Wednesday, September 15, 2010

El Grande Tactics 201

Jay Fox's 10 Strategic Tips for Tournament El Grande

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Point taken?

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

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

Point taken?


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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. You are playing with human beings.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Lesson – Bad play and weak positions ruin leads

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

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


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

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

With that, see you in Lancaster! J

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

Jay Fox's 10 Strategic Tips for Tournament El Grande

El Grande Tactics 101

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

1. More Cabs on the board is good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



This article originally written in 2001 -- Brian Bankler]

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

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

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

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

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

The Opening Auction

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

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

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

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

The 1st Stock Round (after the auction).

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Second company

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Tips

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

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

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

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

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

1856 Tips

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

1870 Tips

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

Saturday, September 11, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Advanced Strategy - Ra

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

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

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

First, the easy ones.

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

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

Now for the interesting ones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Rob Herman, BGG