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Too many words about — Acquire

I’ve been on a mini-Acquire kick, and thankfully the local gaming group is happy to indulge me, so I’ve been revisiting this classic. Acquire should be taught in schools. It’s a classic game design that I put on par with Backgammon: it appears to be all luck but the skill just shines through more and more. As I’ve played the last few games I find myself thinking about things that I’ve never seen in writing. Then again, when it comes to Acquire strategy little is written (at least online) beyond basic strategy.  So, as always, my random thoughts about Acquire in non-condensed format.

As Acquire has a few rulesets with subtle differences, some clarifications — when a merger happens, the merging player decides first, and then it goes around the table. No three-way mergers (the new rules allow this). I use the classic names … Imperial and Continental are the expensive companies, Tower and Luxor are the cheap companies, with Worldwide, Festival and American rounding out the middle. (What can I say, I appreciate the classics. One of my few upgrades has been finding a copy of Acquire with wooden tiles.) This article doesn’t include any variants, either.

What you already know (because you are reading this here)

  • Running out of money (for more than a turn or so) is the kiss of death.
  • Better to fight for a few stocks than evenly invest in everything. Majority and Minority payouts are Acquire’s “Bombs”
  • Even if you can’t remember the exact distribution of stocks (I rarely bother) you should know the distribution of stocks you are invested in.

The Early Game

Like many games, Acquire has an early game, midgame, and endgame. (Like most good games, Acquire has a long and complex mid-game. Early game and endgames are usually cut and dried, and can be played well with a few heuristics). In the early game, a company could be founded on almost any turn. In the end game, no more companies can be founded.

In the early game, the basic rule — Always found a company if you can. Free Stock is great. And if one player forms a disproportionate share of companies, that player has a huge edge. (Rolling well is good strategy in backgammon, too. You heard it here).  It may very well be possible to come up with an early game situation where starting a company is wrong, but thinking about the exercise proves the rule. (The midgame is another story).

The real (and often debated) question — Which tier of company do you start?

What is missing from most of the other articles is any sense of board reading. Acquire’s board is so simple and elegant that people don’t discuss it. But that would be like analyzing Risk without mentioning Australia. Now, if it’s the first turn of the game you have little to go on, but little isn’t “nothing.”

  1. How close are you to the seeded tiles on the board? (They will all likely be companies in a round or two)
  2. How close are you to the center of the board?
  3. How many tiles do you have near the company you start?

Taken together, these should give you a good idea of the tempo your company is going to have, and if you’ll control that tempo or not. A central company near to a few loose tiles where you have lots of central tiles has great tempo. You’ll be in a position to have that company absorbed … and quickly. In that case, you hope to have a payout soon, and you’d want an expensive company. On the other hand, if you are in a corner/far away from other companies/have no nearby tiles you expect a slow tempo. Your money will be locked up a long time, potentially the entire game. Buy cheap.

You buy cheap for two reasons. The obvious one is that you don’t want to lock up your money. But the other reason is that the cheaper companies have a better Return On Investment if they never get bought. Suppose you could magically convert (at no time) $2,000 into a company as it founds. If you do that for Tower, you have 10 shares. At the end of the game, it’s safe at ~25, so it’s now $800/share, so you make $16,000 (assuming you win majority). If you get a similar ROI on the other $4k you start with, you’ll wind up with $48k, a respectable score (whether it wins depends on the games tempo).

Let’s do the same, but with Imperial. Now you only get 5 shares ($400 each). At the end of the game, the company is safe at ~25. The company is $1,000 share, so you make $10,000 … and that’s still assuming you won majority shareholder bonus. (Unlikely, unless you invested further into it). You are already $6k behind the Tower investor.

Each investor gets a free share, but in the endgame that only matters to the tune of $200. ($800 vs $1000/share). In the long run, negligible. But in the short run….

Look at a company that’s going to plop in the middle of the board and get bought out quickly. You get a free share, buy six and then get bought. For Tower you spend $1200 and get $2000. For Imperial you spend $2400 and get $4000. The same rate of return. But now when the company forms again, the Imperial investor is way ahead (assuming you keep the stock), because your “free” stock is now worth twice as much. Even if the second founding of the stock winds up growing into a safe company, you still get more from the double dip.

Now, what if you are wrong? You found Imperial, buy up your 6 shares and suddenly Imperial has gobbled up a chain and is well on the way to safety. Well, you aren’t in a great position. You bet heavily … and lost.  Too much illiquid money. But in Acquire you only control a fraction of the board play, and the best you can do is estimate the tempo by looking at what you can see. You can’t see that the next player is going to form another company and control the merge temp. You rarely have all the tiles necessary to guarantee or block a merge.

The midtier is less committal.  This says you aren’t sure about a company.

(If players read this and believe it, you can estimate what a player believes by how expensive his company is).

Incidentally, buying a double batch (6 shares) of an expensive company is borderline extreme (with fewer players) unless there’s really no other company worth fighting over. Players should be fighting for minority positions as well as majority.

(Sidebar — You have some implicit collusion. The rest of the players should (if good) keep people honest. A company that is about to get bought out will have a minority shareholder and a stock fight (possibly for majority, or minority). Someone with 13 shares of a company shouldn’t be able to see it bought, restarted, lathered, rinse and repeated unless they have a perfect storm of tiles. They trick to benefit from this (more of a guideline) is to make sure that it’s not “you win, everyone else doesn’t” for a merger. Usually the minority shareholder is happy (or maybe they just miscounted). But this is more of a midgame point…)

When you can’t found a company in the opening

For the opening, especially if you don’t have a lot of control, be happy with multiple minority stakes. Taking a huge position in a company is asking to watch it grow fat but keep all if it’s money in the bank while someone else merges, then uses their assets to take the majority away from you. You don’t want to have a few shares in every company, but minority in multiple companies can beat a rock solid (7-3 lead) in two.

On the turns you can’t found (whether you’ve founded or not), don’t just play tiles randomly. You want to place a tile somewhere you’d be happy to see a company start (near yours, particularly if you control a merging tile). You don’t want to play a loose tile near a company you have no stake in. However, growing a company you have no stake in (especially an expensive one) works well. And don’t give up potential merging tiles recently.

If you have a pair, you can play one and hope to start it next turn. However, consider if both tiles have the same number of neighbors (that you don’t control) and what would happen if someone founds the company before it gets to you.

Barring any of that play a tile away from everyone else, preferably in a corner. If your company is fresh, you may want to put an isolated tile near it (to make a potential chain). Or make a company near yours a bit bigger, ideally reaching it toward you. (You may still wind up absorbing them, but then other people had to grow your company for you).

Tempo and heading for the middle game

Unless your game starts with a barrage of mergers, you have to worry about the position.

If the game seems like it will be particularly slow, consider conserving cash, especially if the game is fluid or you aren’t threatened (and can’t threaten) right now. You may be able to snipe later if others spread to thin. Don’t be overly invested in a company unless you are sure it’s folding (or maybe if it will guarantee you majority at the end game for a not too expensive price). Holding up money means admitting you aren’t sure what’s going to happen, and hoping that you’ll have better information next round. But again, tempo. If you are going to be flush next round then you may as well invest now.

The standard rule for “which company to compete in” is your right hand opponent. There’s a natural logic to this. Often, it will be a new company and three shares gets you minority stakeholder and (somewhat) discourages anyone else. If it’s the only choice, by all means. But there’s a logic to fighting the player on your left, too (if nobody else has). Consider a two player fight. They have four, you buy three. They buy 3 more. You buy one (say) to prevent anyone from contesting minority. At no point would any merger have seen you win. So that doesn’t matter.

Suppose your company absorbs another one. And now suddenly there’s a stock fight for this presumed safe company. There aren’t infinite shares, and situations arise where everyone wants to grab into this company. Maybe it’s a good deal (trading two Tower for a size 6 Imperial). Now you trade into your minority position first, which may deplete the stock and let you tie/win. And if not, you buy first. If the merger happens by anyone but the majority shareholder, you get two chances to snipe the last available stock for the tie/win. Obviously this matters more when the stock is close to running out.

Now if your company is absorbed, you tend to want to follow the other player. If he trades or sells, you can keep the now majority position and hope to re-open it. You don’t want to commit first. But if you are the one merging, you are always committing first, and the left/right doesn’t matter. So, overall, the left-right coupling of the game is important and should be a consideration, but it’s not nearly as cut and dried as other articles imply.

The end game

( I skipped the middle game. You have to know where you are heading).

