provide making most clearly worth even a 4 wood purchase.

The math is simple for everything except the shop cards. Decide how many resources and or points you will receive from a card, subtract 3/6/9/12 depending on the row the card is in. If you net up more than a few points, grab the card over a hut. I think getting first dibs at a shop roll varies in strength. At the beginning of the game, it can be huge, since you might get a field or tool to use throughout the rest of the game. Near the end, a resource you can sell to a hut might actually get you more points than a tool or field, so the overall value is far lower. At the beginning of the game, I will add an arbitrary 4 points to the relative value of the shop card combined with it's normal value when deciding on whether to purchase it. I subtract a point in value every several turns until it becomes negligible.

At the end of the game, you must concentrate on getting points fast and furious and finishing with no excess resources in your possession. Remember, you are only getting 1 point for those resources as opposed to face value 3/4/5/6 so look for a 1-7 hut or large 4-5 item huts to funnel your remaining resources into. Huts become more important than all other priorities if you have excess resources lying around. Yes that 8th symbol you've been searching for all game could get you 15 more points, but guess what, a 1-7 hut could get you 42 if you turn in all gold.

Okay, not so concise, but you get the picture. Cards early, huts late. One small exception - Grab a 1-7 hut and toss a single wood on it if it shows up early. It pisses off your opponents amassing gold and it gets you a cheap hut for those couple hut multipliers you'll inadvertently end up with at the end of the game. .

Alright, now that we got through the easy part lets confront the more debated issue, the relative strengths of fields, tools, and people.
In an earlier thread the math of Meeples, Fields and Tools was talked about by Jonathan.

He gave a relatively sound analysis.

A farm produces 1 food per turn, and each food costs 2 pips. So a Farm produces 2 pips/turn, assuming you can use the food.

A single tool produces at least one pip per turn. First, it is evident that when you have lots of tools, the incremental tools are worth exactly one pip. Once you’ve used tools to “round up”, when you use 5 more to buy another stone, those 5 were clearly worth 1 pip each.

What about one tool? If you roll in a single location, that tool has an expected value of 1 pip. Say you roll for gold with 1 die. On a roll of a ‘5’, that pip earned you a value of 6 when the gold is sold for a hut. On any other roll, the pip earned nothing. So the expected value of the tool is: 6 * 5/6 = 1. The same holds true in any other location.

However, suppose you roll in two locations with 1 tool. The tool becomes more valuable. Suppose we first roll for gold, and then for wood.

In the first roll, on it’s own, the tool is worth 1 pip. But there is a 5/6 chance that we’ll still have the tool left over. So now we go to the forest, where the tool is still worth 1 pip. The total value of the tool is 1 5/6.

[6 * (1/6)] + [5/6 * 3 *(1/3) ]

So a single tool is worth at least one, and up to 1 5/6 if you roll in two places. It can be worth more if you roll in 3+ places, but I agree that this should be done infrequently.

A meeple produces on average 3 ½ pips per turn. The meeple eats 2 pips per turn, for a net value of 1 ½ pips. However, he cost two meeples to make, so each meeple invested netted you ¾ pips per turn.

Farm: 2 pips per turn (per meeple invested)

Tool: 1 to 1 5/6 pips per turn (per meeple invested)

Meeple: ¾ pips per turn (per meeple invested)
Now here are my gripes to Jonathan and everyone else out there who love to undervalue the importance of meeples.

1st - It doesn't always just come down to pips, there is also an added flexibility that having more meeples gives you. You're going to need a certain amount of wood this turn to buy your card which will give you a gold which you want to use to build a hut. Can you do all that will 5 meeples a crap-load of fields and some tools? Maybe, maybe not. Also, (and I don't recommend doing this too often) having an extra meeple around to screw someone out of a hut or card they really want even if you can't afford is another benefit a tool and field cannot offer.

2nd. - Meeples are most assuredly not worth 3/4 pips per turn. On the 1st turn, they return -2 pips for your 2 meeple investment (not so good I grant you) as you need to feed your child and he/she does nothing for you. On subsequent turns they are worth 1 1/2 pip per turn. To find their true full game value, multiply out the # of turns left in the game by 1.5 and subtract 2. It will probably come out to something like 1.47.

3rd. - IMO, tools are not quite as valuable as stated above. The 1st 3 tools are, but after that they begin to have diminishing returns. You often waste a 2/3/or even 4 tool, when all you need is to add 1 to your roll. Here's another example, let's give you 4 arbitrary things. 3 meeples and 1 tool versus 1 meeple and 3 tools. And lets say to help prove my point further that you want to go for gold. Odds are you will only get 1 gold both ways 3 x 3.5 + 1 = 11.5 versus 3.5 +3 = 6.5, but one way you have an infinitely greater chance to get 2 or even 3 gold whereas you're maxed out at 1, and even that's only if you roll a 3 or greater.

I personally will almost always, barring the multipliers in my hand take people over tools even if I am lacking in fields. I will have the newly born children feed themselves and then some for a couple turns. Also remember that hunting is the only way to guarantee 2 (1) tools don't go to waste.

In conclusion, Stop ragging on the meeps, peeps! They're actually quite useful.

Hope someone out there found this long-winded Stone Age rant useful. Kids use it lay the smack down on your parents. Parents make sure your kids can never embarrass you again.
I haven’t been contributing much to BGG the last couple of months, but I have an excuse – I have been sucked into the BSW Stone Age vortex. I’ve now played over 180 games online, plus another dozen or so in person.

The reason I’m so hooked is that I still feel like I don’t play nearly as well as I can – and will. It’s a steep steep learning curve for a game that is both quick (often 45 minutes) and, to me, very relaxing. So my thoughts may well change 100 plays from now.

Till then, please let me know what you think!

I've also written three shorter strategy posts this week. There is some overlap in concepts between the different posts (sorry):

- Starvation ain't all it's cracked up to be?

- Are sets too weak? And if so, is it a game flaw?

- Opportunity cost, not just pips per meeple

These are my observations:

1. There is no dominant strategy. One thing I love about this game is the certainty with which inexperienced players publicly proclaim that they have found a clear, consistent dominant strategy. It ain’t so. Not cards, not huts and hut multipliers, not even starvation. My experience, anyway, of playing against many of the top players is that they use a variety of strategies for different situations. Why?

2. All strategies are highly dependent upon the strategies of other players – more so than many other games. Stone is really like an economic market: if others overvalue farms, go for meeples (perhaps with starvation); if others overvalue multipliers (meeple/tool/hut/farm) and undervalue sets, go for sets, etc. One of the first rules of wise business acquisition is “Never want anything too little or too much.” If you are hell bent on getting meeple multipliers, you may end up paying too much for them, for example.

3. Flexibility, especially early. I go into this more later. Essentially, Stone Age, even more than Puerto Rico or Caylus, rewards doing what other people are not doing. You have about 4-6 turns to get a sense of what people are valuing. Later in the game, focus on implementing it. Unlike Puerto Rico, however, there is a highly variable cost to taking a desired action – particularly in the cards. So focus must be tempered with discipline in what cards to take (see below).

4. Pips/meeple is a handy tool, but don’t forget opportunity cost. The calculation you see in many strategy posts here is, in general terms: EV (expected value) per die roll (3.5) of a meeple on resource minus the cost of feeding a meeple (2/turn) minus wasted pips on resource rolls minus the cost to convert resources into VPs.

So, for example, a hut requiring two wood and a gold is worth 12 points. That’s 12 pips of resources requiring, on average about 4 workers (with a pretty minimal 2 pips of wastage) plus one meeple to “claim” those VPs plus 10 food for those five workers (10 pips). So 12 pips resources + 2 pips wastage (this is too low, actually) + 10 pips food +3.5 pips for that last worker on the hut = 27.5 pips to get 12 points. Note that spending 4 wood (also 12 pips of resources) on a card that, top and bottom, gives you 12 points, would also be 27.5 pips to get 12 points.

This seems to be primary tool folks are using to compare strategies. What I haven’t read much about is importance of making your first, and to a degree, your second, placement really count. That is, the EV of your first placement is likely to be much higher than your second, and so on…. But how to use it to your advantage? Well, if you try a strategy that others are not, or that people systematically undervalue (such as collecting sets of symbols), it is generally easier to use your second (or even third) placement to take the action you want. Conversely, if you use a strategy that is popular in general (and especially in your particular game), then not only will it require your first placement most of the time, but often that will not even be enough (b/c 75% of the time someone else will go first, in a 4p game).

5. Pay specific attention to whether you are in the early, middle, or late game. This is what I’m struggling with a lot at the moment. Timing is everything. You don’t want to end the game with a lot of wood (or gold!) you didn’t use. But you also don’t want to spend all your resources and food two turns from the end game (unless there is a really compelling reason to do so!). This could be a whole article in itself, but I define the early game as going until there are 4-5 huts available in a stack, and the end game as when there are just 2 huts available in a stack. This of course ignores the speed of card depletion, which is a bigger issue in a 4p game than a 3p game, but you can extrapolate that fairly easily.

The early game is for building your economic engine, and developing your game strategy (symbol sets? Huts galore? Starvation and huts? Etc.). I try to amass a fairly even distribution of resources, such as: 3 gold, 3 stone, 5 brick, 7 wood. Gold and stone can be slightly more efficient (especially with a lot of tools), but brick has less wastage so it’s the perfect hut material and can be used in a pinch to buy cards at minimal pain. Having 7 wood guarantees that if the 2 cards you desperately want come out in the 3 and 4 slots you can take them both without worrying about paying for them. Of course, in most games you just can’t get even distribution, but getting it gives you maximum flexibility, which in turn lessens your opportunity cost. How? Well, when you find the VP actions you want (huts, cards), it’s much easier if you don’t also have to worry about being locked out of the resource you need to execute those actions (this is especially harsh with huts).

