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.
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.
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.
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.