In the end game, many early-game rules are reversed if everyone is flush with cash. In that case quickly kill any small companies you don’t have a winning position in, so that the shareholders get the smallest payout. But if you own the companies, grow them. The most extreme example I’ve seen of this is (simplifying to a linear board) and assuming that all American Stock is gone.

WW.FF.American(safe)

If you don’t have any worldwide or festival, want to merge Festival into American and then Worldwide into American. You definitely don’t want to worldwide and festival to merge. Look at what gets paid out.

If each merges into American, your opponents get $6000 in bonuses ($2k + $1k, twice) plus $300/share. But if Worldwide folds into festival (or vice versa), you have $3k + $9k in bonuses, and the big company will sell at $600/share. That’s a lot more money to your opponents.  If Worldwide and Festival can grow (on the Y-axis), then killing them is even more important.

Of course, that assumes that there’s no fight for American. In that case, you may want to give up the bonuses. Why, because Any shares to convert Worldwide–>Festival–>American convert at 4-1. In that case you may very well want to toss off a bit of extra cash to your opponents to keep them from being able to convert everything to American.

In the real world, positions shade grey; you have to determine what is important. But the idea remains. In the endgame, merge what you hate to get it off the board ASAP, unless it provides much needed liquidity to opponents. The ideal situation is to have a company you don’t care cornered and control the merge tile. It can’t grow (or, if it’s 6, you don’t care) and you keep your opponents from gaining cash or converting the shares into a company you are fighting over, until the fight is won.

The Last Share

Toward the endgame, the last available share becomes important. Even if you don’t know exactly who has how many of what, start counting the available stock. Aim for the last share. Sometimes you can squeeze someone (particularly your left hand opponent) by threatening to get near them. For example, if your LHO has 10 shares of a safe Tower and you have 6, buying even a single share represents a major threat, particularly if you have 6 shares in a company that may fold into it. Because you convert first (unless they merge), you can trade for 3 (up to 10) and then buy three (up to 13). But even without that people may buy some shares, and then you can tie with the last share. Particularly if your LHO is viewed as more of a threat, your opponents may do this rationally. Often it comes about when they’ve lost count.

If you know that everyone would trade 2:1 (because it’s profitable) you can predict when the company will be out of stock well if you know the distribution of the absorbed company; that can influence your decision. If you think the next player will merge and there’s just enough shares (of the survivor) for you to trade, buy something other than the survivor (if that helps you, if not you may buy the shares hoping that the next player few players can’t merge and you get a double dip). And again, if you control the merger, you may be able to squeeze out by buying shares and then merging them at a time when you know you’ll get to trade and the (former) majority shareholder won’t. So, watch the dwindling stock pool carefully.

Finally, the mid game

Given how many caveats I’ve said about the opening and endgame, you shouldn’t be surprised that I have little to say about the midgame. There are some tricks and tips, some general advice, but each game you have to weigh things. Still, there are things to note.

The first company bought out usually reforms, often because it’s the only available company or sometimes because the people with shares will try and reform it. People have a healthy fear of starting up a company that others will benefit from, but usually I see people not start the company, and then sigh when the next player (or two) starts it. If possible, you should start it in a place where it will be isolated for a while (if possible), or where you can keep it from merging. Just as in any bureaucracy, delay is the strongest form of denial. If you can control the tempo, by all means do so.

After a merger, the complex decision is often how much stock to trade/sell and keep. The closer you are to the end game (and the more companies available to be founded) dictate how risky it is to keep. If this is the first merger and there are plenty of potential start up spots, you can often get by with keeping it all. Trading 2-1, even if you lose value, will often give you tempo for a company that could easily be permanent. Selling often occurs towards the late endgame, or if you need the cash, or if the company was fairly big (5-10), as the next company will not often grow quite so big as the board gets more crowded. The exact decision depends on the position, but if you aren’t sure, consider how well you are doing. If you handily win, trading most of your stock may lock in gains. If you are losing, may as well swing for the fences and hold.

The player with significant stock who trades in last is in a good position. (Which does give a small benefit if you are fighting your right hand opponent for the stock). Note that if a company is owned by two people in a row, it could easily by merged by the first opponent then reformed by the second. (Possibly swapping primary/secondary in the process, but both opponents are probably doing quite well versus the field, and there should be a concerted effort to freeze them out).

And if you aren’t sure if the bought company is going to reform, consider what the next player to place a tile did with his stock. If he kept everything, particularly if it looks risky, odds are it’s starting again with the next tile.

Miscellany

Look for forking plays on an opponent. If one player is pressing one of their positions, press them on a different stock.

Just because you get little or nothing for a merger doesn’t automatically make it bad. Particularly if the merge forces the leader to commit to a trade/keep/sell position earlier. Also, putting a 2nd (3rd) stock back in the available pool may make the people who held onto the early target nervous. But, unless its very close to the endgame, not merging is probably a bad play.

If you have nothing in the available companies, consider growing companies into adjacent (unformed) blocks, such as

AA.X

If you play at the ‘.’, then you’ve kept something from forming next to American. Sure, you’ve also made American bigger, but presumably you’ve kept some tempo. (The position past the X matters a lot, but lets assume it was an edge).

Thoughts on player count — I almost always try to play with four. With more, you will have less control, and you’ll likely need more stock to guarantee winning a company. Unlike 18xx, money is not fixed. More players, more capital, less control. What would be ludicrous with 3-4 (buying 8+ shares in a single company early on) seems reasonable. If it hits, you’ve got a vast windfall, and it wasn’t like you could compete for many companies anyway.

Being the 3rd person to buy into a company isn’t ideal, but it can work out surprisingly well. Tying for second with three shares may spur both of the others to overinvest. (The founder buys again, then the minority holder, and the founder may buy another batch, just to be safe). In a slow game if you hit your other company first you can swoop in later. Having a position may let you trade 2:1 either into or out of that company. And after a merger (particularly if you go last) you may find you are suddenly the primary or secondary stakeholder as others dump. You may get similar results by buying two shares or a single share. However, often I buy a single share just to deny someone from getting both 1st and 2nd. Particularly early on, an isolated/expensive company looks safe, but you take out insurance. And then someone buys two shares to “take out your second place,” which then drives the primary holder to buy a few more shares.

The converse: don’t be afraid of taking second place, especially in a company that you didn’t have much hope for. Take half a loaf. If people want to outbid you for a dire company, let them. Just as in poker, you can defend your blinds with a bit less than normal, but don’t defend them with any garbage.

Conclusion

Beyond the basics, Acquire comes down to tempo, board reading, counting (unless you play with open holdings, but even then the last available stock matters), and risk. I feel that Acquire has more positional play than many modern classics. Much like Go, an Acquire position has an Aji (taste). The thing about taste (as opposed to sight) is that it lingers. Playing a tile over here versus over there has a profound influence, one that’s difficult to explain. I’ve barely scratched the surface; it’s difficult to define and I don’t know if I have enough experience to speak to it. I find myself having deleted a few hundred words because they meandered. I’ve said all I know how to put into words.

I stare at a simple grid board and my six tiles — none form a company, none merge companies — and I find the decision fascinating and subtle.

Written by taogaming

August 9, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Posted in Specific Games, Strategy

Tagged with ,

Jeremy Silman plays Nations

I played my 6th game of Nations last night, and in the ensuing discussion I wound up thinking about Jeremy Silman. Back when I played Chess (semi-exclusively), his book “How to Reassess your Chess” did very well, mainly because it rhymed. But also because he presented things clearly to amateur players. The most interesting idea was on exploiting imbalances.

Nations is a game of exploiting imbalances.

You can have lots of coal, or coins, or wheat. You can have little. You can have great production, or not. Military: Big or Small? Earn VP during the game or via buildings/wonders? Etc. You can’t beat everyone everywhere; you must choose your imbalances.

If you have great coins, that means you can afford the high-ticket items, so you can afford to take a few turns to get architects (for example) and pay a premium for better stuff. Or you can buy the cheap stuff, then snag a few expensive things later on. If you are coin-poor, you need to get the most important thing. If you have lots of coal, you can move people around to optimal places. You can also presumably afford to move to a high military for a turn, planning on abandoning it if necessary. (A coal poor person would be forced to keep it, since he couldn’t afford to move the workers around). A small military person may have to recognize that and boost stability (or preemptively buy a war) to avoid losing to much.