The countervailing factor to resource balance is opportunity. If a 2x tool multiplier comes up in the 1 slot (or in the 2 slot on the second action), it’s usually good even if you currently have no tools. You can always get tools later. As I explain later, the problem with the pip evaluation method is that VP opportunities are highly finite. It’s very hard to pass up any cheap 2x mulitiplier in the early game – you can always adapt your strategy to it later. It’s far messier to amass 6 tools and pray that a 2x tool card comes out in the late game – especially because by then there’s a good chance you’ll get blocked.

Farms: Equally important is either having enough farms (perhaps with some food gained through cards) or abandoning food altogether, before you enter the middle game. Otherwise you will be spending half you people trying to feed your tribe the rest of the game. Don’t underestimate the awesome power of the early farm. It’s one meeple you will never ever have to feed again.

Tools: Slightly less important is tool distribution. I’m not crystal clear on the math here (others have documented it), but it seems that to maximize tool efficiency you should have at least 3 – which guarantees that at least one will always be used on wood, for example. So if you don’t get tools by the middle game, you may wish to abandon them altogether and perhaps just get more meeples – unless you can get a tool with a late placement (rare).

One fairly obvious point that I didn’t grasp for the longest time: the fewer tools you have (often in the early game), the better it is to pile your guys on cheaper stuff – because there is overall less risk of wasted pips. So the less tools I have the more I dump a lot of guys in wood or food (and later, especially in a starvation strategy, on gold and stone). On the other hand, the more tools I have (say, at least 5 or 6), the more sense it makes to diversify, even putting just one guy on a few different resources – because then there’s less chance of wasting tools (another way of wasting pips).

The middle game This is the best place to spend your resources, especially for huts, because you can often take a hut very late in the turn. This is also the place to really crank whatever strategy you’ve got. Usually it’s a pair, like meeples & huts or tools & set collection. Having a primary and secondary is almost always necessary, with the secondary strategy being developed mainly in late turn and/or cheap moves. The key here is to buy huts/cards late in a turn if you can, b/c you can’t do it the last 2 (and sometimes 3) turns of the game.

The end game: Ideally, you will have at least one of everything and 4 or 5 wood by the last 2 turns. Better yet to have 2 of everything. More than that is a bit risky, because you may not be able to churn all your gold and stone into huts the last two turns. But holding onto resource diversity is most important heading into the end game because otherwise you can – and will – often be blocked from the resources you need to buy huts and (efficient) cards. The last 2 turns players usually choose huts/cards FIRST, then the resources they need, and finally the town spaces. The problem comes when you want a hut, but all the available huts require stone, and you don’t have any. THEN you have to hope that you can take stone on your second placement (usually losing a key chance at a card or other hut). If, on the other hand, you planned ahead, you can use your key second and third placements to take a good card and/or a town spot to crank on the multipliers you’ve been getting (that tool or farm on the last turn could be worth 6 or more points in multipliers even if it never gets used).

One of my favorite cards is the leaf that gives you two of any resource. I love it not so much because it can make two gold, but because it can make 2 of anything, any time you want. So effectively, as long as you have it, you can rarely get blocked. (Of course, as I have learned, you can keep it too long!)

6. Avoid minimal efficiency gains that sacrifice all-important flexibility. You know who gets really good bargains at public auctions? People who save money for when they can get a great deal. In Stone Age, you got to save your resources for the next great deal. For example, spending a ton of resources in early or middle game on a 1-7 hut is, I admit, really efficient. But it may take 2-3 turns (or more) to pump your resources up again. What if a great card that plays right into your primary strategy comes up and you have no wood. You play on the card, then all the wood slots get taken, and suddenly you’re spending 3 brick – and perhaps incurring other opportunity costs.

First flexibility, then efficiency, then focus. Take what is given to you cheap and late in a turn.

My personal preference is to build at least 3 farms and one meeple fairly early if possible, then add tools and more meeples. I tend to ignore huts early (except the 1-7) and try to build them mostly in the middle game. I don’t think it’s critical to have a lot of people (unless you’re doing a starve strategy), but it’s tough without at least 6, mainly because there are times when you have a lot of good things to do and simply run out of meeples, even if you just put one on each resource. I think I tend to over-farm – perhaps it’s best to chose a 6th meeple, for example, before a 4th farm. Tonight I ended up with 9 farms and 7 meeples – and lost 203-192 in a 3-player game.

I’m still really struggling with timing, and have games where I’m stuck with resources I didn’t spend. Obviously, the optimal efficiency is to end the game with zero food and zero resources, but this is tough to do. And above all, have fun! I tend to play fast, and guesstimate a lot, because doing the math during a game just slows it down for everyone. You can always think through your mistakes later.

First of all, let me say that Stone Age has quickly risen to become my favorite board game at this point in my life. After say, twenty or so games, I have included some strategy to think about…

1.SIT TO THE RIGHT OF THE PERSON WITH THE LEAST STONE AGE EXPERIENCE – kind of funny, but they will tend to make poor choices and give the better choices to you. Okay, joking aside, let’s move on to strategy that has a little more integrity…

2.IT MATTERS WHEN YOU TAKE YOUR HUTS – This is especially true in a two-player game. At the end of the game, huts become more of a commodity, but, lets say you want to buy a hut, say early-midgame. The best time to buy it would be on the turn preceding the turn that you are first in the placement order. This is only true because there are some game changing huts, especially the 1-7 huts of any commodity. This ensures that if they show up, that they are yours.

3.IS THERE A MATHEMATICAL EQUATION THAT ENSURES YOU WISDOM IN YOUR MEEPLE CHOICE? I believe that there is, and I hope to expound upon this in a later article. But, for simplicity sake, consider what the [1x Meeple / 1 Stone] card is worth in the 2-spot on the board.

To answer that you have to consider how many Meeples you would have at the end of the game. E.g. If you expect 8 meeples at the end, the card is worth roughly (and for simplicity sake)

1x Meeples = 8 points
1 stone = 5 pips
minus 6 pips = the cost of 2 wood to buy the card

For me, pips and points are synonymous is determining the value of a card. So the value of that card is 8+5-6 = 7. Notice I didn’t consider many other things, like the cost to feed that man, in determining this value. I also hope to explain why in later articles, but to me it’s negligible, and adds confusion.

There is some difficulty in determining, say, what a random bonus on a card is worth, because frankly, I believe this bonus is worth far less later in the game, than in the beginning, and may even hurt you later in the game. Also, there are plenty of things on the board that are worth less later on in the game. I hope to write about this at a future date, as I hope to answer statistically what I mean. In the meantime, I hope these couple of tips kept you interested. Any feedback would be appreciated.

Credit: KingBubba, dzevin

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: Karl Rainer

Intermediate Strategy in Ra

Perhaps the most fundamental question a Ra player can ask is:

What can I expect for each of my suns?

The answer is simpler than it sounds to calculate. The bag contains 30 Ra tiles, 140 valuable tiles, and 10 disaster tiles. This means that for every Ra tile remaining in the round, you should expect 4 or 5 good tiles to be available. (Some of these tiles will not be usable due to disasters!) Divide the number of expected tiles left by the number of unspent suns and that is the number of good tiles you should expect per sun. Of course, you will hope for more--either in quality or quantity--from a powerful sun, and you will probably settle for less from a smaller sun.

And there are other considerations:

As the game goes on, the mix of tiles in the bag changes. While it is not important to count tiles exactly, you should be noticing if the Ra tiles come fast in the early rounds (a bigger payment-to-Ra ratio remains; plan to hold out for big batches) or if lots of big batches show up early (relatively more Ra tiles remain; plan to settle for less with your suns to make sure they don't go to waste).

You would like to do, not just average, better than average, so you can win rather than getting the "expected" score! This is achieved through accurate judgment of value and relative strength and astute timing of auctions. This principle is the difficult-to-grasp heart of Ra and beyond the scope of this article.

What score should I expect?

My experience is that a score of 40-50 usually takes the game. Winning scores in the 30s or even the 60s are not unheard of but somewhat rare! You start the game with 10 points but also -15 "virtual penalty points"--because you will count a civilization as a 5-point tile even though accounting-wise your score doesn't change for having it. So you will need to come up with 45-55 points over the course of the game.

What tiles are good?

Based on the above, assume that you need to accrue 50 points over the course of the game. Consider a 4-player game. Of the 140 good tiles, probably 15 will stay undrawn in the bag (because the game only goes to 27 Ra tiles) and another 25 or so will probably go to waste--disasters, left on the track, thrown away, or whatever. So your "share" of the tiles is 25 of them.

Since you need 50 points, a 2-point tile is about average and a 3-point tile is good. 5 is great, of course, but you will have few opportunities to get those!

What are specific tiles usually worth?

Gods: I consider these to be the most valuable tiles. Most often they will be traded for a flood or a civilization for 5+ points. Less frequently they will be traded for a monument in a set (also 5 points) and occasionally for a last-ditch pharaoh or upgraded to gold. To make matters even better, they allow you to reduce the value of the batch on your turn, rather than increasing it (occasionally very helpful when timing auctions) and deny the other players that tile. And in the happy case where you can buy all the tiles you want with suns, they're still worth 2 points!

Rivers/Floods: I count rivers for half a point for each round remaining in the game because to score them, you will have to fight for a flood which is only one point on its own. Of course, if you already have a flood in the current round the value rises, and if you already have many rivers, the value of a flood to you rises dramatically.

Pharaohs: In the early rounds, pharaohs are worth a lot of points. Winning pharaohs each round is worth 15 points over the course of the game, and having a big lead dissuades other players from making a concerted effort to catch you. However, the value per pharaoh declines the more pharaohs appear--and you have no way of knowing beforehand how many will show up! In the first round, I would speculatively value each pharaoh at about 2.5 points. In further rounds they are worth less as the points yet-to-be-given drop and the disparities between players become greater. (The specific value to you per pharaoh also becomes much easier to see.)

Civilizations: The first civ is worth 5 points, of course, and you should almost always try to get one. The question is, what is the second different civ worth? On the one hand, it is worth no points. On the other hand, it gives you the opportunity to get a third different civ for another 5 points and opens the potential for even more. I would value the second civ at 2 points if you have two suns left (a 3-player game, or you can get two at once) and definitely 2.5 if you have a god available. Once you have 3, of course, 4 and 5 are gravy if they show up.

