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?

 

 

Blokus Strategy

At our house, the kids play Legos for hours. Annabelle (8) and Josh (6) will spend hours building towers as high as they are. Isaac (4) can’t compete with the older kids. Sometimes he ends up knocking over their towers because of it.

There are two different intrinsic needs happening here. The desire to create; then second, the desire to feel in control. These two needs affect your Blokus strategy. The game is called Blokus, so you are naturally going to want to be a Blocker, and knock down opponents towers, but a straight blocking strategy will impede your own ability to create as a Builder.

Are you a Builder or a Blocker? To win this game, you need to be both. Here is the strategy.

  1. Get out quickly
  2. Play your 5 tiles first
  3. Share space (Builder Strategy)
  4. Block conservatively (Blocker Strategy)
  5. Watch closely

Get out quickly

Get into the middle, and into other peoples areas quickly. After playing a few times, this will be natural. You may be tempted to stay close to home. DON’T DO IT.

Play your 5 tiles first

My wife, Mallory, pointed this out to me, but if you don’t play your 5 tiles first, you end up running out of space for them later.

Builder vs Blocker

Blokus works best if you play as a builder. You do this by playing pieces so that your corner and the opponents corners are touching, allowing you both to play off of the connection. As you can see below.
img_0022You may be thinking, but the game is called Blokus, shouldn’t I be trying to block?

You are thinking like a Blocker. There is certainly a place for that in this game, but often when you Block. Not only do you anger the Builder you are playing with, but you also leave yourself open for another block.

Suppose you are yellow, and it is your turn. What do you play? There are three good options.

 

 

Option 1. Good (Blocking only) It is pretty satisfying to block them completely, but it leaves you open for a bad follow-up block.

img_0023img_0024

Option 2.  Better (Building Only) This leaves you open for more moves. There is no possible way for them to completely block you on that side.

img_0026

Option 3. Best (Building and Blocking) Not only do you block them on many points, you also leave yourself open to get into their area. This satisfies the desire to create, and the desire to dominate. (We call that piece the clobberer, because it works so nicely.)

img_0027

General game play

Once you decide to mostly act as a builder, the game will go much more smoothly for you. you will always have an opening, and won’t often get trapped early on.

Later in the game, space gets limiting. Look around and match your pieces with spaces. If you have a space completely open and no one can take it. Don’t play there until later. Target areas that are contested to ensure that your tiles are played where you planned them.

And if possible, save your 1 piece for as long as possible. There is nothing worse than getting to the end and losing because your wife saved her 1 piece. Let that be a lesson to you.

Thanks for reading, do you have any other Blokus strategies that have worked well? Any Blockers out there that are successful?

Settlers of Catan Strategy

Settlers of Catan brought strategy gaming back into popularity. Before Settlers game out, the same games had been played for years. This game is so fun. I like to call it the Harry Potter of board games. Have you ever noticed how after the success of Harry Potter, a lot more great young adult fantasy books started popping up everywhere? The same works in the Board Game world. This game was so popular, that it made board games main stream again.

The strategy is pretty complex because it really depends on how the board is set up, your turn placement, who you are playing with, and how other people choose to play. This is one of the great things about the game, but makes it more difficult to write a succinct strategy. Instead, I’ll give some good guidelines on how I try to play.

  1. Get Stone and Wheat in your first placement
  2. Build Cities quickly
  3. Trade often
  4. Play the robber evenly
  5. Hide your lead until the end
  6. End the game quickly

Stone, Wheat, and Cities

Obviously, it is best to have your settlements on the highest rolling spaces. Don’t disregard that plan, but if possible, play on Stone and Wheat. The purpose of this is to build Cities as fast as possible. It really puts you at an advantage to have Cities right from the start. It takes the least amount of resources to give you the most payout quickly.

After the Cities are up, it also allows you to pull development cards to plan for Step 5 and 6.

Trade often

This game is all about trading. If you have the constrained resource, be willing to trade it with anyone, but make sure that they give you at least two, and maybe 3 for it. Be generous by saying things like. “I’ll give it to you for wood (the one you want) and any other resource. That gives them the choice, but still nets you more cards.

The only time to be stingy with trading is when someone has an obvious lead. At that point, under no circumstances are you to trade with them. They, or you, are on their own at that point.

It may also be nice if you get a 2 for 1 port. You can convince people to give you 2 of that one, plus a free card to get something back for them.