There are lots of specifics (and I’m vaguely tempted to write a few thousand words about them, but perhaps later). But the basic ideas are simple, and apply to many games:

  1. Be Flexible. If you put yourself in a position where you need to grab some card, you can be screwed.
  2. If you are going to be losing one type of fight (and you are), then make sure that isn’t a critical fight for you. If you are going to lose a war, by god, lose it. No point fighting for 6 grain on a crappy building if you need 7. Take the hit and boost your books and VP to compensate.
  3. If everyone is fighting for resource X, then there is some resource Y they are ignoring. If you corner the market in it, they’ll all fell the pinch.
  4. Having a ton of resources and few gained VP by the middle game is often just fine.

 

Written by taogaming

March 25, 2014 at 7:35 pm

Posted in Strategy, Thoughts about Thinking

Tagged with ,

Eclipse Aliens Gone Wild

I’ve now played Eclipse 25 times … I played a few teaching games in the last month.

So, a few words about the various Aliens, rated on the Fudge Scale for both Fun and Viability (chance of winning).

Human ( Fair / Fair ) — As the default race, I’m calibrating the ratings to humans. Humans can easily defeat aliens, in particular starbases and 3 movement are not to be sneezed at. The 2:1 trade ratio does allow some aggression, but mainly benefits you when things go bad … which isn’t a great way to win.

Planta (Mediocre / Mediocre) — The Planta’s fungal expansion is a one trick pony. You can do well, especially in a passive environment. But people quickly learn to pound the Planta. Their ship design (lack of initiative, mainly) is crippling. I must admit, though, that I haven’t played them in a 6+ player game recently (since the expansion showed up). In this case, the large number of tiles may help, but the warp tiles probably keep them from being as isolated as they like.

Draco (Fair / Good) — Draco’s early expansion (& Co-existance with ancients) lets them take prime spots, at the cost of early discovery tiles and VPs earned from pounding out on aliens.  (This may be mitigated in the expansion, as they can’t coexist with Alien Cruisers). The Draco can safely explore Sector I and claim it on turn one, then another on turn two, for a nice steady growth. This can force neighbors to explore Sector I/II, lest they get cut off. (Avoiding Sector III isn’t a great strategy, but it does mean if you get poor Sector III tiles early you can still colonize a great system).

Orion (Good / Good) — Let’s admit it, combat is fun. The Orions can snowball. One upgrade (such as Improved Hull) and they can stomp Aliens out of the gate, and their ship design is impressive. To be sure, the Alien Dreadnought from the expansion keeps them from threatening the Galactic Center as early, but they are a force to be reckoned with.

Hydran (Good / Fair) — My latest game had the Hydran’s get the sector III tile with a double pink world (one improved). Drawing that is a good strategy. The expansion (with the rare technologies) helps Hydran’s out immensely, as it’s practically impossible to shut them out of finishing a track. And, with some decent early world draws, finishing two or three becomes possible. Without the expansion, I think they are Poor, but I’m not sure. Having lots of cool technologies to research makes (IMO) the Hydran’s fun, because they get to decide which route to follow.

Mechanema (? / ?) — Honestly I’ve only played them once and I don’t have strong feelings about them yet.

Epsilon Eridani (Mediocre – Great / Mediocre) — EE’s rating depends on your point of view. You’ll (effectively) get 1-2 less actions per turn (because of your two disc shortage). That’s a tough disadvantage … warchest or not. But it’s a hell of a challenge. Winning with EE against experienced players requires pressing every advantage and a bit of luck, which IMO makes them a fun race.

The Expansion Races

Magellen (Superb / Great) — My most controversial claim is that the Magellan race(s) are the best across a wide range of setups. They can’t go toe to toe with the combat races, but they’ve got many advantages. Most subtly, their starting technology provides a useful turn 1 upgrade that helps them tactically bankrupt and will almost never need to be undone. Their extra mileage out of discovery tiles (and a free tile) work wonders. On the fun side, they aren’t locked into any one strategy and (more so than most races) roll with what they get.  Flexibility means they are more likely to pleasantly surprise you that most races.

The Exiles (Good / Poor) — I like playing the exiles, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out how to win with them. Orbitals are, for the most part, a trap. And they are a trap the Exiles are forced into. I suspect the best way to use them is just go for an interceptor heavy fleet and take advantage of your other technology, the cloaking device.

The Rho-Indri (Fair* / Great) — As I mentioned, combat is fun. The R-I have great ships, and a massive fleet movement. Their Fair fun rating is actually wildly variable. More so than the Orions, their early snowball determines if you run rampant and get lots to do, or just crawl along. That’s true of every race, to be sure (an early disaster is a challenge) but when your combat victory not only determines your early VPs and fleet strength but Economy, that may be too many eggs in one basket. When they lose, the syndicate is often dead last, and not just by a bit. But they win a large percentage of games.

The Lyrans (Poor / Fair) — I don’t enjoy their turtling, but I’ve seen it work. The Lyrans get a wide variety of special powers from their shrines, from wormhole generators to an extra disc. But they are (IMO) a reactive race, painting a pleasant target and challenge others to come get them. I suppose they could be viewed as a challenge, like Epsilon Eridani. But I don’t enjoy them.

Written by taogaming

February 16, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Posted in Specific Games, Strategy

Tagged with

The Gravity of Coup

Coup’s depth surprises me. Like Poker, there’s bluffing in Coup; but there’s also a surprising amount of positional play. You can get by with poor ‘people-reading’ skills if you bluff (and challenge) at the right time.

Even great reading won’t win you every game, just more than your fair share. Coup reminds me of a gravitational problem … possible to solve when there are two bodies in space, but no closed-form solution with three or more. In the early game, with lots of players, you can’t calculate where things will wind up. Your goal in the early game is to make sure you don’t get sucked into a deadly position and crash. But if you skirt close to disaster, that gives you momentum.

I’ve tortured this metaphor long enough, so let’s start with the endgame.  First, a note. Many game groups have different culture of what’s acceptable. For this, I’m assuming a fairly neutral culture … you win or lose this game. No grudges between games, although players are free to make close decisions based on how they view the skill of the other players (or who won recently as a tiebreaker). If you play Coup as a popularity contest, that’s fine but then nothing I write matters.

Endgame

Endgames in Coup usually devolve into a lock. Without character powers, one player will win the race to 7 money and coup his opponent out of the game. (Assuming each player has one influence left). Characters complicate things, but some characters dominate another. The important thing to realize is that if you claim a character that locks your opponent, he may as well call and hope you are bluffing.

For example, with a Contessa and no money if your opponent claims Duke and gets three coins, you are boned. He’ll get to 7 money before you can even pretend to have an assassin … even if you assassinated he’d be forced to call your bluff. You may as well call the Duke claim. You’ve probably lost.

Let’s look at the endgame matchups –

  • Mirror matchups are straight races, of course.
  • Captain is a great ender. Captain beats Contessa (unless she can coup) and Assassin (unless he can assassinate). Captain often beats Duke, but it depends on the exact money situation. Only the Ambassador fares well; it’s a straight money race with Captain often losing a critical tempo.
  • Duke will usually win the money race against a (non-Captain), as he can tax and block foreign aid. The assassin has some hope, since he only needs three.
  • Assassin fares poorly against Contessa as he wastes a turn (and 3 bucks) trying to assassinate and she wins the money race.
  • Other situations are straight money races.
  • Ambassador fares poorly, but of course the ambassador can sacrifice a tempo and hope to switch into a lock. This is reasonable … if you know your opponent’s character. Still, the tempo is tough to overcome.

As you can see, there are good and bad matchups for every character. Contessa and Ambassador do poorly, but each have one decent (non-mirror) matchup. Captain and Duke do well. Assassin, more than most, depends on the exact money situation.

As stated before, if you get a lock you’ll probably be challenged. But, if your opponent thinks they are winning the endgame, they typically won’t call a bluff. Why risk it? Let’s take a contrived example.

You have an Assassin versus your opponents (strongly suspected) Captain and both players have two dollars. All Dukes are (obviously) dead. Despite your good looking position, things are grim. If you claim foreign aid (or income), he’s going to captain you — he’s losing the money race on foreign aid and taking your money locks the game. If you claim to be immune, he’s lost the money race … he may as well call. Your hands are tied because his situation dictates that he call any bluff and/or steal your money to swing the race. The fact that you are well ahead in the money race (needing only one coin) isn’t helping you.

But suppose you captain him first. He’s going to claim immunity (if he is the captain). Now he wins if you challenge him. If you don’t, he wins the money race (in his mind). So this bluff is likely to get through. Now he takes foreign aid (4), you take foreign aid (4), he takes foreign aid (6) and then you assassinate him to win. You had to bluff to win, but your bluff had to be before things looked hopeless.