A second civ of a kind is not worthless since it may provide some element of Unrest protection, but less valuable than any other non-disaster tile under most circumstances.

Monuments: A single monument is worth 1 point--unimpressive. Two of a kind are worth no more! But three are worth 6 (5 for the depth, 1 for breadth), a respectable 2 each, and five are worth 16, a very nice 3 each! If you add the bonus points for 7 or 8 points of monument breadth each monument can be worth even more.

More so than other game elements, which you can take opportunistically, monuments are most valuable with a commitment to get lots of them, to notice what is available, and to squeeze as many points as possible from depth and breadth. You will probably have to sacrifice something else--often pharaohs--to get a lot of monuments. Otherwise, you will probably pick up 3-6 monuments incidentally over the course of the game, making not much difference to your point total, possibly with an eye to picking up a 3-of-a-kind if the opportunity presents itself.

Gold: Gold is always worth 3 points, no worries, no fuss. Gold is always worth winning.

What about my suns near the end of the game?

My experience is that you should wait to decide a sun strategy until you buy your first batch. After you do, you should decide which of these categories you fall into:

I drew a good sun; I'm going to try to get two more decent ones and pick up the 5-point bonus.

I drew a good sun; I'm going to look for the best tiles I can and ignore the bonus.

I drew an OK sun; as long as I don't pick up total junk I don't need to worry about suns.

I drew a bad sun; I'm going to try to get at least one good one so I don't incur the penalty.

I drew a bad sun; I'm going to get lots of great tiles and suck up the penalty.

If you need lots of specific tiles to maximize your score--matching monuments, a flood--a strategy that doesn't focus on the suns will be necessary. If you have been playing opportunistically, taking points where they come, you might be able to eke out the winning edge by paying attention to the suns.

Credit: Karl Rainer


Credit goes to Kevin Bourrillion from BGG for this article:


There's an appalling lack of strategy advice for this game. I thought I'd throw some tips out there and see if they do anyone any good. Disclaimer: I ain't no world champion. Far from it, in fact. I may try to sound like a know-it-all here, but really, you have to judge for yourself whether each of my tips is any good or not.

So with that out of the way...


This may seem painfully obvious, but unfortunately to many players it is not. Before you bid, take a second to think to yourself, "what actually *happens* if I win?" For example -- will it put you out of the round? (Without a civ?) Will it leave you with the lowest suns left on the table? Or with a gigantic gap in your suns, practically guaranteeing future distress? Sure, this meager lot in front of you might be "worth my 3", but if you call Ra and win it, and now your lowest sun is a 9, what future bargain opportunity might you have just lost?

Many times thinking like this won't actually change your mind, but still, it's a better way to evaluate your choice than just a naive assessment of "how much is this lot worth?"


I see many decisions getting made on reasoning like, "this lot isn't great but it's obviously worth a 2", or "I really want this but 12 is just too expensive." Intuitively we think of the suns as being like money -- we think of the 10 sun as being worth about two of the 5 sun. However, this is bunk. Try relabeling your suns 1,000,001, 1,000,002 up through 1,000,016. Now you've all but eliminated this perceived relation between perceived values -- yet you haven't change the game a single bit. This should tell you something.


Always keep an eye on what proportion of your suns are depleted vs. what proportion of the Ra spaces are filled. If you let the former get too far ahead of the latter, you risk going out of the round early (or passing up great auctions for fear of going out early). Conversely, if the Ra track gets too far ahead, you risk closing the epoch with leftover face-up suns that earned you nothing.


The earlier the epoch, the more valuable they can be. A large pharaoh win in epoch 3 might net you 5 points, but a large pharaoh win in epoch 1 could end up yielding 10 or 15 by game's end.


Just at the end of an epoch, before all the tiles go flying back into the box, take a quick look around the table. How many floods and civilizations do you see? In a stastically average epoch, you might expect to see maybe about 3 and 6, respectively. If you can make a quick mental note when you notice *significantly* more or less than this amount, then this knowledge may help you to reason more accurately about your decisions in future epochs. This is not an exact figure, just a very rough rule of thumb.


Naively, any tile worth 3 points or more to you is worth exchanging your god tile for. But this is an oversimplification. Consider two things: how likely is it that you will be able to take this lot in an auction, or a future lot also containing this desired tile? Second, how likely is it that you will get another chance to use your god tile which will be more lucrative still than this one? Check your suns and the open Ra spaces, and if these are many, you might want to hold out for something better.


When a disaster comes up that doesn't apply to any of the tiles you've already won, but would cause damage to any of your opponents, your palms should start sweating. A lot like this can sometimes be a fantastic bargain, since its value to your opponents is lessened.


In epochs 1 and 2, that sun in the middle of the board has real value. I wish I had a nickel for every time I won an auction, smugly raked in my tiles and then stopped short saying, "oh. shit. I've got the f--ing ONE sun for next round now!" ... don't forget to always pay attention to what's there; it's as much a part of the auction block as the tiles are.

In epoch 3 things are, of course, different. I think of the 5 point adjustment at the end of the game as being a little "consolation prize" or "penalty" that it's hard to really have much direct control over. I wouldn't guide your bids very strongly by your desire to get the +5 or avoid the -5; it's just too unpredictable.


Whenever, on your turn, the current lot is one that you would be happy to win with your lowest-valued sun, you should consider invoking Ra. If you opt to draw instead, you are very likely to be increasing the value of the lot, so you're essentially placing a wager that (a) you will be able to win the eventual auction (so that your draw does not enrich your opponents), and (b) when you do win it, it will be a more advantageous exchange for you than the currently offered one.

You can also invoke Ra offensively; suppose your opponent has eleven rivers, no flood, and a god tile, and a flood is up on the block. Invoking Ra might just keep the flood out of his hands. But that leads me to....


Sometimes you're tempted to make a choice based not on how it helps you but on how it hurts another player. In a three-player game this might be a sound practice, but it's unlikely to be worthwhile with 4 or 5. I suppose if you are really quick on your feet and can determine that player X is in the lead, and that you are in second place, so hurting player X directly increases your own chances of victory -- well, go right ahead. Most times though I just grunt in disgust and let them have their goddamn fifth civ or what-have-you and get over it.

The same could be said of the practice of overbidding for a lot in an attempt to force your opponent to pay top dollar. Ask yourself if it's really worth the risk of backfire. (Of course, if you'd like to bid 4, but also have the 6, and your opponent has the 5 and 13, by all means overbid! Duh!) :-)


If you take an Earthquake, it can be agonizing to choose which of your monuments (your babies, your hopes and dreams!) to discard. Clearly you should be looking at your two-of-a-kinds first, since one tile in each two-of-a-kind is currently worthless to you. If you're lucky, you'll have several of these to choose between. But which to choose? Look for the two monument types that your opponents possess the *most* of (or include discarded monuments in this total, if you're *really* paying attention!). You're unlikely to make these into three-of-a-kinds (both because there are fewer remaining and due to increased competition for those that do remain), so your second copy is doing nothing for you. Pitch them.

On the other hand, if you have to discard a monument you have only one of, you probably want to discard the one that your opponents have the *fewest* of. There will be more copies of it left, and possibly less
competition for those copies as well (debatable).

AoS: How well can you do?

How well can you do?

When I first started playing Age of Steam, I had to admit that I was stumped. Yes, money was obviously tight, and yes by the end of our first game, we were all making a profit, but how on earth did we get there? When should we have been issuing shares and upgrading the locomotive? And how did choosing certain actions affect our score? I wanted to find some justification for certain game plays rather than just going with the groupthink or the "intuitive" choice (which often seemed non-intuitive to me!). I was completely convinced, however, that AoS was a great, deep game that I wanted to own. And, after shovelling some cash at to get my own copy, I hit upon the idea of creating an excel spreadsheet to track the game and make predictions. Specifically, I wanted to see how an early action choice, a share issue, or a locomotive upgrade could ripple onwards to subsequent turns in the game.

My spreadsheet involved a column for each turn, detailing starting cash, starting income, capital positions, shares issued, etc., and calculating resulting capital, resulting obligations, total shares issued, locomotive level etc., rolling the relevant info into the next turn column. I factored in the taxation breakpoints, and allowed some default level of costs for track builds and dollars used to bid. Results also included your capital position at the end of each turn and an estimated running score and final score, depending on the number of players in the game. I'm not going to post it yet until I have it polished up for viewing (and, hey, a guy has to be allowed to keep SOME results of his labour secret!) but I will divulge several sets of results.


1. Your bid amount paid each turn will be $1. The spreadsheet handles individual turn bid payments, but let's simplify here.
2. When you are capable of shipping a cube, you will be able to ship one for your current locomotive value, thus achieving maximum income. This is not always practical in the real world, but we are looking for maxima here.
3. When manually upgrading a locomotive in a turn, you will do so first, and then ship a cube using the new locomotive value. Again, this could be different in a game, when it might be tactically advisable to steal a cube immediately.
4. You will spend the lesser amount of cash left over from your bid and expenses, and $8 dollars. I pick this amount as a reasonable average track cost; again, the spreadsheet will handle a different amount and individual turn overrides.
5. I am assuming rough hex cost of $2.5 in order to calculate the cumulative track built and estimate points for track.
6. The spreadsheet is incapable of evaluating whether your track network can actually support the shipment links allowed by your locomotive, and this factor must be accounted for in every scenario.
7. All final scores will be reported in a format a/b/c where a = the 6 player score, b = 5 player score, and c = 4 player score.
8. Scores reported are fully integrated into the tax bracket Income Reduction mechanism on AoS, but in the interest of discussing general principles, I will not discuss trying to fiddle with arranging your income to border the break points until I start talking about advanced topics and tactics in a later article.


Lets look at some possible outcomes. We'll start from the minimum extreme and move upwards.

