Splendor Strategy

Splendor was the 2014 Golden Geek game of the year. It is very polished, easy to learn, and fun to play.

The strategy is relatively simple, but the execution is difficult. Summary below.

  1. Reserve the cards you want early on
  2. Take 3 chips in early turns
  3. Reserve cards that cost all of the same color
  4. Choose two colors that you will own, and buy them up
  5. Choose two nobles that have overlapping requirements and target them early in the game
  6. Calculate what it will take to win, and win quickly.

First Turn Reservation

In the first turn, look at the playing field and decide what your longer term strategy is. You don’t want to waste chips on expensive cards early on, but you still want to target cards that fit into your final strategy.

Reserve cards in your first or second turn to give yourself the best chance early on.

The idea here is to optimize each of your turns. Some cards are just easier to get, and you want to remove those from other player’s grasps, and place it into yours.

Maximize Chip Draws

You often want to draw 3 chips. It is ok if it takes an extra turn to get something you need if you can get more chips to help you later. The caveat to this is when you are targeting high-value cards. You may want to take two chips to get you closer to your goal.

Early in the game, everything moves a little slowly. Your whole goal is to prepare yourself for the later parts of the game. Gather as many cards as you can by using them to buy other cards. Points still matter, but getting cheaper cards earlier will help you down the line.

The cards that can be purchased with all the same color are a great bet in getting to 15 points. I like to take the 5 point 7/3 cost cards in the color I’m targeting. Additionally, I may even choose to target those colors on purpose. Reserve these cards early, and almost always draw a chip in those colors. Eventually, you’ll buy them and have a significant advantage.

Optimize Purchases

Initially, look at the lay of the land. Are there a lot of cards that need the green gems? Go for green! Collect cards that will give you the most buying power. The playing field will guide you in the choices.

It is very valuable to own 4 or 5 of the same color. This allows you to snatch up cards that are out of reach for the other players. (One defense against this strategy is to just reserve the cards that you know they are looking at, even if you don’t plan to purchase them. Reserving cards you don’t need works better in a two player game. With more players, you won’t have turns to spare.)

Also be aware of scarce resources. If a lot of cards need green, but there aren’t any green out there, snatch any up quickly that come into play.

Target Nobles

An easy way to get the points you need to win is to capture a few nobles. Once again, look at what is available on the field, and look for synergies among nobles. Does one noble need 4 whites and 4 reds and another noble need 3 whites, 3 reds, and 3 browns? Go for the whites and reds, but if it is difficult to get them because of the playing field, consider going for a different noble.

Advanced players walk a line between getting high point cards and capturing nobles. It is ideal if the high cards you are capturing line up with your noble acquisition strategy, but you just have to do whatever it takes to get to 15 points. I have often had to change my strategy late in the game because a color I want is inaccessible. That is OK.

All along the way, keep track of your points and keep an eye on the field. Figure out what cards on the field it will take to win the game. The game moves slowly at first, but then the end will sneak up on you quickly, so make sure you are the one determining the end game.

 

That’s it! I love Splendor because of the ease of play, but there is an art in knowing when to make your move.

What strategies have worked well for you?

 

What to do if People know your Strategy

You’ve put together a great strategy, and it has worked multiple times. Eventually, people start to figure out what you are doing and try to stop it. What should you do then? Well, a lot of it depends on the type of game, but below are some general strategies. They aren’t in order, so it is a bulleted list, instead of a numbered list.

  • Think through what you would do to combat your strategy, then figure out how to stop that
  • Don’t gloat over your victories
  • Change up your strategy
  • Change games

Beating yourself

Think carefully about your strategy. Where are its weak points? How would you go about beating it? Once you figure that out, you can expect your opponents to figure it out too. So, how do you beat that strategy?

This could be an infinitely iterative process as you and he keep figuring out how to beat the next strategy, but that is part of the fun. Unless there is a strictly dominant strategy, there is always something else you can try.

monster-chasing-shark

Victory Dances

When I was home from college with my siblings, I got into the bad habit of singing a victory song after I won. It would change, but it was usually something from Star Wars or Super Smash Bros

This was really annoying. I apologize if you had to live through those days. I received payback for this when we played Pit. Everyone kept trading me the bear and holding onto cards I needed. When you are a bad winner, it comes back to haunt you. (Side note, the only strategy you can do when it gets like this, is to let people cool down. It just takes time.)

Change up your Strategy

Another method that can help is to adjust your strategy. You may love to play the same way each time, but if you change up just a little, it can keep people from figuring out exactly what you are going to do.