The tricky part is if he isn’t the Captain he’ll think he’s in a lock and challenge out of desperation. So this play depends on a good read.

A real ending depends on the actual matchup of characters and money lineup. A two-to-one character advantage is almost always decisive (unless the one character player is about to coup …). For the most part by this point both players should have a fair amount of information.

Stable vs Dynamic / Hill vs Bowl

Backing up to three (plus) characters, your goal is to transition to a winning endgame, a “stable” lock. But the situation is dynamic. You just can’t defend against 2 (or more) people, it’s “dynamic.” But you can put someone in a position where killing (etc) you leads to a stable situation that works against them. In those situations, people tend not to kill you (assuming they look ahead).

Consider four players (without roles), each with two influence and 7 coins. If A coups D, B could finish D, but then C could hit A or B and have a relatively strong position.  Any player could be out if they “pass” a turn by taking an income. If A coups B, who then retaliates … C could coup D and vice versa … but C could also now stall and wait for D’s shot, couping later.

Who is winning? It’s not clear that player order matters. At this point (on a ‘loaded’ table) a player with an Assassin has an advantage since they can kill and kill again (barring a Contessa) while a coup requires a significant reload.  The point is that the when the coups start the situation is a ball on a hill. You nudge it, it rolls and it could wind up anywhere. It won’t be a stable situation when it’s done.

Three players in the same situation is a bowl. There are really just two resolutions … one player out, two unharmed OR three players with one influence each. If you are the first player, you have a decided advantage … you can’t pick which situation occurs, but you can be sure to be playing when the smoke clears. (If you coup B, then B coups you, C will be decisively ahead if he finishes you off…. so if you are out, someone has made a mistake).

Sometimes when the ball is on a hill you nudge it and hope, but in a bowl you should be able to see the outcomes and push only when it’s favorable. (Roles will complicate this, but you get the idea).

Timing, Influence and “Sub-optimal” play

Let’s continue with the middle game.

You can’t defend against a coup. If you are perceived as winning, you  get hit. But if someone else is “winning” they’ll get couped most of the time. How to change perception? Well, have less money/influence. If you have a few coins and someone else has 7, the player with seven is dangerous. In fact, I’ve seen a player get their seventh coin and not survive to get another turn (via a coup + assassination).

[This goes back to hills and bowls. Often you can spot when the game is about to enter one of those, and by arranging your money you may be able to put things where you get to time the first push … either by making a decisive first push, or delaying an indecisive nudge.]

Consider — you are ‘winning’ It’s Anne’s turn, but Barry goes next and can coup. No matter what Anne does, you can reasonably challenge Anne’s claim. If you are correct, you’ve hurt another player … but if you are wrong Barry’s coup is likely redirected and you’ve gained some information (to be sure, the table gains it with you). In that case you are still down to one influence, but someone else lost one as well. Likely you are no worse off for challenging and being wrong.

Alternately, you could Assassinate someone the turn before Anne. If you get called, you weaken your position. If you get a Contessa claim you can call or not, but spending your money may be enough to move the target to someone else’s back. If you succeed, you’ve stripped out an enemy influence and also planted a false belief. Just as in poker, the best bluffs are followed by a raise and pretend to the have the same cards consistently.

You can also slow your rise to the top of the hill by taking a single coin instead of foreign aid (or extortion or taxes). Or taking a turn to Captain someone you expect will claim immunity. More boldly, consider assassinating someone, hoping to get a Contessa call (which you will graciously accede to). That drains some money out.

If it gives people the wrong read on your cards, so much the better.

Bluffing and The Opening, and “sub-optimal” play

Like most games, the opening and the endgame are the easiest to analyze.

What do you do? Should you bluff wily-nily? As we’ve seen, if your bluff puts you into a lock then expect to get challenged. An opening bluff won’t lock anyone, but it may put someone at a disadvantage, at which point they’ll be tempted to call.

For example, if Doug claims Duke and then gets Extorted and he has no defence, he’s in a bad spot. If he accedes to the Captain, everyone is going to steal his money. He’s going to have to make a stand sooner or later. One way (the better) is to claim immunity, but the other is to challenge.

So I don’t bluff extravagantly … I do bluff, but under half the time. There’s a sound reason for this — bluffing risks two valuable commodities … one influence and an action. Any challenger risks one influence. So, if I only bluff less than half the time, my expected value of getting challenged is positive, and any challenger is losing (long-term) if they routinely challenge my claims.

Note how this differs from poker … any bluff I make adds to the pot and increases the rewards for a caller, and any caller gains the reward. But here anyone who calls has to share most of the reward (my loss of influence and an action) with the table.

Always telling the truth can win by getting called, but you become easy to read. Even the best opening hand can be beaten if people suspect what you hold. As the game goes towards the endgame, bluffs get riskier because there is more information and the game is moving more towards a zero sum game  … claiming a role when none are visible is a different bluff then when one or two are revealed. An opponent may know you are bluffing. Not to mention the fact that an opponent may feel cornered and call out of desperation.

So, a common move is to bluff on your first play, carry the bluff out for as long as you dare (“Turn 1 — Duke, Turn 2 — Duke, Turn 3 — Switch to your true role.”) Of course, if you do that too often, you’ll get called early. Sometimes you have to mix it up and start true, switch to a bluff, and switch back.

Let’s look at each role, its bluffing calculation and value in the opening.

  • The Ambassador improves my position, both by letting me swap out characters and by providing information. If I see 2 of a kind I can challenge efficiently (or perfectly, if I’ve seen all three of a character). But it doesn’t hurt any specific player, and so people don’t have too much incentive to call it. Also, it doesn’t move me towards Couping someone. In our first games, a first turn ambassador almost never got challenged, although it gets called every now and then because we realize that the information is often just as valuable as a coin or two. A middle game ambassador is a precursor toward grabbing a locking character, and will get called. (I find that most people are reluctant to sit on an ambassador, preferring to swap it out ASAP. I think this is a mistake).
  • The Duke’s taxation is a powerful move, but not a directed move. It hurts all your opponents. It’s not infrequent to see the first 3+ players all claim Duke and to be looking down at one. Sure, someone’s bluffing, but who?
  • In contrast, a Captain’s extortion targets and  the victim will have a strong incentive to challenge. But they can just claim immunity. If they do, the ‘Captain’ has incentive to challenge, but the fact that your victim has two potential claims means their claim is likely true. (I’ve used this fact to my advantage by claiming immunity from the role I don’t have as my immunity. Sometimes).
  • The Assassin is exclusively a directed role. However, like Captain it’s mitigated by having a counteraction. And often an assassin will get through if a victim has two influence because they are unwilling to stake their game on a successful challenge. This is particularly true if they’d be winning, because their reward for challenge will be a quick coup. Until you assassinate, then you are essentially passive.
  • The Contessa feels directed role, because it counteracts. However, just being immune to assassination doesn’t hurt the assassin any more than it hurts the rest of the players. Facts aside, most players consider it an insult to have their Assassin deflected. The Contessa is the ultimate passive role. You win as contessa by having someone challenge you, so the real point is to make the Contessa seem unbelievable.

Tips and Tricks

A brief pause for a random assortment of ideas that I’ve seen used, to various effects.

  • I’ve already mentioned taking income when you could do more, but there are variants.
  • Giving into extortion from player A and then claiming immunity later (without having switched roles). This enrages Player B, so I’d do it rarely as a bluff. I mainly do it when I want to drain off a bit of money, and perhaps adjust the dynamic of the table. I’ve never seen anyone do this with a Contessa (eat an assassination, then claim it later) but well timed it could be devastating.
  • A similar ruse is allowing a taxation (etc) and then piping up the 2nd time it happens. Again, I usually do this when I think the timing of losing an influence will be OK.
  • Sometimes call (with two influence left) a character you want your opponent to not have. Even if they have it, they’ll have to shuffle it again. Particularly if you were about to get Couped anyway.
  • The game changes immensely when all Dukes are visible (“DukeDeath”). Now everyone can take foreign aid. It simplifies calculations immensely.
  • If you are dealt a pair on the opening, don’t automatically call the first time someone else claims that. Even if you know they are bluffing. That usually reveals your pair.
  • If, in the endgame, you can’t imagine how you could possibly win, try considering what role(s) you’d give your opponents and assume that they have them. If that doesn’t work, assume the roles and then imagine what misplay they could make with that. If that doesn’t work, lie wildly and pray.

Finally, a point that deserves discussion. When someone assassinates your final character, you have two choices — bluff the Contessa or challenge the assassin. Challenging the assassin is a final play. You survive or die right then. Bluffing the Contessa puts the onus back on your challenger … he may allow you to live even if he suspects/believes its a bluff.

