The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

To Court the King Strategy Thoughts

My occasional co-blogger should write this, but won’t (for obvious reasons). As always, I’m ‘thinking out loud’ to see what attracts heat and challenges.

There are two types of cards — those that add dice (“dice”) and those that manipulate dice (“Control”). Dice are nice. You need at least seven dice to win; another die is never terrible. But without any control cards, you are at the mercy of your rolls.

Control cards

How many control cards do you need? Well, one possibility is none. Here you get the farmer, a handful of the ‘number’ cards. If you luck into the general, you could try to shoot the king. But it’s risky.

When rolling, have a backup. For example, if you are aiming for a General (six of a kind) and you can take a hunter (4 of a kind) if you miss, then you always get another die. Not bad. This is how I end up with a ‘no control’ board. A few Tier 1 extra dice (farmer, laborer, guard), and now with six dice I try for the General (and ‘fall back’ to the hunter or bishop). This works because the ‘number’ cards (Laborer, Guard, Hunter, Pawnbroker, Knight & Bishop) provide some control. As long as my opening roll matches at least one of those cards, then my matching die provides a free re-roll. (That makes the matching number card the equivalent of the merchant. But each additional number card isn’t another control, since you’ll usually aim for the same number, especially the king. But a nice spread of numbers is worth one control.)

Zero control morphs into ‘one’ when you roll poorly.

Anyway, how many control cards depends on group dynamics, to a certain extent. One more control, means your opponent has an extra die. That’s fine, as they’ll often miss out more often, for one fewer success. That’s a toss-up. Two extra controls means two dice down, and that’s trouble. Risky in a two player game; against four opponents at least one will get lucky.

If everyone gets one control, two can work. (Still, if you are in a group like that, try pushing for zero controls and accepting a fallback ‘one’).

Another tactical aspect is blocking. Sometimes you earn a Knight, but claim a Hunter. The knight is better, but downgrading to block an opponent may be worth it. [Especially in two player.]

One final general rule … Remember what you’ve got (and what’s not available). I often see new players make ‘practice rolls.’ For example, a player with 4-4 locked rolls 3-4-5, locks the four and rolls again (forgetting his philosopher). Often you make the roll anyway, but if you’ve hit your best card, take it. And if you’ve hit a good card and there’s some risk in a re-roll, be wary about improving. Remember, have a fallback.

Specific Cards

The Fool — Ooops. On the other hand, the fool provides (minor) control. Additionally, if the board locks (no more dice), you can take a Charlatan. This matters in larger games, when the king is claimed and no more dice are available. Or the fool lets you make a desperation shot at an important card (often the General) with an extra die fall back. Never aim for the fool, but it’s not a complete death sentence.

The Farmer — An extra die, but no control.

The ‘numbers’ — As mentioned before, they provide some extra control; in the final round a good spread of numbers (without anything else) translates to one reroll. Higher numbers are better. Both for the final roll and for the ‘total’ rolls (pawnbroker, especially). Remember that you can’t pick up these dice until after your come out roll. (BSW gets this wrong).

Serving Maid — The serving maid (add 1-3 to a single die), acts like a mini-astronomer. As long as you are going for a high number, she usually lets you flip one die to the number you need. But not always. On the other hand, she also lets you hit a die you don’t have (to make a straight).

Philosopher — The ability to move pips between two dice works well. If you have this (or the Alchemist) you are better off going for middle numbers, because there are more combinations that let you hit them. When rolling two dice aiming at 4s, 11 combinations have a target number. Of the 25 that don’t you only miss on 1-1, 2-2, 6-6, 1-2, 1-3, 5-6. So you can use the philosopher 60% of the time. If you are aiming at a 6 (or 1), you can only use it 40% of the time.

Astronomer — The astronomer provides a ‘super’ re-roll if you are aiming for N-of-a-kind. You roll until you miss, then you flip a missed die, scoop the rest and re-roll. A minor downside (he can’t lock a new number). The astronomer’s problem is that he only affects one die, and doesn’t combine particularly well. If I get an astronomer, I’m basically hoping for dice the rest of the way out.

Merchant — My least favorite control. Number dice provide a superior re-roll. The merchant is also best when you crap out on a large number of dice, when it’s least likely to happen. When you only have two dice left and miss (more typical) you’d really prefer an astronomer. And with one die left, he’s equal to the fool. I can’t imagine a situation where I’d take the merchant over any non-fool card, if I had a choice.