Play the robber evenly

People have this innate reaction if they feel that they have been slighted. If you consistently place the robber on the same person, they end up having a knee jerk reaction to play it back on you. Sometimes they won’t even trade with you!

To get around this, play the robber on the spot that covers the most people, or bounce it around each time. Say something like, “I played it on A last time, so I’ll put it here this time.”

As long as it is fair, retribution can be minimized.

Hide your lead

If you are too far ahead, you become “that guy” and no one trades with you any longer. They also start stealing your cards with the robber. To avoid this, stay just ahead of people. the development cards really help with this.

Often you’ll pull the Soldier cards. Use these to get yourself out of a bad robber situation, and save one or two to sneak and get the largest army points.

Other times you’ll get the extra roads card. Use this towards the end to steal the longest road.

Sometimes you will even pull the free victory point cards. Great day! Hold these to the end to cross the 10 point finish line.

When you have 6 visible points, now is the time to plot how you are going to win, by getting the longest road, army, or laying your victory point cards. Everyone will look around confused, as you complete your path to victory

What other strategies have worked well for you?

Also, since it is Friday…

2015-11-16-settlersofcatan

NamelessPC

Ticket to Ride

When I hear Ticket to Ride, I can’t help but start humming the old Beatles song. “She’s got a Ticket to Ri-ide”. Now that that is sufficiently stuck in your head, we are ready to figure out the strategy for the game.

Ticket to Ride is an excellent game. It is fun to play even if you don’t win. It feels like you are accomplishing things as you go along, and the game play is fast enough that you aren’t waiting for ‘that guy’ to finish his turn. There are a few different strategies that work, but there are few things that have to happen if you are going to win. Here is the strategy.

  1. Start with one long cross country route
  2. Plan your routes to take advantage of 6 train placements and path redundancies
  3. Usually take cards that you need instead of taking a wild.
  4. Watch carefully and keep track of what others are drawing
  5. Play trains when there aren’t any cards you need
  6. Focus on paths that are critical for your route
  7. After completing routes, draw additional routes routes that will connect to your system of trains
  8. Always be aware of remaining trains
  9. End the game happy

Starting the game-Longer is better

In the original USA version of the game, you can’t really win without having a long >19 point route. Not only do you miss out on the high points from the route, but you also miss out on the 6 point paths when you don’t go cross country.

The game isn’t really about completing a bunch of different routes. It is about creating a network of connected routes that utilize the same paths. This is how you rack up the points and still have enough trains to finish all your routes

Six train paths

The Six train paths are worth 15 points! These are way better than most of the smaller routes. So if you can choose the path, go for the six trains.

Drawing cards

If something comes up that you need, even if it isn’t in your top of mind path; pick it up. It is almost always better to take two cards than to take a wild card. Also, you don’t need to play trains unless there is danger of losing a path. (Only take a wild if you have to play trains next turn or risk losing position.)

Watch people

People are often single minded. Therefore, you can see from their eagerness and by what they draw, how much they need a color. If you are going for a six red route, and someone else keeps taking all the reds, be careful. You either need to move quickly and steal the route first, or you need to figure out a different way around that path quickly.

Play trains

My two year old often comes up to me and says “Play Trains?” The answer is yes.

When there isn’t anything that you want to draw visible, it is a great time to play trains. It doesn’t waste a turn drawing cards you don’t want, and can set you up for success. When you play, choose paths that are critical first. A critical path is one that you must have to get into your city. Crowded cities are LA, New York and sometimes Seattle. Get good placement into these cities early on.

Drawing new routes

Don’t be afraid to draw new routes. When you do, take advantage of what you have already created on the field by only keeping routes that don’t take much effort to capture. This isn’t foolproof because sometimes you have to keep something you don’t want. Don’t despair. Act like you are doing well, and it will force other people to draw more routes to compete, even if they aren’t ready to do so.

Side note: don’t draw routes just because other people are doing so. You are playing your own game.

End game

One of the worst things that I see people do is taking routes that look easy, but then they run out of trains, or someone, (me!!) ends the game before they get to complete them. Keep an eye on the trains. If someone else is almost done, it may not be worth it to draw new routes.

If you planned your routes carefully, you should be almost out of trains when they are all completed. This gives you the power to end the game. If you can, end it quickly. This blindsides everyone, and can give you just the advantage you need.