However, if your opponent has an assassin (a good endgame role, to be sure) then they may have a problem if you call them on it. Now they have the luck of the draw for their final role (assuming by this point everyone has one). The problem is — you are dead. The solution — simply state that you will challenge your assassin’s role before they decide and stick to it … sometimes. [As always, the lesson is, never pay attention to what people say. Actions speak louder than words.]

Opening Combinations

An opening hand isn’t a template. You can play each one a few ways. I personally treat it as three cards (the two I’m dealt and one I mentally assign myself) and go from there. At some point I’ll bluff the third card (or mentally play as if I had the third card instead of what I have). As I mentioned before, you can’t bluff all the time, and sometimes I bluff both cards (for a while). Often when you lose that way you lose spectacularly, but you can’t win every pot/game and it plants seeds of doubt in your opponents. So, this is an incredibly wishy-washy assessment.

(If you do ‘mentally deal yourself a third role’ consider dealing it before you look at your cards. If you duplicate, then you don’t bluff).

Thoughts on specific openings:

  • Duke/Captain — I’ve heard several people call this the best opening hand. It is … when you don’t get assassinated. Playing it straight (taking duke and then using captain to defend and pick on the weak) leads to the assassin’s knife. However, I may slowplay this by taking income, acting as if I had Something/Contessa and aiming the assassins elsewhere while avoiding a coup. And if this is the best opening hand, you should mentally pretend you’ve been dealt it with any excuse.
  • Duke/Assassin — While not bad, I find this combination putters out. I’m tempted to ambassador right away and see what I find. Or I’ll just Duke and claim immunity until I decide who to assassinate.
  • Duke/Ambassador — You can play this relatively straight, gain up money then dig for the combo you want. As I mentioned before, I think it’s a mistake to dig early.
  • Duke/Contessa — If you want to slowplay, fine. If not, treat this as Duke/Captain … when the (inevitable, IMO) assassination hits, you’ll be well off.
  • Ambassador/Anything — If nothing else, you can just start digging for roles. Feel free to keep the Ambassador for a few turns (perhaps with a Contessa until you decide what you want). You’ll be building up information while not making yourself a target (in some people’s eyes). This is much better in a six player game, when you may be able to discern exactly what cards are out, and possibly even know that one role is off the table.
  • Ambassador/Captain — Consider extorting early, as you’ve got 1/3rd of the defence. Particularly extort those who’ve claimed Duke. Again, this is likely to wind up as a delaying play to gather information.
  • Ambassador/Assassin — This can also be played straight … income and assassinate. An early assassin often hopes to get called to reshuffle for a character who builds up income, but the ambassador means a) you don’t lose money and b) you can always reshuffle manually. Of course, an early Duke bluff (or two) builds your warchest, but then after you assassinate you’ll have a bullseye on your chest.
  • Ambassador/Contessa — Incredibly slow/passive cards … solid defense. The straight play (apart from a Duke bluff) is to just build up coin, coin, coin and hope the fireworks start before you look threatening. That works well.
  • Captain/Assassin — The urge to come out firing is high. This will turn the game into a dynamic hill, which will be fun and not help your chances of winning.
  • Captain/Contessa — As always, this is a decent Duke/Captain bluff (probably better than Duke/Contessa, if your group tends to let Duke calls through).
  • Assassin/Contessa — If you build up an early warchest, this is a great set. If you survive the first round of coups with both cards, this is a great set. If people figure out you have this, you’ll lose all your money and die. So you can’t play this straight forward. You want to get your first assassin/contessa claim called, so that you can switch to a rebuilding money role (or have it be late enough to not matter).

Getting a pair of identical roles is painful, to be sure. You lack flexibility. There’s always the urge to quickly claim ambassador. If you think you’ll get away with it, it’s a reasonable play. Otherwise, the default advice of “Mentally play as if you had a 3rd card” still applies.

  • Double Assassin — Good news … you probably won’t be assassinated. Bad news, you lose to most combinations. Apart from switching, you’ll need to claim immunity to Captain or you’ll get nowhere. Consider just building up and claiming Ambassador whenever a captain strikes. Then, when you assassinate and (hopefully) get called, you can ambassador “again” if you need to. People will assuming you are hunting for your assassin role back. I’d tend to aim my assassination at someone with just one role, hoping to get called (a person with two roles will just claim contessa or let it go).
  • Double Captain — Not bad, since at least you’ve scooped up one of the defensive cards.
  • Double Contessa — The seven-duece offsuit of Coup. Either ambassador or pretend you have a good/great hand and come out firing. No half measures.
  • Double Duke — I’ve had real trouble with this. This isn’t quite an ‘auto ambassador’ but it’s the closest.
  • Double Ambassador — Quite playable, since you get to refresh. On this one, I’d be tempted to call any other early ambassador (or perhaps the second) since even if people know your hand, you’ll be switching it soon.

Closing Thoughts

Coup shouldn’t be a fast game, and I want to make clear that I don’t think this  would be fun if people took too long. But often, during opponent’s turns I’m trying to decide if I’d like the endgame we can transition to, or if I’m on a hill or in a bowl. That’s difficult, but it’s surprisingly easy to play “Who has a good position” and to make sure it isn’t you at the beginning of the dynastic toppling. A good position only matters in the end.

Notes on recent published articles

While I was writing this “A blog post on Coup Strategy” appeared. To say I disagree with the article is an understatement. Even as a discussion of 2 player opening strategy (and who plays Coup 2 player?) I think that the player doesn’t bluff nearly enough.  But it’s worth checking out, and reminded me that when I “mentally deal myself a card” I almost invariably deal myself a good card, and don’t deal them with even frequency.

Written by taogaming

February 10, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Posted in Specific Games, Strategy

Tagged with ,

A few more thoughts on Epsilon Eridani

I played a four player game (and the TaoLing wanted to play a two player game) so I got in two games as Epsilon.

EE isn’t necessarily bad so much as fragile. You must take the influence action and drop mediocre hexes as soon as you get better ones. Other races should do that (it’s rarely worth it to trade an action for a cube) but with EE it’s an absolute must.  You want a few prime hexes. If that requires exploring and discarding early, so be it.

As EE, I’m more likely to start heading to Sector I/II and try to dodge around Aliens.

EE’s main advantage is the huge reserve of points, but don’t discount starting with Plasma Cannons. It seems like most games someone is hurting for a weapon upgrade, and you start with it. This also means that a single upgrade to your interceptors (Replace ION Cannon with Plasma Cannon, add a computer or the Gauss shield) turns your starting fighter and one more fighter into a force that has an edge over ancients. (However, that edge isn’t a huge one. Not something you should be willing to risk early on, unless desperate). The Fusion Drive and Gauss Shield aren’t bad, if you get the Fusion power source, you can have interceptors that move 2 hexes, have an initiative edge, and do double damage. This makes them a reasonable match for most races cruisers … (for a brief window).

So, in terms of technology, if Plasma Cannons are missing from the early available technologies, that’s a decent plus. Seeing Fusion Drives is a minor plus. Lots of advanced robotics is another plus. (No improved hull is also a big plus).

The way to win with EE is the way to win with any race — steamroll. Plan on spending ~9 of your stockpile on T1, 9 more on T2, and then 5 on T3. If you’ve managed to build up your income and raked in a few discovery tiles, you’ll be able to operate evenly.  The two missing discs hurt, but no more than Planta’s long term initiative problem.  If you hit a double alien, it may be worthwhile to try and build a dreadnought and roll into it, but even ignoring the horrific 3:1 conversion, it would take several actions to upgrade it.  I suppose it’s possible, but I suspect the “just burn up your money reserves” option is more stable.

 

Written by taogaming

August 19, 2012 at 7:38 pm

Posted in Specific Games, Strategy

Tagged with

Five Thousand Words about Eclipse

As always, my random thoughts about Eclipse. In non-condensed form. When thinking about Eclipse, a chess aphorism kept popping into my head.

The threat is mightier than the execution.  In Eclipse, you often want to be in a position to attack everyone. But you certainly don’t want to attack everyone. Even if you romp all over the board for the first five turns, you will likely be beaten back. But being flexible means you just build up a solid position and then find a point of weakness (either a player’s position, or a few aliens, a great technology) and then pounce. This sort of thinking is rampant in Eclipse, see (for example), the strategy guide on Virtual Fleets.