Noblewoman — The noblewoman is deceptive. I originally preferred the astronomer, but the noblewoman really is better (as she should be, requiring an extra die). The comparison is instructive. First, she turns any dice that are one less than your number into a safe play. If you have roll 3s and have the hunter and guard, you can keep the guard (2) die. If you miss and have an extra 2, you can lock two dice. [You don't even need the hunter for this situation]. The ability to control parity gives you a safety. As long as you are going for evens, you can always guarantee yourself the philosopher. Each roll, take an even die or, if they are all odd, use the noblewoman. [Granted the philosopher isn't a great play once you've got 5-6 dice; but it's better than the fool]. You can’t guarantee the serving maid, but it’s close. A noblewoman and six dice often earn a bishop on the opening roll. (Try it. Take a farmer, laborer, guard and noblewoman). The noblewoman combines well with a second control card. With the philosopher (alchemist) you can often force two (three) dice to the same number. And with the nobleman …

Magician — Basically a super-astronomer, but in the endgame he’s no better unless you have a second control card, because he’ll improve your alchemist/philosopher. But that’s about it.

Bishop — The Bishop is a special number card. Since higher numbers matter in the roll-off for the King, having a Bishop is a free re-roll (and locked die). Unless you’ve got a philosopher/alchemist, in which case you may be better off going for the 4s.

The General — Two extra dice is huge. Yes, they could all miss, but often in the endgame you’ll lock all of your dice except the last three or four (because when you are rolling 5+ dice, you are favorite to get at least one of your number. Even at 4 dice its ~50%). If you are aiming for the general when rolling six dice, you aren’t the favorite. But if a guard/hunter/laborer is available you’ll have a safe backup for a 7th die. Without a safe backup, things get interesting. If I get to 4 of a kind and can use my only control for a 5th die, I’ll just grab the bishop and try again next time. With seven dice the general is much easier to get. [Of course, he may be gone]. The other nice aspect of the General is that you’ll be even with dice against opponents who have one less control than you, unless they also have the General.

Alchemist — Like a super philosopher.

Nobleman — Mildly inferior to the noblewoman (He can’t modify 5s, and can’t alter the parity on any dice). However, he does combine amazingly well with his mate for the final showdown. Roll all your dice (keeping any guard, pawnbroker, knight and bishop die on it’s card). If all of your dice show 3-6, use both powers at once to convert everything to sixes and be done.

Queen — The bonus for claiming the King first is an extra die that you can set whenever you use it. That makes this a ‘second’ re-roll (assuming you have the matching number card for the first one). And you go last in the roll-off, and win ties. A great power.

Timing

If you are about to get a double-move, you can often play ‘safe.’ But if a card you really need is running out you may have to take it.

One endgame question is when to grab the King (and Queen). The other reasonable choice is to take a General. I think it depends on what you have. If you take the General, assume that the Queen will go next turn. If you have are last (and go next) I’ll usually take the General, then go for the Queen. In that situation, the other players (or some of them) may not have a great move. They may have to take an additional control and be 2-3 dice back. Also, if you made a weak roll for the King (Seven ’2s’, or so), then the General becomes a better option.

The General Variant

I prefer the variant that makes the General’s dice a different color, and must be locked first. When playing with that, the General is still a good card, but then you often have the decision on the 2nd roll … do you use your control on the General to lock that extra die? I’m not a fanatic on this, I think it pushes the balance a bit closer (but it wasn’t far off in any case). One nice aspect (IMO) is that it makes two controls a viable option, and increases the value of the Merchant. Also, in games without the variant a “General-less” player didn’t seem to win very often.

If playing with the Variant, zero controls becomes much harder to pull off. The extra dice for the General don’t help as much in the early game, because you can’t pick which dice to lock as freely. He’s still worth going for, but you’ll definitely want some control.

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Written by taogaming

March 3, 2007 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Strategy

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4 Responses

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  1. The Merchant doesn’t suck in combination with the Noblewoman or Nobleman. If you’re gunning for 5s and get a 5 and a 4 or two, just re-roll all the non-5s and non 4s, and you get a better shot at getting more mileage out of your control card.

    I agree that other than that, the Merchant pretty much sucks though. I’d almost argue that the Fool is better, because it allows you to be a little more aggressive knowing that if you blow it, you can always get an extra die with the Charlatan.

    Chris Farrell

    March 5, 2007 at 1:47 pm

  2. Well, with a nobleman/woman it’s better, because all re-rolled dice are twice as likely to ‘hit,’ But I’d much rather have both the Nobleman and Woman (or Alchemist, etc). Granted, the second card in the combo is harder to get …

    I can’t quite bring myself to take the fool over the merchant, but it’s pretty close.

    Brian

    March 5, 2007 at 10:27 pm

  3. There’s certainly some group think about dice and powers where, when players split evenly among strategies, N dice and one control often beats N+1 dice with no control but often loses to N-1 dice with two controls; but a single player trying N-1 dice and two controls will often lose to one of many players all going for N+1 dice with no control. And, of course, the General and Queen both shake the box by tossing either two extra dice or an extra die with reroll control into these equations.

    The Merchant’s primary function is to provide an alternative to the Fool during the late midgame (just as the Serving Maid and the Philosopher often do early on). At that point in the game, the extra Charlatan safety provided by the Fool (given the odds of blowing it yet again in the time left are small) versus the extra control from the Merchant can make this a tough choice.