First: Issue ZERO supplementary shares in the game. NEVER upgrade the locomotive, leaving it at value 1. The result is that you only ship a cube for 1 income , and do it twice every turn. You make a steady 2 income every turn, chasing cubes around the board, and finish with an estimated 27/30/33 points. Note that you probably can't build ANY track in turn 2 or 3, so this income may even be optimistic, and you will face an unbelievable cube shortage.

Second: Issue ZERO supplementary shares in the game, Always manually upgrade your loco by 1 every turn to the max of 6. Note this means you will not be able to build any extra track on turn 2 or 3, because you have no cash. This limits your income to 2 per shipment until you make a profit and can build a link. The first turn you can take advantage of your 6 locomotive is on turn 6. Scores? An unbelievable 63/84/105.

Third: Issue ONE supplementary share every turn, including the first. Always manually upgrade your locomotive by 1 every turn to the max of 6. Now you build track every turn, so we can remove the locomotive restriction. Scores are now 63/81/93. This is a bit unreasonable, though, as you have so much income on turn 6 that one share is overkill, so modify it to only issuing one share on each of the first 5 turns, giving 65/86/101.

Fourth: Issue NO extra share on turn 1, and then issue 2 shares each on turns 2,3 and 4. Upgrade your locomotive by 1 every turn. You end up with very few track-building restrictions, as cash is usually available, but the scores are 64/85/100.

By this point one begins to notice a few trends. The first case is untenable in real life, but using it to compare to any other illustrates the value in foregoing current income in order to gain future better shipments with a better payoff later. Now let's see what happens if you delay increasing your locomotive. Let's modify the fourth case a bit.

Fifth: Issue NO extra shares on turn 1, and then issue 2 shares on turns 2,3 and 4. Begin manually upgrading your locomotive only on turn 2, and increase it up to maximum 6. Now you gain income of 2 on turn one, but also income 2 on turn 2... final scores are 36/62/83.

In a six player game this is almost as bad as issuing no shares and no locomotive upgrade for the whole game! Two factors influence this drastic score reduction. The delay in locomotive upgrade means that your max income on every turn except the first is one less than in test case 4 until you reach max locomotive power. Also, the turn on which you finally upgrade to loco 6 is one later, meaning you are foregoing a turn where you can make 2 runs of 6 links. In essence, you have decided to ship two cubes on turn one, for max income of 2, instead of 2 cubes on turn 7 for a maximum income of 12. In a 6-player game... there is no turn 7.

Now lets look at my favourite test cases, where you use the auction choice of locomotive upgrade. For simplicity we will use the parameters of test case Four again.

Sixth: Issue no extra shares on turn 1, and then issue 2 shares on each of turns 2,3,4. Upgrade your locomotive manually on turns 1 through 4 and on turn 5 use locomotive auction action. Scores are now 71/92/107. Upgrading to 6 using locomotive has given you an extra 6-link shipment.

Take that case and extend it by using ONLY the locomotive auction choice for the first 5 turns.

Seventh: Issue no extra shares on turn 1, and then issue 2 shares on each of turns 2,3,4. Upgrade the locomotive using the auction action only for the first 5 turns. Maximum scores possible are now an astronomical 90/105/120

Remember how upgrading the locomotive later hurt your maximum possible score? Let's try the following scenario.

Eighth: Issue no extra shares on turn 1, and then issue 2 shares on each of turns 2,3,4. Upgrade the locomotive manually on turn 1, AND use the locomotive auction action on turns 1,2,3 and 4. Max score possible is now 95/110/119.

Wow! This is even technically possible, given that the cash flow is good enough to build a 4-link route on turn two, although the odds of achieving it in reality are a bit low. The point, however, is that if you refuse to upgrade your locomotive early, you immediately lower the maximum score you can attain in the game.

Finally, my last test case:

Ninth: Issue no extra shares in turn 1. Issue 2 shares in turn 2, and 1 share in turn 3. Upgrade your locomotive using the auction action on turns 1 through 4, and manually upgrade your locomotive on turn 2. Maximum scores are now estimated at 105/120/129. Twice around the scoring track in a six-player game, and a grand total of 5 shares issued! Just to tease you all, this is not even the optimised max score possible, when you play around with bid amounts and shares issued.


The reason the sixth through ninth cases work so well, is that you break even early on in the game, and the ninth case illustrates how income can substitute for shares issued even early on.


This is the equivalent of the chess opening game where you mate the other player in a handful of moves. To do it, you need to be allowed to build a 2-link opening route using 3 hexes, and have 2 cubes available for shipment. You must also win the locomotive in the auction. Issue no supplementary shares. You can now ship 2 cubes for 2 income each, giving you 4 income... and since your locomotive is at 2 and shares issued is at 2, you have broken even in the first turn of the game! If your gaming group is as sharp as mine it'll never be allowed to happen, but it's nice to dream, no?


When looking at maximum possible score, the answer is "not always". It takes time to make up for the income you lose on the one shipment, and in this case you could have been shipping for 5. You need several extra shipments using your 6 locomotive to make up the difference, not including the extra $1 obligation required on every remaining turn, and you must look at how many turns remain in the game. In a six-player game you might run out of room. Tactically, there may be a good reason, however. Sometimes the only possible shipments left to you require a 6 link, so necessity dictates the upgrade. If you can get the locomotive auction action to do this however, you don't restrict your income to get there.


- Upgrade your locomotive early. You want to forego early shipments worth 1 or two income instead of foregoing later shipments worth 5 or 6.
- The locomotive auction choice is incredibly powerful in terms of maxing out your possible score.
- Frugality of share issue really pays off in the long run.
- Always arrange to ship one cube on your turn.
- Cash used for bidding will restrict the amount of money you have to build track, and will extend the amount of turns you will need to keep issuing shares.
- Your dollars are probably even tighter than you originally believed!

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.

AoS Board Analysis

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.


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.


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.


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 :


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

What do the individual Actions REALLY do in AoS?

What do the individual Actions REALLY do in AoS?

OK, so you've started to play Age of Steam, and had the Auction Actions explained to you, but did you ever think about the wider possibilities and ramifications of each action? Here's a breakdown of each one and some important elements to consider.

This one seems simple: you move goods ahead of all others, who then follow in normal turn order. This means, however, that the value of First Build depends on your current standing in the turn order! If you are already first, then it serves only as a defensive move, preventing someone else from bumping you to second, which in the early going is probably insignificant. If you are last in turn order, however, you jump the entire queue, and may be able to poach someone else's prime shipment. First move provides an advantage when you really need to upgrade your locomotive. For example, if there are 3 useful cubes in a city, and you and two other players are connected to it, but you need to manually upgrade your locomotive to use any of them, then first move guarantees that you will get the third cube. More valuable on turn one if initial setup is short on shipping opportunities, First move can swing the game in mid and end game positions by grabbing someone else's potential 6 link shipment.

You build your track ahead of all other players, who then follow you in regular turn order. Like first move, its value varies with your standing in the turn order. There is an often-ignored downside to First Build: it means you precede the player who chooses urbanization, who often opens up more than one juicy opportunity with his new city placement. The value of First Build is greater on turn one if good shipping opportunities are rare in the initial board setup. Don't forget that your first build may be trumped by someone later connecting to your initial city or cities, and poaching cubes using First Move and/or higher turn order. Later in the game, first build allows you to grab valuable entries to city hexes when most entries are already used, so First Build can be a defensive or offensive tool guaranteeing your access and/or blocking someone else out.

You have the ability to build 4 tracks instead of the normal three maximum. Don't forget you will need to pay for it all, and 4 simple tracks mean a cost of 8. If you are passing through a town the cost is 9, so engineer almost always necessitates issuing an extra share if you choose it on turn 1. Offensive use of Engineer involves identifying whether someone else really, really needs it... then winning it in the auction yourself. Note that on the regular board, engineer opens up no less than SEVEN potential two-link connections! There is another risk when choosing the engineer, besides the track cost. If you build before the urbaniser, they may urbanise any town you may have linked through already, both reducing your track value (making that $3 link you spent your hard earned cash on disappear), and potentially blocking a shipment by dropping in a city of the same colour as the cube! Engineer can be incredibly useful if you use it after the urbaniser, as you often end up with a tonne of great shipping lanes to choose from. When you are last in turn order and choose engineer on turn one, you can often connect a link that has no competition for cubes during turn one's chipping phase.

The most underrated and explosively powerful action in the game, in my experience. It grants an instant boost of your locomotive up one notch (subject to the maximum level of 6) and most importantly, means you are not forced to forego one of your two cube shipments on that turn. It grants you the flexibility to actually bump up your locomotive by 2 on the same turn. This is useless in turn one as you will not be able to build track allowing a 3 link, but is immensely powerful in turns 2 through 4. Judicious use of Locomotive maximises your potential score in the game, as will be discussed later. Plan wisely, however: locomotive adds to your obligation costs. Locomotive is also the only financially sound way to raise your locomotive power to level 6 in a 5 or 6 player game because it does not forego a high value shipment.

Often viewed as the most powerful action in the game, it does come with several potential downsides. First, though, the good stuff: Urbanisation allows you to access to cities normally 4 hexes apart by urbanizing a town between them and only building 3 hexes, for a potentially low $6. Urbanization is also the weapon of choice for stomping on the leader: when urbanizing a town with many connections, if wipes out the track score of each junction (hopefully all his)! Maximum nastiness is achieved when you urbanise a town which breaks someone's network by inserting a city of the same colour as a cube your opponent was about to move for a value of 6... and cause it to be blocked, rendering it a 1 or 2 value. Now for the bad: urbanization, especially in the early going, can actually open op opportunities for the other players to make good connections. Be especially wary of this on turn one. Urbanisation is most valuable if it is chosen late in the turn order, but it rarely makes it that far.