Change Games

Often, it helps to just change games. Playing different games will also help you so that people don’t get tired of playing games with you. I often like to play people’s favorite games, that way, they have fun and I get to match wits in the game they are most competent at.

What else have you done that helps when people figure out your strategy?

Risk Strategy

Aww, the game of Risk. The perfect game for teenagers to gather together, roll some dice, and conquer the world. Unfortunately, if you don’t play it right, you could be out sleeping on the couch.

My dad had the youth from church over to play this game one night, and the first person out did just that. My siblings and I were a little younger, so we went and got a bunch of toys, (picture My Little Ponies) and carefully laid them out on the boy, trying not to wake him up. We were successful and ended up with some great pictures.

If you don’t want to be out in the cold, follow the strategies below.

  1. Capture a continent and control it early
  2. Always take one country to collect cards
  3. Hold onto cards as long as possible
  4. Form alliances with specific conditions and terminations
  5. Eliminate the weak to collect their cards
  6. Don’t spread thin, unless you can eliminate someone
  7. Don’t play the game again until people have forgotten your victory

Capturing a Continent

Early in the game, you need to control a continent to gather your troops. The easiest to control in order are; Australia, South America, and Africa. Those should be your early targets. Australia is good, but you can get stuck there. Africa is great, but you really need an alliance to protect your backside.

“Never get involved in a land war in Asia..”land-war-in-asia

Card Collection

Every single turn, you must take a country. The cards are so powerful in this game. Early on, your whole purpose is to survive and gather armies until the cards become more powerful.

This also means that you want to hold onto your cards as long as possible. Every time someone else plays cards, the value of the cards increases. Sometimes you are forced to play, but unless you can really do some damage, you want to wait and build up your armies.

Alliances

Alliances are key to winning here. Unless you want to create ill will by backstabbing your buddies, (only works once) you need to set up specific conditions for your treaties. For example. You could say, “I promise I won’t attack you in South America this turn, if you promise not to attack me in Africa on your turn.”

Most people won’t back out of a treaty like this because it will kill their in game credibility. You can almost guarantee that your back will be covered. If they do back out, you can use it as leverage to get someone else to work with you to eliminate them.

This is also to your advantage because you aren’t breaking any treaties yourself.

Eliminate the Weak

Use your alliances to eliminate the weak. Often, you can get someone else to help you to eliminate someone. You may have to let them do the finishing moves to get the cards, but you may be able to negotiate for it.

Keep your Armies Strong

Be careful about spreading thin early on. Sometimes it is worth the risk to eliminate someone, (this is a great time to make a one turn alliance) to get their cards, but try to cover your back as much as you can. This can be taken to the extreme. If you get trapped in Australia, you won’t be the first out, but you won’t end up winning the game in the end.

Take the Victory, and Run

Once you win, don’t play Risk again for awhile. Everyone remembers that you won, and they will make sure you pay for it the next time you play.

After everything you can control, sometimes they just get lucky, and you have to live with it.

Anyone have any other advice? I feel like this game isn’t played as much anymore, but it used to be a regular at many tables.

 

El Grande Strategy

El Grande is very fun to play. You win or lose because of your own choices, and the choices you make early in the game affect your chances at the end. It is the perfect strategy game. This will be a longer post because the strategy is complex.

Because it is less well known, I’ll start with the general game idea.

Game Play

There are 6 rounds. (9 in the longer game) After every two rounds, you win points in every area that you have the most guys out. Each round, there is a phase to determine turn order based on the card that you play, followed by a round of play where you choose an action from the side and play your pieces accordingly.

Everything in this game is a trade-off. It is a lot like life. You can choose to stay up late to watch a movie, but the consequence is that you are exhausted the next day. In the game, you can choose to go first, but then you don’t get the option to have as many guys in our court. More extensive rules can be found here.

Strategy

Round 1-3: Ramping Up

  • Play your highest card in the turn order phase
  • Choose the King action
  • Play as many guys as possible
  • Move the King away from where you played. (preferably to your own province)
  • Win the Castille

Round 4-5,6-7: Preparation Phases

  • Continue to get as many guys out as possible
  • Score extra points if cards appear
  • Win the Castille

Round 6,9: Final Strike

  • Play your low cards in turn order phase, go last if possible
  • Choose the card that will give you the most control over the final scoring
  • Win the Castille.

General Guidelines

  • Manage your Court
  • Don’t create grudge matches
  • Do create tension among other players

 

Round 1 and 2

At the beginning you really want to get as many guys onto the board as possible. Later you can move them around or take turns to score points, but right now, you need guys out to work with. To do this you need the first turn. Play your 13 in the first round, and try to win the second round, while still having enough guys in your court to play them on the field.