Another chess thought I’ve been coming back to is Jeremy Silman’s discussion of Imbalances. There are lots of aspects to a position, and you will be ahead on some of them and behind on others. You can try to push your advantages and shore up weaknesses, but you only have so many actions. If you are losing, you need to mix things up … take on another negative to get a new positive. Eclipse has lots of factors — topology, technology, resources, fleet placement, alliances, pinned pieces, the counter mix limit, upkeep costs. Except in a small game where you can steamroll someone, you’ll have positive and negatives. Be aware of them.

Explore — The early game

The first turn (or two) is exploring. An exception can be made for grabbing a really juicy advance right off the bat (Advanced Robotics) a delay can be made. The reason for early exploration is two-fold … you need more resources but you also want to control when and where you meet the neighbors.

Typically you explore Sector III, because those tiles are limited. There are only 6 Stage I spaces, and only twelve Stage II (minus the number of players). Those stages are limited by space, but Stage III is limited by tiles. So, unsurprisingly, everyone should rush out to stage III and claim as many as possible, even if you can’t claim them all. There are a few reasons:

  • Deny them to your opponents
  • Discovery Tiles
  • Resources for new systems
  • Linking up

Linking up to form diplomatic relations is understood, but another reason to link up is to be able to fight later. Having a position where you only connect to your opponents is nice and defensible. The problem for you is that it’s nice and defensible for everyone else. This is worth delving into.

Tempo, Trenches and Plasma Missiles

After your first game of Eclipse (or even just perusing the BGG forums) you’ll hear one thing over and over. Plasma Missiles. Complaining about Plasma Missiles strikes me like Complaining about pawn promotion. Now that’s overpowered. Once the pawn promotes, you’ve already lost. The promotion just indicates you were in a losing position earlier. My first few games of Eclipse felt like this, but not because of missiles. The problem was tempo. Everyone grows, expands, researches, upgrades, takes out some Aliens and (one player) conquers the GCDS (which I just call the Throneworld). Then a bit of jockeying for position, then the 9th turn attack.

That’s ok (especially when learning the game) but anticlimactic. Eclipse is as much a Race as Race for the Galaxy. Whoever gets the Throneworld has a decent edge. If everyone only connects there (which isn’t terribly far fetched in a smaller game) then things can go static quickly. If two opponents attack me in the same space, they have to fight first, they pin each other, and it just gets ugly. They each have incentive to let the other person whale on me, then attack the next turn.

So they hesitate. If this happens, Eclipse will rapidly bore you.

And this situation can be easily diagnosed pretty early. Given a choice, I’ll make sure that one of my Sector III hexes points towards the Stage II hex I don’t normally connect into. This threatens to explore into Ring II and rob my opponent of a crucial hex. If they explore there they may very well connect up (so as to form diplomatic relations) and tempowise I’m ok.

Remember, the Sector III hexes aren’t great (long term). You want to explore them, but not necessarily keep them. If there are two available cube slots, that’s fine. An alien isn’t bad (some VP and a discovery tile). I love the discovery tiles with no worlds. You claim it, take the discovery, and then tactically bankrupt ASAP. (If you find two of them, you can influence to remove the discs the same turn or bankrupt, depending on details).

But in the long term, having influence discs on too many Ring III hexes will slow you down. The point is to explore them. Not hoard them. So when exploring, I make it a point to also use the exploration to try and prevent choke points. I may try to prevent too many connections with my neighbor, but I’ll try and make one.

Later (sometimes as early as T1, and sometimes not until T3) I’ll try to arrange connections on Sectors II and III. The point is to control fluidity.

In Eclipse, Defense trumps offense. Lets say you have two medium fleets. Say, 4 ships. We each spend equal actions to build and upgrade them. But if you attack me, you have to spend 2 actions moving. If I know I’m defending (and where) I can build starbases instead of interceptors, which are much better (5 slots instead of 4, and no need for a drive, better innate initiative). If we’re fighting 8 vs 8, I get even more actions. If we mutual and rebuild, you’ll have to spend those movement actions again.

On top of that, defender wins initiative ties, which are fairly common.

Defending rocks.

Which means that if you need to attack someone, you want a fluid position. But even that’s not enough. Assume we’ve got a long open border. If I attack you, you can just build up wherever I go (assuming available minerals). So I need to have a decent advantage (say, technological, or fleet wise) to attack. Or, the borders have to be fluid enough so that you are under multiple threats from multiple players.

Which brings us to trench warfare. If the galaxy stabilizes so that people only connect on the first ring, then defense is going to dominate. You can just plop down 4 starbase on your chokepoint and (if everyone is technically equal) that’s that. You can’t gang up on a leader. The game will end.

Similarly, if you get cut off, you are going to have to go through one player, and they can defend. Sure, you can defend too, but if you are cut off odds are you have a smaller chunk of resources. So, unless I’m sure I’m going to be ahead, I don’t want to risk getting cut off in the early game.

That’s what the explore phase is all about. Well, that and snapping up discoveries.

Discovery tiles are two points (if nothing else), but on turn 1 they can also provide you a significant resource boost, which can snowball. If you turned in all 1st turn discovery tiles, you’d be wrong sometimes, but probably not too wrong. As the game goes on, you’ll need a specific reason to keep the tiles. Going through the types:

  • Money/Science/Material — Obviously keep it if you are suffering a shortage, and if you have a surplus then take the points. (I’m not sure if it’s possible to have a surplus on science).
  • Ancient Technology — Taking a random technology saves you an action (if you were going to get it anyway) and gets you a point if you were going to run that track. And it gets you a few points of science (or improves your discount). So already it can be worth 1 obvious point. Add in denying a technology, and it’s often right to use.
  • Ancient Cruiser — This is 5 material and half an action (or so). The only downside is if this cruiser is on the wrong end of the galaxy (don’t ignore those fleet limits!)
  • Ship parts — Brutal, although they only work for one ship type. (Remember that you can’t move them around once placed). The drive and super shields (-2) are problematic because you often don’t have energy for them in the early game. If I can’t place them down immediately I’m tempted to just take the points. The uber-power source isn’t that useful (unless you have technologies that absorb power). It’s usually 2VP. Shard Hulls, Ion Missles and usually useful. The turrets depend on the point of the game.

I’ve seen ship designs with multiple ancient parts (usually HULL + WEAPON + DRIVE) and they do intimidate, but you can only have 4 cruisers and 2 dreadnoughts. I suspect the 6 points would be better. Probably 4VP and one upgrade is best. Despite my original “Ship parts are the best early discovery” thought, I’m not so sure.

One final point of exploring. It’s painful, but sometimes it’s right to lose the action and not place a hex. In particular, a low resource hex that will close you in (or a double Alien hex you aren’t in a position to face quickly).

Expand & Exploit — The midgame

Once things settle down, mop up aliens around you. These give you points, access to good hexes and more discoveries. Also, building up your fleet annoys your neighbors. It’s entirely possible to take an Alien on T2 (build a cruiser, research improved hull, upgrade your figher and cruiser, and move). But the odds aren’t great. If you get a lucky tile by all means go for it, but typically I’m aiming for taking my Ring I aliens (should I get them) on T3. If that goes swimmingly, the Throneworld often falls on turn 4. An early setback means that someone else will take the throneworld, though.

By this point you should have an idea who is winning. It’s not just VPs; look for imbalances:

  • Production (Mineral, Sciences, Money)
  • VPs from Discoveries
  • Upkeep (if we have the exact same production, but I use one less disc than you, I’ve got an upkeep advantage)
  • Technological

If you are winning, then by all means grab the throneworld and make it a chokepoint. If you aren’t, don’t let that happen (the chokepoint part, anyway).

The game of Maneuvering

Eclipse can bog down into trench warfare, but in the midgame (which is roughly Turns 2-7 or 3-8) its surprisingly fluid. There are races to set and claim rings II and I, fighting aliens and the throneworld, and even attacks. Because of the superiority of defense, directly attacking a neighbor can be a problem. Once you achieve a manuevering advantage, things change. How can you do that?

  1. Your opponent runs out of mineral. Now he can’t build where you attack.
  2. Your opponent passes. He can build, but at only one ship/action it’s expensive. This also applies to an unpassed opponent who has a high upkeep.
  3. If you have decent drives, you may be able to move to two or more systems. Even if your opponent can build a matching fleet in each system, splitting battles results in devastating loss for your opponent (particularly if you have Neutron Bombs, which is a cheap technology). This isn’t something you can do wily-nily in a large, multiplayer game, but if someone is threatening to run away with it, this works as a nice check. After all once the war goes to the trenches, you can’t complain about an entrenched defender.
  4. You can pin your opponent’s fleet. This may sacrifice a few ships, but if you wipe out a few systems it’s a big deal. (See http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/750685/pre-emptive-strike-how-to-win-the-war-with-weake)

In the middlegame you often have a tempo battle to race into the throneworld. Once a player parks a fleet there, they get the initiative advantage. But you may find that your best bet is to outwait your opponent. Make neutral moves (technologies, upgrades) and wait until the last action or two to attack. If an opponent is threatened on multiple fronts, they may leave an opening, or be unable to defend.