The dark sheep action of AoS. People complain that it is underpowered, that they want the choice of cubes to place. Without any alteration, the rule as written can provide a huge margin of victory. There are some serious downsides to consider though: Production is useless on both the first and last turn of the game. On the first turn, there are no empty slots to put cubes in. On the last turn, the cubes brought onto the board will never be shipped. That being said, Production allows you to fill in crucial gaps in your early production chain, to load up a city that you have control over, and to potentially replace cubes in a city that is currently empty, which is crucial when cubes are few and far between in the endgame.

Allows you to pass once in the next auction without dropping out of the auction. Unlike First Build and First Move, this choice is most valuable when you are ahead on the turn track, as it can force other people to drop out at very little cost to you. If however you are already last in turn order on this turn, you are already in an advantageous position where other people may pass before you are forced. Turn order is capable of moving you up to position 2 for a cost of 0 in a best-case scenario.

In general, you must consider four things when choosing your action: your need, others need, your position in the turn order, and the likely outcome of actions already chosen and the actions you will leave behind. As you can see from above and as will be explained further, sometimes the attractiveness of an action depends on what the player immediately preceding you in the turn order has chosen.

NEXT: Board Analysis

Why is Money so tight in Age of Steam?

Why is Money so tight in Age of Steam?

Simply put, your start the game in the hole financially, with bills to pay. Unlike most other games where you are given a stash of cash and then can borrow more, in AoS your initial money is entirely due to the two shares initially issued. And because your locomotive is at 1, Even if you do not build track or upgrade your locomotive, you will have to pay 3 dollars in expenses at the end of the first turn, and every turn thereafter. Doing nothing at all will keep you in the game for exactly 3 turns, after which you are bankrupt.

Let's take a look at the way money flows in AoS.

There are two methods to gain cash: issuing shares and collecting income. Issuing shares gains you $5 per share, but also increases your obligations in that you have to pay $1 per share on every turn. Collecting income is free (and highly satisfying) but you don't actually see the cash in your hand unless your income is greater than your expenses. Don't get too excited though: income is eroded by taxation as soon as it is greater than 10, and can be knocked down if you don't pay your bills.

There are three types of cash outlay in this game, which I shall call "obligations", "infrastructure", and "opportunity". Obligations are the expenses associated with paying off shares issued and your locomotive level. These are ongoing expenses that have to be paid time and time again, at the end of each turn. Infrastructure is the payments associated with laying track: once you pay for it, the track is on the board and costs you nothing further. Opportunity costs are the hard earned dollars you spend on your bids.

Two additional concepts will come in handy later. “Capital position” is your income minus your obligations. At the start of the game your capital position is –3. “Capital gain” is the change in capital position from one turn to the next. If you increase your locomotive from 1 to 2, and issue a supplementary share on turn one for a total of 3, and manage to ship for 2 income, your capital position is now still -3 (2 income – 3 shares – 2 loco) for a capital gain of 0.

Where does this tangle of 5 types of money flow leave us? Well, you are trying to balance your income against your opportunity expenses: that's the break-even point. However, you can't get there without building track, as no links means no income, so you will need to shell out for infrastructure. To build infrastructure and get that juicy action, you need capital, which means issuing shares... and raises your obligations. Since you can only ship a maximum of 2 cubes, if you want to get more than 2 income a turn, you'll need to upgrade your locomotive, temporarily foregoing some income and also raising your obligations. And round and round we go!

The most important skill in this game is the ability to assess your money, and here's one way to think about it. For you AoS sharks out there: have patience, we will get into some meatier calculations later, as this next paragraph is crucial for new players.

You need to figure out your finances BEFORE you issue shares. First, look at your obligations. At the start of the game, your shares are 2, your locomotive is 1, for a total obligation of $3. Then look at current income, which in this case is 0. The difference is the current amount of cash you will need to pay your obligations. If it is positive, rejoice, and bask in the envy of the other players. Then look at cash on hand. You have $10 at the beginning of turn 1. Subtract obligations from cash, giving you $7, which is currently what you have to build and bid with if nothing else changes. Now estimate how much your income and obligations will increase this turn... and be careful you do not count too heavily on a cube which may be shipped by someone else! Do you need to upgrade your locomotive to get to that juicy cube slightly farther over? Can you build enough track with your meagre cash to get to the city you need? Make a mental total of what your obligations would be. For example, say I want to upgrade my locomotive to a 2, which means in the absence of gaining the locomotive action, my maximum income will be shipping one cube for an income of 2. My obligations are now 2 shares plus 2 locomotive for a total of 4. My estimated income minus expenses is therefore (-2). If everything goes well, that means I currently need to set aside $2 to pay my obligations, whereas if nothing works out, my initial calculation means I have to set aside at least the original obligation of $3, possibly $4. Do you feel that $6,$7, or $8 is enough cash to build the track you need to ship your target cube to make that income? Is the board congested enough that there are few opportunities and you will need to use some of that money for a bid? Are you feeling lucky, and most importantly, are you a target in your gaming group? (Trust me, I have to take that last point into consideration with my co-gamers... sheesh!) If you think you will not have enough cash... then issue more shares, and RECALCULATE everything. Your obligations have just gone up again, as you will need to pay for this new share issue immediately at the end of turn 1!

How many shares should you issue? Well, there is no correct answer 'cept one: Don't issue too many! I hear a few cries out there saying "... how do I tell how many is too many?" Simple. If you have more than $4 left after the income and expenses phase, you issued too many shares. You gained $5 for that share, and gave $1 back at the end of that turn for the privilege of not using any of the capital it generated, and now you'll be paying $1 extra each turn for the rest of the game. Let the crying begin! This should serve as an object lesson of why recalculating your financial position is so important.

The short answer is that money is tight, cause you owe immediately, your potential initial income is limited, and the temptation to spend on track and bid can easily outstrip your means. I will examine some aspects with examples later in these strategy articles.

NEXT: What do the individual Actions REALLY do in AoS?

Age of Steam/Steam

Thanks to Karl Rainer for the following aricles, lifted from BoardGameGeek:

The first time I played AoS I was struck by how simple the rules are, and yet how deep the game play turned out to be. Our entire game group scratched our individual heads in collective consternation... how are you supposed to play this game to win?

I immediately sat down to figure this game out. I'm still working on it a year later, and it has turned into one of my all-time favourite games. I also managed to establish a tidy winning streak, which prevented me from disseminating too much info lest my co-gamers, all 'geek readers, take too much advantage. Heh heh heh.

However, I am moving to Nanaimo BC, far away from these folks, and I believe the time has come to reveal my methods and start an Age of Steam strategy guide. I will be posting individual chapters as I get them written, dealing with several of the following topics:

- Why is money so tight?
- An analysis of the Actions
- Board analysis
- The first turn.
- Just how well is it possible to do?
- Offensive and defensive actions
- Some thoughts on expansion boards
- Advanced topics

Thursday, June 17, 2010

More Settlers Strategy

I compiled this from reading a couple Settlers websites:
This probably the best strategy guide that I found out there, put together by Scott McPherson. Anyone know if he’s on boardgamegeek?

I also read this strategy guide, which was very useful:

I also put in some of my own thoughts from playing Catan.

Anyone know of more valuable strategy guides to read out there?

Overall strategies:

Wood/brick (leads to longest road)
Build lots of settlements.
Build your future settlements on grain/ore hexes in order to build cities.
Build roads to cut off other players expansion, very useful in cutting off grain/ore players who might not be able to expand as fast as you can.

Grain/ore (leads to largest army)
Robber is a threat – huge target if you are building cities.
Buy development cards to try to get a knight in case robber is sitting on your city.
Only use the knight if the robber is sitting on 1 of your cities, try to save them for this situation to occur.
Focus more on ore than grain since you need 3 ores and 2 grain to build each city.

Try not to put your city on 1 good number and 2 bad numbers, or else the robber can come and make your city worthless.

The grain/ore strategy is generally my favorite strategy to play all things being equal, because it leads to guaranteed cities at the beginning. As long as you have development cards to protect them from the robber, I think it’s a very good strategy to pursue. You can always either expand towards wood/brick by either using the grain/ore to trade to other players since they will likely need it to build cities – which can result in favorable trades for your grain/ore.

Generally you either need the longest road or largest army to win the game, it’s very hard to win without either of them.

Initial settlement placement
Try to get your initial settlements on a total dot count of 11-13, this generally leads to strong resource production. Always put the first 2 settlements on 3 resource hex possibilities (not at the water where there are only 2 possibilities). You don’t want to constrict your resource growth at the start, you can always expand later to the water to grab a port.

Try to spread out your settlements on as many different numbers as possible so that your resource cards don’t come in huge batches – which may lead to robber losses down the road. This is an extremely key point, by doing this you are able to get resources no matter what number is rolled, which leads to steady and consistent building. I saw this approach work first hand last game, my friend had his settlements spread out among basically every number from 4-9 and he thus got resources seemingly every roll of the dice. And his cards came slowly, instead of in big batches.

Review the board at first and try to put a settlement on the rarest resource that you see (either by sheer number of tiles in the game or that the numbers on the tiles are not good), this will become extremely valuable for trading purposes later. Generally it will result in you getting 2 resource cards for your 1 resource card in trading, which can be really valuable for future building.

Build settlements early, since growth is exponential once you get settlements and cities going. This is the most important strategy point – build settlements and cities first, to generate more production later – exponential growth rate.

Also try to go for settlement spots where your opponents are also going for, if you are sure you can get there first, otherwise don’t go for them because it’s just a waste of resources.

Break the longest road if at all possible with a settlement.

Try to get settlements on 3 different types of resources, though if you can’t, put your settlements on:
Wood/brick - settlements
Grain/ore – cities
Sheep are valuable, but generally it seems like sheep are always in high supply, so I generally don’t try to worry too much about getting sheep. It is nice to have at least 1 hex on a sheep, but I don’t worry too much about them.

Generally wood/brick is really valuable early on in the game for building roads and settlements, but then loses some of its value as the game goes along. This is because a lot of people start to build cities using grain/ore. Sheep generally hold the same value throughout the game (or its value goes slightly down), because they are only used in settlements (mainly done early in the game) and development cards (throughout the game).