The King is very powerful at this point because there are so few guys out. By controlling the king, you control where placement occurs, and if you go first, you can own an area and move the king away, almost guaranteeing you multiple winning areas.

Winning the Castille is so important throughout the game because by winning there, you get the points for the Castille, plus you are almost guaranteed to win one more area when you move the guys out of the Castille.

Preparation Rounds 3, 5

The whole goal of these rounds is to prepare you for the scoring rounds. You don’t have to go first, but you should still be placing many guys out. This is also a good time to put guys in the Castille to prep you for scoring.

Scoring Rounds

Here is where you have to play your best. Going last by playing your 1 will give you an advantage in deciding the scores. In previous rounds, you played a lot of guys out, so you should be able to get at least one card that can move them to the right places, or add enough guys to win the scoring.

If you go last, you have the final say in where guys end up, so take advantage of it.

And win the Castille. (I can’t emphasize the importance enough.)

General Guidelines

You don’t need to have to many guys in your court. You also don’t want to have to few. After the first round, you want to be playing cards that gives you enough of a court, but also gives you the position you want.

Don’t create grudge matches. In this game, it is really easy to ensure that someone doesn’t win, as long as you are ok not winning yourself. Don’t do something spitefully or it will end up destroying you and them in the end.

Do create tension. What I mean here is that you can set things up so that other people have to focus on each other. Move their guys in such a way so that they have to decide how to defend themselves against each other.

You made it to the end! The strategies here are good, but are difficult to actually implement. My final advice is to choose your best options, then stick with them. You will want to say that you wish you would have done something differently. Remember my post about creating your strategy. Learn from your mistakes and make your strategy better next time.

 

Blokus Strategy 2 – Bayesian Probabilities

This piece of Blokus strategy deserves its own post.

Let me introduce you to the concept of Bayesian probabilities. The math is pretty heavy, so I will just describe the concept.

In regular probability, you look at the frequency of how often something occurs. This works in playing card games. “What is my chance of drawing a diamond”.

Bayesian probabilities assigns probability based on an states of knowledge or belief. “What is the chance of someone playing in that square, given the other options they have to play”

This is pretty complex, so let me give you an example in Blokus. Suppose there are 4 different places that you are thinking about playing on the board. When you look at each one, the you gather the following information about each option.

  • Option 1: No one else can play on it. It is a perfect fit for your square piece
  • Option 2: All 4 players can play into this space. Once played there, it is isolated, so it won’t get you anywhere else.
  • Option 3: Only you and one other person can play here. The other player needs this space to avoid getting stuck.
  • Option 4: You and 2 others can play here. It leads to one other open space

How do you decide what to do? Bayesian probability tries to assign probabilities to each of beautiful-mindthese sites to decide the probability that you won’t be able to play there later. It seems complex, but your brain is already doing this when you think through where you should play. I’m going to assign probabilities the way my brain naturally thinks about it, without actually calculating probabilities. (No one has time for you to get your whiteboard out and Beautiful Mind the actual probabilities.)

  • Option 1: 0% probability of losing this space before your next turn. Wait for a later turn to play here
  • Option 2: 80% probability of losing this. Potential for this turn
  • Option 3: 90% chance of losing the space. Would really hurt the other player, and you won’t have a chance later
  • Option 4: 85% chance of losing the space. This will give you another play, so if you need the extra space, this may be your best choice.

At this point, you know you will probably lose two of the spaces, so do you want to use the chance to block someone out, or to sneak into extra space? Its up to you, just go in understanding the consequences.

Are there any other techniques you use to figure out where to play? Leave a comment.

Star Wars Epic Duels

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Star Wars…

To avoid any spoilers, I’m going to stop there. But in light of Rogue One, I am strategizing about one of the best Star Wars games ever. Epic Duels! The premise of the game is every Star Wars fan’s dream. You choose any character from a great selection of heroes and pit them in one on one battles against any other.

Have you ever wondered who would win if Boba Fett went head to head with the Emperor? Oh, and Fett has a thermal detonator. What’s not to like about that?boba-fett

To optimize your game play, there are some bonus rules to add to the fun.

  1. Play with 2-4 players
  2. Randomize characters
  3. Start with extra cards.

This game is great, but if you play with more than 4 players, the game can last forever. My favorite way to play is with 2 players. I have each of us randomly select three characters, and we go head to head with each one, best two out of three. This eliminates any advantages from getting one lucky character, and ensures that the games are short, and everyone gets plenty of turns.