In this way, the threat of an attack can be more powerful than an early (first action in a turn) assault.  If you find yourself defending a sitzkrieg and can’t hold out (you have to pass soon), consider building a picket force on edge worlds or attacking with a small (expendable) force directly. Better to lose a few ships than lose a few ships and a system.

Action Density — Why DNs are worth 3 interceptors.
One aspect of Eclipse that took a few games to get around is that you want good action density. Money (and actions) can be saved up between turns, but it’s not linear. If I can afford $10 a turn, then taking one less action this turn and one more next turn usually costs me a dollar or so. Saving two actions now for two later costs me several dollars.  So this means you should look for ways to smooth the number of actions between turns. If you don’t have a great action now, but upgrading would be OK, consider doing it now rather than later. If you don’t have a great technology, but have spare minerals, build the fleet now, then upgrade them next turn.  This isn’t hard an fast. Saving an action and spending one extra is often fine. Saving 3-4 won’t net you 3-4 next turn. Maybe 2. So plan ahead.

The cost of actions is part of the defender’s advantage — you want to make actions count. Maneuvering is difficult when each move action only lets you shove two ships (3 if Terran) with your croupier stick. (Man, I need a croupier stick). That’s a real advantage for Dreadnoughts. If you have 18 mineral, you can build and invade with 6 interceptors … at a cost of 6 actions (5 if you have nanobots or are Terran, 4 if you are both). Building and invading with two Dreadnoughts costs only 2 actions (and only 16 mineral). Even if the 6 interceptors are better, that may be worth it.

So a DN, particularly a fully up-to-date one, is a potent threat. You only get two of them, so you have to decide where to point them. This also means that if your opponent has one sitting around (particularly in a neutral space, such as after defeating an alien, but not claiming it), it may be worth an interceptor to pin. It’s almost certainly worth slapping down interceptors (or starbases) on routes if it can move a great distance.

With the countermix limit, and the threat of pinning, and the cost of moving, sometimes it’s worth it to kamikaze a DN (etc). On Turn 7 I shove it into a not-great odds battle. If I win, great. If I lose (assuming I’m mineral rich), I now have a “Virtual” DN to use as defense wherever I need it, or to build and attack in any corner of the galaxy. This doesn’t come up often, but be aware that a virtual fleet is a powerful threat and (more importantly) if someone has 4 uber cruisers, but all built up and several hexes away … then they aren’t your problem.

Why we can’t be friends — Diplomacy and the Traitor
I’ll make trade alliances early on with anyone. Everyone. “How do you deal with them later on?” Simple — if they are weak, I attack them. Traitor Schmaitor. 2VPs can be overcome through one hex and a decent draw of reputation tiles, and then if I rampage through them some more I’m in the bonus. If they are strong, I defend against them and hope that my defense plus the traitor penalty is enough of a deterrent. If we’re roughly even I maintain flexibilty (having some actions and minerals ready to defend) and go after softer targets.

In my first few games everyone made an alliance or two and then nobody broke it, because they didn’t want to be the traitor. But look at the logic:

  • The early alliance gets you critical resources and a potential VP. If you dont take it, you are falling (a bit) behind.
  • The late alliance costs you potential VP (because the ambassador takes up a slot. The ideal situation would be to have your opponent break it and then grab a bunch of his VP. But he shouldn’t do that.
  • Everyone is the same boat as you. They all want to break their alliance.

So me? I want to break my alliance first. If nobody else break their alliance (say), I’ll get a good stab out of it. If I get a 3 VP out of it (not unreasonable, and after a decent battle 2VPs for the tile and 2VPs for a hex isn’t hard) and nothing else then I’m up over everyone. I have 4 VP – 2VP, and then have 1 VP. I’m especially up over my trading partner.

You still need to have a good move to be a traitor. Those don’t come along every day. But be receptive to them when they show up. And don’t ignore your defenses. Nations don’t have friends, they have partners of convenience.

(Also amusing, being the traitor with A while having an alliance with B. Now B has to worry about you attacking them at no cost, while if B attacks you, you aren’t the traitor anymore).

Having heard all this. Will you be my trading partner? It’s still a good deal. 3-4 turns (usually) of extra money, minerals or science? Your choice. Just don’t expect it to keep the borders secure, or to serve as a reason to skimp on upgrading.

Exterminate

In the end game, ships aren’t worth points. Hexes are worth points. Battles are worth points. (Of course, battles you lose probably aren’t worth much). A new technology is often worth points. But not ships. Or cash on hand. Unsurprisingly, that means the last turn usually has everyone fighting a monstrous battle. (The typical exception? The throneworld owner if it’s a chokepoint … he doesn’t want to attack out for fear of inviting reprisals, but nobody dares attack his entrenched position).

There’s really not much to say about this. You want to be in the position of exterminator, not the bug. If your opponent has a few out position ships, pin them and fight there instead of fighitng on your turf. Much less embarrasing to lose. Prior to the endgame, taking (or just bombing) an enemy system shifts the front away from you. That’s where you want it.  If you are being attacked, take a few extra actions (even those that threaten bankruptcy) to keep the pressure on. If you manage to win all your battles but have to remove a system or two, that’s no worse than having them destroyed, and you denied some VPs to your opponents. And if you lose a system, well, then you didn’t go bankrupt, did you?

The endgame is also a good time to take an early move action to pin ships that might invade. (Early on is great if you can win or threaten to win the battle, but sacrficing ships on T9 is practically free).

Blinding Yourself with Science — The Technologies

I suspect new players try to grab a few too many technologies, and spread out a bit much. Getting one track complete (with maybe the odd needed technology to shore up a problem) costs 8 actions (7 if you start with a technology) and doesn’t require much science investment if you get them roughly in order (~40 science over 8 turns). Still, you want them sooner rather than later. Also, getting a roughly even spread of technologies and spending out every turn isn’t necessarily the way to go. Consider saving up for a turn or two (or converting) to grab one big game changer, especially if you are behind.

Don’t overdo it on ship upgrades. You can’t ignore them completely, but those effectively cost 2-3 actions each. Worse yet is to buy the ‘intermediate’ technology, upgrade, then buy the advanced technology and upgrade again. Sometimes you have to, but specialize. Often I prefer to have one (or maybe two) classes of ships that I focus on, only upgrading the rest when I have spare action. This saves a few actions.

Gauss Shields (GS)/ Improved Hull (IH) — Either (or both) of these let you quickly upgrade your cruiser to be a match for an ancient, with two cruisers being a likely win. Most races can buy these on T1 without needing to trade. Not that you should, necessarily. But it’s an option. IH gets a slight nod because it also works against neighbors without computers (wheras the GS doesn’t matter). The more advanced shields are nice, and sometimes needed to counter heavy computer based designs, but they are situational.

Weapons — You are going to need a better weapon. There’s usually a race for Plasma Cannons (orange dice). Plasma Missiles (PM) are well known. Anti-Matter Cannons (AMC) aren’t much better than Plasma Cannons (since they cost so much more, and require a power upgrade). Both of those aren’t incremental upgrades … they are game changers. PMs give you initiative. AMCs obsoletes many IH-based designs, which are a common early build. AMCs secondary advantage — they free up space for more defense or computers.

Power — Unless you go the PM route, you will either need to upgrade your power or be limited to a basic drive + PC or one advance. Typically these ships have IH/GS to take up space. The nice thing about an early power upgrade is that you can spend two spare actions improving your sources and then be ready to take advantage of many different upgrades. Nice and flexible, but you sacrifice immeadiate threats.

Drives — The advanced drives help initiative, and give multi-hex movement. The movement lets you do two things. It practically forces your opponents to put at least a token defense on their border systems. (Do you really want to defend your home system? Knowing that you now don’t get the initiative bonus). It also means you don’t have to worry so much about having non-adjacent chokepoints (against different opponents). This is highly situational. In a fluid map, these are great. In a “Ring 1 choked” map, these are inferior to computers (with the caveat that this initiative bonus doesn’t take up a slot like a computer, just energy). Putting even fusion drives (2 hexes) on Dreadnoughts can force all of your opponents to react.