Expansion opportunity priorities:
1. Go for the spot with the most dots
2. Increase diversity of resources you produce
3. Try to get to a nearby port

Make sure you are not cut off from future expansion opportunities, use roads to make sure of this, watch where your opponents are building towards.

Don’t place settlements just to try to screw others players, only think about yourself first and foremost. If in the process of getting a solid settlement placement you screw another player in the process, then that is great because you accomplished 2 missions in 1 shot.

In terms of settlements/cities, try to put your settlements/cities on hexes that have other players on them as well so that the hex is shared. This can help with keeping the robber off your hexes, since other players are also involved in the hex too.

The riskiest play in my opinion is to completely monopolize a hex (3 cities on 1 hex), this makes you a huge target for the robber, and you better have knights handy to get the robber off that hex in case the robber lands on that hex. I generally wouldn’t recommend monopolizing hexes, because it results in huge swings in terms of the number of cards in your hand, and the robber threat mentioned above. I did this in my last game, and while it did pay off okay (because another player was clearly in the lead the whole game and thus the robber was always on them), I don’t like to do it unless things just work out that way.

Robber/knight tips
If the robber is on your settlement/city before you roll the dice and you have a knight card, play the knight card before you roll so that if you roll the number that the robber was on before, you will get that resource.

Don’t buy too many development cards early on, it constricts your growth rate of resource production. It is much more worthwhile to build roads/settlements/cities because of the exponential growth rate of production if you get things setup early on. Save the development card buying for later once you get your resource production machine running and actually need some knight cards to keep the robber off your cities.

Make sure that you always have less than 7 cards before someone rolls the dice, even if it hurts your trading chances later, in case a 7 is rolled - I have been hit with the robber probably more than anyone else in my gaming group, I know the pain of having a 7 rolled with more than 7 cards in your hand =)

Buy a development card or something else if necessary to avoid having more than 7 cards in your hand before the dice are rolled.

If a 7 is rolled, put the robber on the rare resource hex
Also target cities if possible
Preferably target the current game leader, put it on his rarest resource hex that has a city on it – or try to hurt as many players as possible with the placement. By hurting as many people as possible with the placement, it also helps for later when a 7 is rolled again, so that 1 player doesn’t just target you with the robber if you singled out them the last time.

Count VP points as the game goes along to see who is in first place, and generally target them with the robber.

Don’t trade with someone if they are about to win the game (ie 7 or 8 VPs) – only trade with people who are behind you or slightly even with you. During the early to middle part of the game it’s generally fine to trade with anyone.

Try to be a part of every trade possible, as long as it helps you as much as your opponent. Don’t just make a trade simply for the fact that you wanted to make a trade – be sure that it helps you as much or more than your opponent.

Ports are useful – 2:1 ports can be really useful if you can get another settlement on that resource type with a really good number like 6 or 8.

3:1 ports are also useful, they may actually be more useful than 2:1 ports because there is no risk of the robber affecting your port trading ability by someone putting the robber on the hex that is producing the 2:1 port resource (since with a 3:1 port you can trade any resource, but with a 2:1 port it takes one specific resource). And since ports can only be used on your turn, you may want to try to hold out to trade all your resources using your port, putting you at higher risk for the robber.

Placing a settlement near a port at the beginning of the game (but not directly on the port) can be a good idea, because it can give you access in the future to it.

Though try to avoid placing settlements directly on ports early on, as it really constricts your resource production. It is much better early on to have both of your settlements on 3 resource hex possibilities. Later on in the game once your resource production machine is more established you can build a settlement on a port.

Development cards
% deck of development cards is as follows: (this may vary slightly depending on what deck and edition you are using)
Soldier – 48%
Monopoly – 12%
Road building – 12%
Year of plenty – 12%
Victory point – 16%

So generally unless you are going for largest army or just wanted to buy a development card to avoid having more than 7 cards in your had due to the robber – it is likely a better investment to build roads/settlements/cities since they result in guaranteed VPs, whereas it is more of an unknown with development cards. If you are going with the grain/ore strategy I would recommend investing in at least 1 development card to try to get a knight to help keep the robber off your city if at all possible.

Generally, development cards are only a good investment when:
1. You have more than 7 cards in your hand but have no other options to build anything else
2. If you are trying to win with the grain/ore (city) strategy and need knights to keep the robber off your hexes
3. If a lot of development cards have been bought already (and they were soldiers), so there is a better chance that the remaining cards are non-soldier cards

Monopoly card trick
One sneaky trick involves the monopoly card – trading away all of one resource to the rest of the players in exchange for whatever they have, then using the monopoly card to get it all back. So you then have all the resources that you traded for, in addition to the resource that you just traded to the rest of the players. I pulled it off once, and it did work, but my friends weren’t too happy about it =)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Complex Strategies for Settlers of Catan

Complex Strategies for Settlers of Catan

This is a long strategy article. If you don’t want to read giant blocks of text, hit the “back” button on your browser now. It goes very deep into the strategy of Settlers of Catan. It assumes you have played the game at least once, if not more than once. It also assumes that you understand the development cards and the game mechanics.

The Settlers of Catan has been probably the most commercially successful Eurogame of all time. It is arguably the most loved. There was a period between 1990 and 1997 where I did not attend any game conventions. Settlers of Catan was the game that brought me back. I don’t get as many chances to play it anymore. There have been dozens of superb games that have come out in the last two years, and Settlers has been on the back burner for a little while. I have participated in two “Catan Cup Championship” tournaments (held at the Denver game conventions) and I’ve won first place both. I’ve logged hundreds and hundreds of games with people from all over the place and all walks of life. I don’t list these credentials to toot my own horn - I’d just like to let folks know where I’m coming from. These aren’t theoretical strategies. These are the strategies I use and they work. There’s nothing worse than trying out a strategy that someone else believes will work, only to find out that they have no idea what they’re talking about.

I also ask for a bit of leeway here. I am attempting to write a guide on a game that probably everyone on this board has played a hundred or more times. I’m guessing that many people on this board think that they are probably pretty good at this game, too, which will make them read this whole entire piece just waiting for me to slip up so they can say, “No, no, no, it doesn’t work that way. You can’t win doing it like that.” I fully expect to receive criticism and perhaps outright rejection in response to the strategies laid out in this guide. If you want to refute a specific point, please don’t provide “what if” examples. There are always exceptions to every rule of thumb. The point is that I believe this guide will help you be successful more often than not. I believe that using the strategies outlined in this guide, you will always put yourself in a position to win. If you stink at Settlers, this guide will make you better. If you already kill everyone at Settlers, then this guide will show you all of my tips and tricks so that you will also crush me like a bug if we ever play together.

Although there is luck involved in this game, it can be overcome with great strategy. In poker, the best strategy for winning is to get dealt a pair of aces in every hand. Since one can’t control the deal, a different set of strategies must be employed. Likewise, in Settlers the best strategy is to make sure that only your numbers get rolled every time. Again, this is unrealistic. Anyone who believes that poker is purely a lucky game need only look at the final tables at the World Series of Poker. It usually has one or two new faces, but by and large it is filled with the same old grizzled veterans. If playing poker is just about getting the luckiest cards, then why do the same guys keep getting to the final table? The answer is “skill.” The same can be said of Settlers. Regardless of the “luck factor,” it is generally the same group that competes for the top prizes at the tournaments.

In this article, I will cover placement and early expansion strategies, strategic use of the robber, resource negotiations, and development card use. Although I will not go into detail about Seafarers or Cities and Knights, many of the techniques in this guide can be applied to both.

I will discuss both three and four player games. I will not cover two, five, or six player games. All two player games are at best, sub-standard variants. Playing with only two eliminates the negotiation aspect of the game. The five and six player games are not fun, in my opinion. Generally, at least one, if not two players get trapped, unable to expand, right off the bat. With virtually no chance of winning, they slog through the remainder of the game just wishing it were over. I would rather everyone be actively involved and having fun. Although the placement and early expansion advice will be useful to people playing against computer AI, the rest of it won’t really apply. Computers think in probabilities and statistics. You can’t get a computer to “trust you” or to “owe you one”.


The initial placement in this game is very important. If you do it correctly, you put yourself in a position for victory. If you do it wrong, then it’s going to be the longest hour of your life knowing that you just can’t muster any resources, or grow beyond your first two cities. I’d say about 25% of the game is won or lost before the dice are ever rolled.

I have encountered use strategies like, “Go for wood and brick so that you can make lots of roads.” Other players cite mantras like, “Ore builds cities and soldiers, so try to get on a lot of good ore spots.” Obviously your game can be stagnated without wood and brick in the beginning. Likewise, without any ore, you won’t be able to buy anything at all during the endgame. It is possible, however, for ore to end up on the 2, 3, and 12 spaces. In this case, “going for ore” isn’t really that smart a strategy. The same can happen with wood/brick. If either of these strategies was a dominant one, they would work all the time. Since they don’t, there must be some other more deterministic mechanic at work.

I’m going to set this next bit apart in asterisks because it is pretty much the core to this guide. After you read it, if you decide you can live with it, please continue on through the rest of the guide.

******** Most important part of the entire guide *************
I am going to give you my absolute most valuable tip. At the end of a few games of settlers, write down where folks put their first two cities with regard to vertices. Don’t worry about whether or not the vertices have ore, wheat, wood, or whatever. Just write down the numbers. As each person places a new settlement, write down the vertices of where these go. Write down where they built there first city – was it on an 8/5/4 vertex or a 6/3/11 vertex? Remember, what resources they actually get is totally unimportant, just the numbers.

There are always anomalies, but over the long haul, you’ll find that MOST of the people who win are winning because they have a good distribution of numbers – regardless of what their stated strategy is. A person will often say, “Oh, well, I just tried to get all the ore in the game.” But is that really how they won? Or is it possible that they inadvertently employed some other strategy that had far more to do with the outcome than simply “get all the ore.” Keeping a log of wins/losses, and starting/ending number distribution, will show you over a number of games what’s really working for the winners.