 

Additional thoughts

Don’t play mean. If you are playing with more than 2 people, playing on a path that you don’t need may hurt someone, but will actually hurt you as well. You are going to need all your trains for your routes. In a two player game, you can actually play aggressively and end up winning, albeit with low points, but you may not get another game with your opponent.

Comment below if you have any additional strategies that have worked well for you.

 

 

Stratego Strategy

In the old days there were really only a few games that everyone owned. The main ones are still best sellers today. (Monopoly, Risk, Stratego, Battleship, Scrabble). I played these games over and over with my siblings and my dad. Stratego was my favorite.

I remember playing over and over again and beating my dad, but never beating my older brother. As a dad now, I realize that my dad may have let me win. When I was about 11, I decided I wasn’t going to lose anymore and I came up with a strategy that has worked many times since. I have only lost twice since then, and I’ve learned from both losses that I’ll mention below.

This is called the Straight Across Trading Strategy (comment if you have a better name for it.)

  1. Always cover your flag with bombs.
  2. Never block your flow of traffic with bombs
  3. Safely randomize where  you put your flag, but usually towards the back.
  4. Randomize your other pieces, but ensure that you have scouts towards the front
  5. Play conservative in the beginning until you have one piece up on the opponent
  6. Once you have one piece up, kill his 1 with your 1. his 2 with your 2, his 3 with your 3, until you have a piece that cannot be killed.
  7. Only attack pieces that move.
  8. Eliminate the opposition

Most people try going for the flag in Stratego, and most people expect you to be looking for their flag. In the end, you win if all their guys are dead which makes for a much more systematic win. I’ll describe each piece of the strategy below.

Bomb Placement

After developing the Straight Across Trading Strategy, the first time I lost, I was cocky and left my flag open on one side. I was implementing the strategy and was killing all of the other players guys systematically, and he went for broke. He slipped a guy down the side and went straight across the back, killing everyone. If I would have played properly, I would have had a bomb in the way of the flag, but I didn’t. He won that one.

Don’t make the same mistake. Protect your flag.

Secondly on bomb placement. Some people try to be cute and put bombs on the front line, or just behind the lake. Sometimes you get lucky and they will attack with a high guy on your bomb, but if they are playing conservatively, it won’t ever work, and you won’t be able to move your guys where you want them.

Randomize Flag Placement

It doesn’t really matter where you put the flag, as long as it is in the back row, and protected by bombs. If you don’t move it around in subsequent games, they may win on an all our rush, so just randomize.

The rest of your guys just randomize conservatively. It helps to have scouts towards the front to gather intelligence. It helps to have your 1, 2 and 3 accessible, but not on the front line, but once again, you don’t want to be predictable.

Conservative play

Don’t reveal your strongest guys early on. You really want to test around with your scouts until you find someone good to kill. (anyone from 6 and lower can get you going on the trading strategy).

Kill the target with someone strong (consider using your 1 or 2, just don’t let them lure your 1 into a spy kill. That is the worst.)

Trade Across

Once you reveal your high guy, watch their eyes. They will always look at their 1 or spy to see how to kill you, then once you draw out their 1, don’t even worry about using your spy. Use your 1 and go straight for the kill (watching out for their spy).

With your 1 and his 1 dead. Start using your 2. Your 2 basically has  free reign to kill anyone that moves. Eventually, they will have to use their 2 to stop you, but then you bring out your 3s. Keep up the strategy, trading for their 3s if they show up. Eventually, you have a guy that cannot be killed. At this point, it is just about mopping things up.

That’s it!

Epilogue

I said I would explain my second loss.

I always joked with my family that I wouldn’t marry anyone that couldn’t beat me is Stratego. I met a girl and fell in love. She loved playing games, but just couldn’t beat me. We played about 8 games of Stratego and number 4 was pretty close. Game 5 I played to combat what my future wife had done in game 4, but she didn’t do it again.

I didn’t think to much about it, and we played a few more games. We got engaged, but she still hadn’t beat me. About a week before our wedding, we were playing again, and she used her game 4 strategy, but I wasn’t prepared for it. “It’s a trap!” She had been sandbagging games 5-8 so that I would forget about the strategy she used. She ended up taking the win. (We are happily married with 4 great children…and have never played Stratego again.)

Anyone else have a strategy that has worked well for you? Anyone else been defeated by your wife? Comment below.

stratego-guys

(Footnote: the new version of Stratego has the strongest guy as a 10 instead of a 1. Flip the numbers in your head. Same strategy.)