Computers — The non-basic computers give you initiative and a bonus to hit. The problem? Without a power source that’s bonus to hit is only an Ion Cannon. There’s an interesting coordination problem. If you and your neighbor’s neighbor both have good computers, he’ll want to research shields. But if only one of you have computers, shields are wasted space against the other. Ah, the upgrading conundrum. PMs + Positron Computers will decimate fleets, but what do you expect from two of the most expensive technologies in the game? Don’t whine about the promoted pawn….

Neutron Bombs — The bombs turn a single interceptor into a system threatening genocide. All for no upgrade cost. A great buy.

Starbases — Great ships, you’ll probably want this, maybe not right away. Rules Note — You can build multiples per hex. But once you’ve build them, they are stuck. So I try not to build more than 2, and keep the rest unbuilt for emergencies.

Advanced Mining/Economy/Research — These are great to buy on a turn where you aren’t expanding, to shore up your resources. I’ll usually get the one that’s on my main track (unless it doesn’t really help). Don’t grab this if it delays your game changing technology, but usually a decent buy.

The “Disc Gainers” Advanced Robots (AR) & Quantum Grid (QG) — AR is a fantastic early buy that will pay off almost immediately, and may be worth trading the last few points of science. The extra action lets you expand, or stockpile a bit of extra money each turn (to convert or make a deep run of actions). QG provides a huge “Sitzkrieg” advantage and lets you delay. It can be a gamechanger, or just an economic boost, depending on your targets defensive setup. However, Quantum Grid’s cost (16/8) makes it tough to get early. (I’ve seen T6, though, which gives it a decent payout).

Nanobots — Saves a few actions, if you are producing heavy minerals. However, in the early game you are often better served by buying two cruisers (or CR + INT) instead of 3x interceptors. Discounts are always nice.

Orbitals — In my opinion, you have to be truly hurting to justify purchasing these. If you got a bunch of one-world systems, I suggest building two cruisers (instead of orbitals) and taking a better system, then influencing/tactically bankrupting your old system.

Monolith — Unlike resources, VPs can’t often be created out of thin air. Monolith technology is a potent threat, but remember that your two monoliths have to contend against your opponents two dreadnoughts, which cost less.

Artifact Key — In the late game, you can often use this as a ‘free’ research. You spend ~10 Science to get 10 science (if you have two keys … and you start with one). Or you can convert 10 Science to 10 Mineral. And you get a VP or two. If you have 3 or more keys, this should be an automatic purchase.

Wormhole Generator (WG) — This should be a game changer, but I’ve found that it often isn’t. On T8 or T9 it does let you threaten your opponent, but typically they can just use the defender’s advantage to build a few random ships once you invade. And in Sector III, even the ‘half-connection’ requirement may be problematic. But, in any case, around T5 (if not earlier) you should look to see how you and your neighbors can use this, and whether they are on the bottom (“Nano”) track, since only people who hit that heavily are likley to buy it.  The WG is a potent threat against someone who has loaded up a chokepoint, which is yet another argument in favor of virtual fleets.

Loving the Alien — The Races

The Terran Factions — The Terrans start of with balanced home systems, decent reserves. Their racial benefits are trading at 2:1 (instead of 3:1 or worse) and a 3rd movement action. Humans shine in midgame (and later) offense, and can suffer poor tile draws pretty well. They take a bit of finesse to play well, but they aren’t bad at all. If they are the enemy, you can play your normal game, but watch out if they get drives. You’ll want to build some interceptors because they can make audacious attacks.

Descendants of Draco — The Draconians can spread fast, through ancient ships, but they can never get access to their discoveries. Still, those are great sectors. The explore two, keep one power is excellent, and means your sector III worlds should be prime. But expect all of the aliens you don’t protect to be destroyed, and you’ll be down a few discoveries. Draco, in particular, should expand into good systems, grab easy discoveries, build cruisers in Sector I, then on turn 3 or four move into the throneworld, research a key technology and upgrade. They convert their extra resources (and discovery or two). If they are the enemy, then you’ll need a bit extra oomph, since you’ll have to fight aliens after you crush them. Sometimes. But usually when that happens the aliens aren’t that much of a deal.

Eridani Empire — The empire’s huge stash of money 3 starting technologies may not be enough to overcome the two-action disc deficit. Various strategies are being bandied about but I don’t have a good grasp on them.  I’m going to try and play them soon, but I suspect they are just weak. Only pick them if you are going first, and even then, consider humans. If they are the enemy, hope they spread out too thin? Also, they are a prime target for sitzkriegs, since they’ll have to pass an action or two earlier, so you can build up near them and invade late in the turn.

Orion Hegemony — In my opinion, the best race. The Orion advantage is tempo, tempo, tempo. They start with a cruiser that’s roughly equivalent to an Alien and have the equivalent of 4 upgrade actions on their ships (not to mention a bit of extra power). You can consider exploring Sector II or I early on, and if you find a (single) alien building a second cruiser and attacking. (It’s probably still best to start with Sector III, just to keep those out of other hands). The Orions are legitimate threats against the Throneworld a turn earlier, which is a bonus discovery and a ton of resources (for as long as they keep it). In addition, the get a 5th VP slot. Even if you do get beat down later on, you’ll have a chunk of VP. If they are the enemy, do not let them get a chokepoint on you, and connect to them where their starting cruiser isn’t.

Planta — The Planta start out great. Those hyperthyroidal weeds will claim an extra large chunk of the galaxy and (with any luck) a few extra discoveries. Their ship designs are functionally better than most (at the beginning), effectively starting with a slighlty improved power source and computers! Don’t take marginal systems, or you’ll be spread too thin. But the Planta have several issues that make the endgame problematic for them. Their ship designs don’t improve well, and have terrible initiative. Planta often get Plasma Missiles to compensate the initiative. They’ll often be a target of choice (since they get an extra VP per hex) and opportunity (weak ships). So consider investing a bit more in ship upgrades. And don’t forget Planta’s annoying ability to take a turn to explore Sector I and then your neighbor’s Sector I. That can really ruin their day. (And a rules note — everyone has Neutron Bombs against the Planta! Don’t expect them to remember for you!) If they are the enemy, wait for their initial burst of energy to flag and then hit them hard.

Hydran Progress — Despite BGG’s love for the Progress, I consider them merely OK. The “Two research per action” can be great, but it can be a trap. They only have 3 VP slots and an ambassador, so if you betray them (or Vice versa) they might wind up losing a point (if they draw a low tile) instead of breaking even. As a progress player, I’d be sorely tempted to expand normally, save up my science, then buy a game changing technology ASAP. That’s probably how they should be played, and I’ll admit they could do quite well with that. That’s not how I’ve seen them played to date. Further research required.

Mechanima — The third build is OK. The third upgrade is pretty good, actually. The cheaper building costs aren’t bad, but are offset by your mineral poor starting position. Get some minerals, stat!

Random Tactics and Advice

  • Take full advantage of Tactical Bankruptcy (if you would go negative on money, you can pick up disks). Unless you get great tiles, this should be a turn 1 plan (except for Eridani …. hm, another problem they have).
  • If you are playing with people like me, it’s a race to hit the Throneworld. Consider moving in as the first action of that turn. (Note — not if you are connected on Sector I). Remember you can move/build then upgrade.
  • A preemptive pass for first player is fine if you saving up for one key technology. Passing and praying? OK if you need a bit of luck. If people keep doing that to you, then build up a fleet next to the person passing, or start a sitzkrieg. I don’t typically mind being last, but in that case save up for a gamechanger. Still, it can hurt.

Summary

Eclipse, on the first play, strikes a lot of people as empty. You explore for a few turns, build up your defenses, then it explodes in an orgy on turn 9. But, viewed as a race for the throneworld (and technologies), Eclipse has a surprisingly short opening and endgame, and is roughly 7 turns of mid-game. That’s a great ratio. Yes, when people lose they tend to lose hard, and you can be shoved out of the game by some bad tile draws or a horrific few rolls of dice. But for a 2-3 hour game it’s not horrible. There are decisions to be made, risks to be balanced, and trade offs to be assessed. As our group has played more the games have seen more early attacking, the traitor tile shifting around, maneuvers, sacrificial attacks, move-upgrade attacks, and forking plays. The galaxy’s topology changes the game. It’s not a perfect game, but it has decisions all the way through.

Written by taogaming

August 14, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Posted in Specific Games, Strategy

Tagged with ,

General Core World Strategy

I put it on BGG, so I’d get more feedback.

Written by taogaming

April 18, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Posted in Strategy

Tagged with

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