The key to understanding how to win the game isn’t to work from front to back, it’s to work from back to front. After someone wins, figure out what vertices they started on, what direction they expanded, and how they did it. What kind of number distribution did they end up with? What kind did they start with?

I am a big fan of the book “Moneyball,” a baseball book that I highly recommend to gamers. It talks about general managers in baseball trying to find good talent to draft. How do you know who to draft? How do you know if a kid is going to turn out to be the next Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, or Albert Pujols? The answer is simple – look at Jeter, Rodriguez, and Pujols when they were kids and see what kind of numbers they put up. Then find players like that. The book “Moneyball” suggests that it isn’t the number of homeruns a player hits in college, it’s the number of walks. If you see a player that gets a lot of walks, they probably have great plate discipline, which is what ultimately will lead to homeruns in the future. Although on its surface, it’s about baseball, in reality it’s about how to measure success so that it can be repeated. This is something that doesn’t just apply to baseball, it applies to games as well.

People will keep telling you that Settlers is about the resources, but I promise you, it is about the numbers. If I can’t convince you of that, you should probably stop reading right here. If you can suspend your disbelief long enough to continue, I think you’ll find some really great stuff in here.

Ok, continuing on with initial placement strategy…

The best strategy of all is to diversify – and I’m not talking about resources. You should try to get on as many different numbers as possible to ensure that whatever gets rolled, you get a resource. Above all else, it is of paramount importance to get a good spread of numbers. Grabbing 6, 8, 5, 9, 4, and 10, are a first priority. You may also eventually want to expand to 3 and 11 if there is a particularly valuable or rare commodity on those hexes. For example, if sheep is only available on hexes 2, 3, and 11, you will probably eventually want to build toward a 3 or 11 hex. Both 3 and 11 can be ignored throughout the game, however.

Having a good distribution of numbers allows you to always get resources. The name of the game in Settlers is cards. If you don’t have cards, you can’t play. If you can’t play, you can’t win. I would rather have two sheep cards than none at all. And, I would rather have ten sheep cards than one ore and one brick. I cannot stress this enough. I know I’m going to get people saying “Would you put your marker on the 5/6/9 vertex if all three were sheep?” The answer is “Absolutely.” My second placement would obviously provide me with a couple of other resources, and I would likely be able to trade sheep in to the bank for something useful. This strategy would obviously require some kind of port, but ignoring a good spread of numbers for any reason is a good way to get beat. If you like the ore strategy or the brick strategy, by all means, you can still usually pick one or the other. But if you fail to get a good distribution of numbers, chances are high that you won’t have enough cards to trade in order to put yourself in a position to win. The “lucky” part of this game is the dice rolling. If you have a settlement on all (or nearly all) of the numbers, you’ve eliminated much of the “luck” involved.

Most of the time, you will get shut out of either a 6 or an 8 at the beginning of the game. If the first two players lock down the 6, the third player may position his first settlement on the other 6 hex such that your only other placement would be on a vertex that contains the 6 and 12, or the 6 and 2. If this is the case, you may just have to play without a 6 to start. No matter. Try for an 8, 5, 10 vertex, then look for something with a 4 and a 9. Position your roads so that you can build toward the 6 later in the game.

If for any reason, the 5/6/9 vertex is available in the game, take it. Depending on where the desert falls in the game, this vertex may or may not be present on the board. Taking this vertex not only gives you amazing numbers, but it will foul up the 5/6/x, the 5/9/x, and the 6/9/x spots. Your opponents will be left with substantially inferior slot choices.

If you are playing first or second, I highly recommend getting on one of the 6 hexes first. The reason is that generally there will be an 8/4 or an 8/10 port available on the board. I would say in about 50% of my games, my second placement is on one of these ports. I generally don’t even worry about the type of port I am on. It’s more important that I get the numbers I need.

Road placement at the beginning is also crucial. The biggest rookie mistake I see is someone pointing their road toward an extremely valuable slot. You know that someone is going to stick one of their first two settlements there, so why would you point a road down that direction? Your first couple of roads should be pointed toward a 4, 10, 3, or 11 – whichever ones you don’t have. Getting your third settlement down in these spots is sure better than missing on a chance at a 5 or a 9 because someone built there first. You may also be able to point your road toward a less desirable 6 spot, such as one near a 2 or a 12.

As a general rule, do not point your roads toward the center of the board. It’s going to get crowded there and you won’t have enough room to breath. I try to point my roads toward the coast. If I don’t have a port already, this gets me my first one. The key is to allow yourself room to move. You need to be able to build a combination of at least four cities/settlements. Keep that in mind. It’s possible to win with fewer than four settlements/cities, but it’s not easy, and it can’t be done consistently. By and large, people win with at least four or more. During your first placement, you need to guess not only where other people are going to go first, but where they are likely to expand. I know that ignoring the middle of the board seems goofy, but it will work. I play for the edges because I can guarantee my ability to put a settlement there. If I work toward the middle, I might get a settlement in – but if I don’t, then I lose for sure.


You’re always supposed to place the robber on the person with the most victory points, right? Or, wait, you’re supposed to place it on a 6 or 8 so that it takes out someone’s best number, correct? Or was it that you should try to put it so that it affects as many people as possible? And of course, you never want to put the robber on someone holding development cards because they probably have a soldier, and they’ll just put it right back on you won’t they?

Once in a while, one of the above strategies for the robber may be correct. If someone has nine victory points, and a handful of cards, putting the robber on them probably is the best idea. At the end of the game, placing the robber is pretty easy to figure out. But, what about in the beginning of the game? What about the middle? Placing the robber in the early/middle of the game will absolutely have one intended effect – someone will not like you for putting it on them. If you’ve hit someone with a robber early and they roll a seven, where do you think it’s going to end up next? Chances are, it will end up on you.

“Ah ha!” you say. “Now I’ve got you. You’re about to tell me to put the robber on a space that doesn’t hurt anyone just to be nice, aren’t you?” Absolutely not. Trying to make peace by not taking a card with the robber is always a bad idea. The whole advantage of getting a seven is that you get a card, someone else loses a card, and nothing good happens for the other two. If you just make the robber go back to the desert, you’ve wasted your entire turn. When you place the robber, though, you are going to make enemies, so you’d better not choose someone that can hurt you too badly.

You should also make sure that you only affect one player with the robber. Affecting two players doubles the revenge factor, as well as doubles the motivation to move it with a soldier card. If only one person is affected, then the robber will probably spend longer on that spot. As a rule of thumb, in the early/middle game, you should place the robber on the player to your right. The reason is that it will spend more time there. The player to your right can’t take the robber off for two or three more rolls, which is great.

Now, if the player to your left or the player across from you rolls a seven, the robber will move. But, they might remember your kindness and not hit you with it when it comes around. If the player to your right rolls a seven, you can bet it’s probably coming back your way. Early in the game, this revenge factor may not make sense, but later, when soldiers are in play, it will have a huge effect.

If you have an unplayed soldier, you can minimize any robber damage from the player on your right. He can place it on you and take a card, but it will only affect one roll. After that, it will be your turn. You can move the robber with your soldier and stick it back on the player to your right for three more rolls before he can do anything about it. Meanwhile, you’re building up credibility and trust with the other two players by not ever putting the robber on them. This will make them less likely to put the robber on you, which works out pretty well.

So, to sum up, the player on your right is easy to mess with because you can instantly get back at him with a soldier, or a lucky seven roll. The player on your left should be avoided when you roll the robber. You simply can’t afford to get into a soldier war with that player. It will stay on you for three times longer than it stays on him/her. If you’re messing with the player across from you, then it’s a pretty fair fight. I don’t like fair fights, though. I’d rather have the advantage. This strategy works so well for me that no one in my family wants to sit to my right ever. It’s gotten to the point where we roll for both turn order and seat position. How do you know a strategy is good? When people will fight like cats and dogs not to have it used on them.

The important thing to note about messing with the player on your right is not to be a jerk. Always give a reason why you are playing the robber on them. Don’t say, “Well, I read a guide and it said to put in on the player to my right, so that’s what I am doing.” Instead say, “Well, we rolled wheat a couple of turns ago and I really needed one.” That person may come back with – “Well, you just got two wheat.” Just say, “Oh, I was trying to go for a 3 for 1 trade.” If they want to know why you didn’t just steal the actual resource you wanted, play dumb. Most people think that they are great at Settlers since it’s been around so long. The “Aw shucks” attitude really goes a long way. Even if you win all the time, you can just tell people that you’re just really lucky and they’ll believe you. Meanwhile, employ the best strategy for winning and let them think what they want. I have to admit, the “Aw shucks” routine is a little tough for me to pull off these days. After I won the first Catan Cup, folks said, “Man, he sure is lucky.” After the second, it was, “Hey, didn’t that guy win last year? Hmmm….” As for my family? Forget about it. They know what I’m up to. I still work the same strategies, but they make it much tougher on me.

Should you put the robber on a person if they have an unused development card? Definitely. I know that it means that it will probably just get put right back on you, but at least they’ll have to wait two or three rolls to do it. Sometimes you just have to take a punch in the mouth from that soldier to get it played. Who knows, you might discover that the card they are holding isn’t a soldier at all – and wouldn’t that be a valuable piece of information to have?

I like to see all of my opponents development cards face up. The only way to make that happen is to put the robber on them. You may need to convince the other players to put the robber on someone with a dev card, too (especially if it’s the player to your left). I can usually throw something out like, “Man, I wish we could make him use that soldier, then he couldn’t hold it over our heads for the whole game.” The real reason the soldier is valuable isn’t because he can move the robber – it’s because he can threaten to move the robber. Once the soldier has done it, the threat is over and the player has no more protection. By the same token, I love getting one early development card just so I can say, “Well, you could put the robber on my, but I’ll just put it right back. Why don’t you put it on the other guy? He has no protection.” Ah, soldiers. It’s like holding off three bad guys with one bullet. Sure, you can only shoot one of them, but who’s going to volunteer?