    But, while that’s the Merchant’s main purpose, I disagree with the argument that I’ve heard some players make, namely, that the Merchant is dominated by any power that grants a die, since one can always just throw a die aside and reroll. This ignores the possibility of late binding…

    I have seen players use the “late binding” property of the Merchant to good advantage. Here’s an example. Compare player A with the 6-5-2-1 dice powers, plus Merchant and Noblewoman, to player B with the same dice powers, plus a Farmer (an extra die to roll) and Noblewoman.

    Suppose A rolls 5-5-2. One option is to bring in 2-1 and reroll 2-2-1 using the Merchant, holding the 5s as is. There’s a 42% chance of a 6, which allows one to continue with rolling four dice, with both 6-5 locked and the Noblewoman unused (a decent chance to get seven 6s). There’s a 28% chance of at least one 5 without a 6, allowing one to set aside 5-5-5, bring in the 6 and reroll three dice with a spare 5 and an unused Noblewoman (not as strong, but ok as long as you’re willing to go for 5s instead of 6s). In this 70%, there is also a 4% shot of getting all 5s and 6s, in which you’re done with seven 6s. There’s a 30% chance of no improvement, in which case you can set aside the 6 and continue rolling five dice, with a locked 5 and the Noblewoman. (You always had this option, plus keeping the Merchant, with your original roll.)

    Consider Player B, with an initial roll of 5-5-3-2 (the odds of such a roll are lower than the initial roll in the previous case). B can either go for 5s, setting aside 5-5 and rerolling five dice with a locked 5 and the Noblewoman, or can go for 6s, setting aside a 6 and rerolling six dice with a locked 5 and the Noblewoman. What B can’t do is just throw away the 3 and reroll 2-2-1 as A did above, since B must decide whether to set aside the 5s or reroll them. B does have the advantage of possibly getting an eight of a kind, which A can’t get, but A’s late binding from the Merchant does significantly increase the odds that A gets seven of a kind.

    Late binding becomes more powerful when the group think favors control powers over just dice. The Merchant tends to synergise best with powers that affect multiple dice, such as the Noblewoman or Alchemist.

    Tom Lehmann

    March 9, 2007 at 6:02 am

  4. There’s certainly some group think about dice and powers where, when players split evenly among strategies, N dice and one control often beats N+1 dice with no control but often loses to N-1 dice with two controls; but a single player trying N-1 dice and two controls will often lose to one of many players all going for N+1 dice with no control. And, of course, the General and Queen both shake the box by tossing either two extra dice or an extra die with reroll control into these equations.

    The Merchant’s primary function is to provide an alternative to the Fool during the late midgame (just as the Serving Maid and the Philosopher often do early on). At that point in the game, the extra Charlatan safety provided by the Fool (given the odds of blowing it yet again in the time left are small) versus the extra control from the Merchant can make this a tough choice.

    But, while that’s the Merchant’s main purpose, I disagree with the argument that I’ve heard some players make, namely, that the Merchant is dominated by any power that grants a die, since one can always just throw a die aside and reroll. This ignores the possibility of late binding…

    I have seen players use the “late binding” property of the Merchant to good advantage. Here’s an example. Compare player A with the 6-5-2-1 dice powers, plus Merchant and Noblewoman, to player B with the same dice powers, plus a Farmer (an extra die to roll) and Noblewoman.

    Suppose A rolls 5-5-2. One option is to bring in 2-1 and reroll 2-2-1 using the Merchant, holding the 5s as is. There’s a 42% chance of a 6, which allows one to continue with rolling four dice, with both 6-5 locked and the Noblewoman unused (a decent chance to get seven 6s). There’s a 28% chance of at least one 5 without a 6, allowing one to set aside 5-5-5, bring in the 6 and reroll three dice with a spare 5 and an unused Noblewoman (not as strong, but ok as long as you’re willing to go for 5s instead of 6s). In this 70%, there is also a 4% shot of getting all 5s and 6s, in which you’re done with seven 6s. There’s a 30% chance of no improvement, in which case you can set aside the 6 and continue rolling five dice, with a locked 5 and the Noblewoman. (You always had this option, plus keeping the Merchant, with your original roll.)

    Consider Player B, with an initial roll of 5-5-3-2 (the odds of such a roll are lower than the initial roll in the previous case). B can either go for 5s, setting aside 5-5 and rerolling five dice with a locked 5 and the Noblewoman, or can go for 6s, setting aside a 6 and rerolling six dice with a locked 5 and the Noblewoman. What B can’t do is just throw away the 3 and reroll 2-2-1 as A did above, since B must decide whether to set aside the 5s or reroll them. B does have the advantage of possibly getting an eight of a kind, which A can’t get, but A’s late binding from the Merchant does significantly increase the odds that A gets seven of a kind.

    Late binding becomes more powerful when the group think favors control powers over just dice. The Merchant tends to synergise best with powers that affect multiple dice, such as the Noblewoman or Alchemist.

    Tom Lehmann

    March 9, 2007 at 6:02 am


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