The game can also move faster by giving everyone 6-7 cards at the beginning instead of 4. This just gets you into the action a little quicker.

After you’ve set up your ground rules, you are ready to play the game. Here is the strategy:

  1. Choose Obi-Wan Kenobi if you get the choice
  2. Build up your cards before rushing in to attack
  3. Focus on your characters strengths
  4. Only take risks to defeat opponents

Obi-Wan Kenobi

All of the characters are pretty balanced, except for Obi-Wan. The creators made him strong enough that you should always choose him if you get the chance. If you are playing with someone younger or inexperienced, let them play with Obi-Wan, and it is usually enough for them to be able to win.

Card Buildup

Usually, it is in your best interest to draw cards before going into battle. Ensure that you either have an escape plan, or you can defend yourself for a turn or two before getting into range of the other players attacks.

Focus on Strengths

The general categories of characters are the following (can you count as a category if you are the only one in it? #settheory):

  1. Attacker: Anikan, Darth Maul, Luke Skywalker
  2. Defender: Yoda
  3. Ranged: Boba Fett, Jango Fett, Han Solo,
  4. Special: Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine
  5. Balanced: Dooku, Obi-Wan, Mace Windu

Attackers should collect cards until they know they can kill their opponent in 1 or two turns. They have very minimal defense, so if you get stuck in the fight, you won’t make it out.

Defenders/Yoda is very hard to kill, but has a difficult time defeating anyone. He almost always has defense cards, so any chance you have to attack; you’ll have to take it.

yoda

Ranged characters can attack at any time. Target the opponent’s main character, shoot, and run. They usually can’t survive a close on fight, so keep your distance.

Special characters have many cards that work regardless of where you are in relation to the other characters. Stay away from the opponent and use your special cards to whittle down their life points. Save up one or two attack cards to finish them off when they get close.

emperor-palpatine

Balanced characters are great at attacking and defending. The strategy is the same as attackers, but it is easier to get defense and attack cards. You’ll be able to move quicker on your attacks, but still need an exit strategy.

Although there is some luck in your card draws, the fun game play makes this an excellent Star Wars themed game. Unfortunately, it is out of print. You can find it on Ebay for 100 dollars. Well worth the money.

darth-vador

May the force be with you.

Carcassonne Strategy

Carcassonne is a great game to play with children. Each turn, they only have to make one decision, and you can easily guide them to make decent choices. They enjoy matching up the roads, cities and fields and making a world.

Here is the strategy:

  1. Field Early, and Field Late
  2. Share the cities
  3. Plan your exit strategy
  4. Plan for cloisters
  5. Finish strong

Field Early, Field Late

Very early on in the game, the first time you draw a non-city tile, you want to put a farmer into the field. Field control gets you so many points at the end of the game, you want to get a guy in early, so that the cities get built around him.

After you have one guy in the field, you want to wait before playing any other farmers. You don’t want to run out of guys, so wait until the game is getting towards the end before playing more.

When the game is nearing the end. (3-5 turns left). Start playing in fields strategically. You know at that point where the cities are, and can often sneak one more farmer into the field.

You may have to start a little earlier if opponents start first.

(Carcassone teaches kids that good farmers lie around in the fields all day, (grin))

Share the Cities

The best way to handle cities is to allow someone else to sneak into your city, or to sneak into someone else’s. When you share the city, the other player has the incentive to help you build it.

Try to build one city with one opponent, and one city with another opponent. Then you have people working for you, and even if you share the points, you are getting double the cities.

Right before the city is almost completed, you should consider sneaking a guy in and stealing all the points, but this will put a target on your back.

Plan your Exit Strategy

exit-buddy

(Do you have an exit strategy?)

Each time you play one of your men. Think about how you plan to get the guy back. Will it be a small city for quick points? Will it be one of your large cities? Are you planning to leave the guy in the field for the game?

It is ok to leave guys out the whole game, but you have to manager your guys, so that you don’t run out. I always like to keep one guy in reserve just in case you pull a cloister tile.

Cloister Tiles

Always play on cloisters. They are the most guaranteed points in the game. Playing with kidsI will slip all of the cloister tiles into the stack that they draw from before the game starts. This gives them just a little advantage.

(Side note: when we play with the kids, we modify the game so that you don’t have farmers. It makes their decisions easier.)

End Game

At the end, you have to be very aware of everyone’s farmers. This is the point that can make or break your victory. Often you can steal one or two cities away in the last couple of turns.

 

That’s it! Do you have a recommendation for game modifications for kids? What is your Carcassone strategy?