Playing the robber well and not getting it played as much yourself is another 25% of this game. Good robber management is probably the hardest part of the game, because it is the one where you have the least direct control. You can only control where a robber goes when you roll a seven or play a robber. It’s impossible to control how people will react to it.


I talk at the table a lot. I talk across the table. I talk to two players trading with each other, even when I’m not involved. I would never tell people not to take a deal that another player offers. If you do that, most of the time, they’re going to make that deal anyway, and then neither one of them will trust you. I try to tell people that they are making good moves, surprising moves, and that they drive a hard bargain when I am trading. Sometimes it’s true, sometimes it’s not. The important thing is that I am being nice.

There is some debate about whether or not talking during a trade is acceptable. According to the Rules Guru at Mayfair games (, it is. Here is a link which goes over this rule: For those of you who don't want to click the link, I will lay out the question and answer here:

Q: Are players allowed to suggest trades when it is not their turn?
A: Yes. The rules state that you may only trade if the player who is taking his turn is included in the trade, but there is no rule that states that you can not negotiate a trade when it is not your turn.
**end of edit**

Some people like to be jerks in this game. Why? Because no one wants to put the robber on a big, whining, complaining, jerk, If you put the robber on a jerk, you’re probably going to have to hear about it for the next 50 minutes. However, the same people that won’t put the robber on a jerk also won’t trade with the jerk unless it is important. They’ll always trade with the nice guy. In fact, even if they have just put the robber on me, they will probably make up for it by trading with me later out of pity. “Well, I did put the robber on you, so I guess I’ll make the trade with you instead of with the other guy.” Again, the “aw shucks” should work like a charm.

If someone wants to trade something and you are the only one offering, try to get them to wait until your turn to trade it. Trading another player on his turn benefits him greatly because he can use his new cards right away. Trading with someone on your turn will benefit you more than them for the same reason. You may need to make up an excuse like, “Oh, man, if I have the card you need, but I need it to. If I get the roll I am looking for, I can trade it. Just let me roll first.” If they can live with that, you’ve done very well for yourself, and haven’t benefited them too much, because you’ve made them wait a turn to employ their strategy. To sum up, it’s better to trade on your turn than on someone else’s turn.

I would also encourage you to trade a lot. You may even want to make neutral trades that don’t help you that much if there is more than one person involved. Let’s say you are player 1. Player two wants to give a sheep in exchange for a wood. You don’t really need a sheep. Player 3 pipes up and says, “I’ll do it.” At that point, you may want to jump in. If the wood isn’t vital to what you’re trying to do, then just make the trade. If you allow two other players to trade with each other, chances are good that they both got stronger. Meanwhile, you stayed the same. I sometimes even make trades that are disadvantageous to me (breaking up a wood/brick, or a wheat/sheep/ore to take something else) just to prevent two other players from both becoming stronger. Knowing when to just keep trading and when to let other people trade with each other is more of an art than a science. It takes time to know when you should jump in and when you should let it go. Just remember – when a trade happens that you aren’t involved in, two other people just got a little better, and you didn’t.

You may also want to altogether interrupt trades on someone else’s turn. As a warning, this can make them angry if you do it too often. An interrupt is when you encourage people not to trade with the player who currently holds the dice and instead to wait for your turn. In exchange for waiting for your turn, perhaps you sweeten the deal, or give them the card they really want instead of a substitute. If you’re interrupting someone’s trade turn, you may want to make it the guy on your right. After all, you’re probably robbing the heck out him and he’s probably already mad enough at you that irking him a little more won’t matter.

If you’re going to hold resources hostage, don’t lord that fact over people. If you’re the only one on a decent Brick number, that doesn’t mean you can start demanding things. That will probably just anger people and make you the target of a lot of robbers. If people offer me only one resource for my valuable brick, I always say things like, “Yeah, I know these have been tough to get. But I’m having trouble getting both wood and wheat, so I guess I’ll just hold off trading this brick until I have some extra and I can get both wood and wheat.” If the situation is desperate enough that they will trade two resources, they will offer two resources. If they aren’t willing to part with two, then that thought will never cross their mind. Don’t EVER ask for two resources in exchange for your one. People will immediately think you’re trying to get the best of them. If you need two resources for say one wheat, then just hold up the wheat and say, “Anybody have anything for this?” The first offer will be, “I’ll give you a wood.” Another player might say, “I’ll give you an ore.” Just keep playing the “Gee, I don’t know…” card until someone offers two resources. When you come right out and ask for a two for one, people think you’re a shark. Let them come to you and there won’t be any bad feelings when the trade is done. If no one is willing to offer two resources for your one, then it wasn’t going to happen anyway. Specifically asking for a 2 for 1 wouldn’t have made it happen for you, but it would have blown your cover as a shark. It is perfectly acceptable to offer two resources to get one back. Remember, don’t sound shark-ish. Don’t make them coax the second resource out of you. If you know you want to offer two, just offer two right off the bat.

I can’t stress it enough: Be nice. Another 25% of this game is won with good negotiation. If you aren’t nice, people won’t trade with you when you need it most. If people won’t trade with you, you’ll lose.


Knowing when and how to play these cards is the final 25% of winning the game. A single well-played and timely development card can turn your fortunes from hopeless to victorious.


Well, the card you are most often going to see is the soldier. I only have a couple of rules of thumb about a soldier. I always like to have at least one soldier in front of me. I like to get one as early in the game as possible – sometimes trading even an early road to get one. Having the threat of that soldier can keep the robber off of you for around half the game. At worst, it can still thwart one attempt to take out your best number.

By the time two more more players have reached six victory points, you probably can’t afford to leave more than one robber face down. Remember, you can only play one development card per turn. If the end sneaks up on you and you need to make largest army, you may not have enough time to keep flipping over soldiers. Not to mention that if you have to use a soldier, you can’t use one of the other great cards in the deck.

Road Building:

The road building card is my personal favorite development card. You should use it ONLY when you are prepared to build a settlement at the END of it. If you just need one road to build your settlement, then I’d hold off until later in the game to use road building. The key to building a settlement is to make sure you get use out of BOTH roads. If you use one, then just jut the other one off into nowhere, you’ve really wasted the power of this card.

If you already make great wood and bricks, you may just want to hold this until near the end of the game. At that point, you could come from behind and take the longest road with one fell swoop. Also, at that point in the game, most people will have figured that it is a single victory point, not that you’d be able to get two with it.


This card allows you to choose any two resources you want. I would only use this card to upgrade a settlement to a city. The real advantage here is that you basically get to hold two cards over your hand limit with impunity. It can be tough to build a city without having to hold to many cards. If you are in a pinch, you could also use it for a road. I can only recommend this if you are fighting for position with another player, or if you risk getting boxed in without enough room for growth. The point of the non-soldier development cards is to score some points. If you aren’t scoring points with the non-soldier cards, you’re wasting them.


Great card. However tempting it may be to use this to build a city, resist the urge. This card should ONLY be used at the end of the game. If you get it on turn one, you should hold it all the way until the end. This card is a big finisher card. This is the one you use to come out of nowhere and seal the deal. If you hold onto one of these sufficiently long, you can fool people into thinking it is a single victory point. With this card, you should be able to score at least two victory points, if not three. If you aren’t getting two victory points or more with this card, wait longer. This one, more than any other, burns a hole in peoples pockets. They know they have it and they’re just itching to use it. Patience, patience, patience. When you use this card, you’re going to build up some ill will. If the game is over (or practically over) when you use it, then it doesn’t matter.

What should you take with Monopoly? Well, basically, whatever there is a ton of. I like to keep my eye on the supply pile. If any supply pile is particularly low, I know that there is a ton of that resource out on the table. It is better to take lots of something you don’t need rather than one or two of something you need desperately, especially if you can trade your newfound cards at a port.

There is a dirty trick that some people play with this card. That is, if you have lots of wheat, lets say, you trade it all away to the other players. At that point, you pull out the monopoly and take back all the wheat you just gave out. This is way, way, way, dirty. This single maneuver is so filthy that it will never ever be forgotten by anyone who experienced it, saw it, or heard about it. Even though you arguably get the same number of cards as just stealing a bunch of something else, people will really, really, hate this one. It just feels wrong. Don’t get me wrong, this is a powerful play, but if you do it, you’ll have a hard time ever convincing anyone that you’re a “nice guy” ever again. If you’re in a tournament and you want to pull this move, you’d better wait until the final table at near the end of the game. I’ve seen a guy pull this trick earlier than the final and he got shut out of the rest of the games. If you pull this move, people will you as a shark from then on out. There will be no more “aw shucks” after you do this, so be warned. I would never pull this move at a Con or a tournament. I always try to break this out on my family. Why? Well, they already know I’m a shark, so I don’t really take a big ding to my reputation when I pull this maneuver.

Victory Point:

Whenever I pull a soldier, I let people know it’s a soldier if they ask. Again, the intimidation faction of unplayed soldiers is great. No matter what other type of development card I pull, if someone asks me what I got, I tell them “It’s a victory point.” Why? Because I don’t want them to know about my a road building, monopoly, or discovery that I plan to pull out later. Any of those other cards might make them less likely to trade with me. I never bluff and say that I have a soldier I don’t have. That makes me look like a liar right away. As soon as the robber is put on me and I can’t do anything about it, they know I’m a shark. Cover blown. My cover will eventually be blown when I show them that the card is actually a monopoly instead of a VP, but hopefully by then I can win. Remember, if your cover is blown on the last turn, people pat you on the back and say, “Well played.” If they catch you in the middle, they won’t let you get that far. A good deal of this game is about bluffing. If you’ve ever played poker, though, you know that if you bluff a lot, you lose a lot. If you’re going to bluff, make sure it’s going to help you win.


So there it is. Thanks for getting all the way through it. If you think that the Settlers gods have cursed you and that you simply can’t win, try some of these ideas. I think you’ll see your “luck” change before your eyes.

Credit: Brad Cooper

Last edited on 2007-08-21 11:08:42 CST (Total Number of Edits: 1)