The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Struggle of Empires Further Thoughts

Got in another game of Struggle of Empires (along with 6 Nimmt!). I definitely understand why some people think that Struggle has too much luck … I lost a naval battle and land battle on my second action (with a small advantage). Not horrific, but my next turn had my replacement army get lost at sea. At this point, I was in a deep hole and never recovered. The luck amused me, in any case, and I had fun, but I appreciate the feeling. While I wasn’t out of it after the 1st war, I had slim hope. In fact, after the 2nd and third war we counted “my” areas first (the areas I scored in) and after counting all of my areas, I tied for last. Then we counted the other areas.

Despite my horrific showing, I think I’m getting a grasp on the game. Some random thoughts on gameplay …

It seems like 12+ unrest costs 7 VP. Usually it’s right at that point, unless I decide I’m losing the VP and aim for 19. Depending on how ties work, ~10 VP suffers the 4VP loss.

The biggest flaw I’ve seen are people who evaluate the position at the start of a war, and then pound on the leader the entire war without re-evaluating the points. This flaw occurs often.

I think going last in the final two wars works out well. The worse place to be is in a middle position one greater than the number of pop/slave counters (for example, 3rd when there are two colonizing actions available in a 6 player game).

Starting with the geek discussion of the relative merits of tiles … I think figuring out the values of the tiles can be related to actions and unrest. I realize that comparing vs. Gov’t Reform has problems, but it’s a good 1st order approximation.

The Government Reform tiles now get taken in the last round of War 1 (a player will attack and then remove unrest, instead of move-attack). Then a run on reform starts around the middle of War 2. Now that I’m thinking about it, though, taking Reserves in the first war (instead of Gov’t Reform) deters a cheap attack, and probably saves you two unrest (in Wars 2 & 3) as well as potentially generating/saving VP. Taking Fighting Withdrawl also saves unrest, encourages your allies to defend, and may net you a lucky win. It’s especially nice with a colonial strategy, allowing you to contest naval superiority in a losing battle (hoping to see a ‘7’ on the other side, if not get lucky and win).

The tiles listed in the rule-book as good first picks (Mercenaries, Trained Natives, Pressgangs, Diplomatic Service and War Office) are reasonable. I suspect that the above order is correct. I disagree that doubling up leads to victory.

I’ve really come to appreciate Militia. Assuming you want to build 10 units over the course of the game, and half will be armies, it saves you 5 actions. Mercenaries saves you two actions and 3 pop.

I don’t think I’ve seen someone take Improved Agriculture. Navigation & Logistics are somewhat rare, but appear sometimes. Logistics works well with a continental strategy counters losses with a colonial strategy (if you have spare units). Sure, you lose units, but the 3rd move lets you recover to attack, so you don’t lose a unit you needed to attack with right now. I’ve seen Surprise Attack & Blockade. They have their place, but it’s rare. I haven’t seen as many Pirates or Slave Revolts as expected. I think people are put off by the rules text. One note that isn’t in the rules that I can see, but has been stated by Wallace on the Geek — the Pirates/Slaves do not destroy any units they fight, and opposing units aren’t destroyed if you roll a ‘7’. However, these let you attack ‘allies’. If the Pirates win, you can then attack them to gain against your friend.

It seems that everyone needs at least a bit of income. Given that ~12 unrest costs 7 VP, you can expect to lose 3 Units a war (roughly) and reduce 4 VP via Gov’t Reform (again, roughly), that means you have 7 points of unrest for gold. You start with 10, and get ~5 after each war (varies greatly, but a reasonable average). Let’s say 20 + 14 = 34 Gold. If you make 4 attacks a War, that’s 24 gold, leaving you ten for tiles. Not enough. Banking gets you 7 Gold. If you are spread out, that’s a reasonable return. I like the flexibility. However, a company tile can often get you that much gold if you work at it (usually just hoovering up spare control markers in the East Indies, for example). Too much gold rarely helps, though.

If you have a decided gold advantage, then start the arms race with Army Training. Usually everyone tries to grab one, since they help against the neutrals, and being the designated whipping boy (only player without one) means a steady decline. Naval Training seems neglected, but with a colonial strategy it tends to make others cede superiority.

The Alliance Tiles, initially scorned because they return at the end of each war, are actually quite good. Yes, you have to return them, but they act like a super Army training (you don’t need units and they can’t be easily countered) in one (or more) areas.

The reason they are better than expected: you don’t have the money or population to use all of your actions. So you sometimes see these tiles taken mid-way through a war, when an area heats up. Taking an action to get an additional +1 in a battle (pushing it up to +2 or +3, say) that also defends against a counterattack and doesn’t risk another unit is not to be scoffed at.

In fact, while players are trying to optimize, it helps to remember that Struggle deals with a colonial war. It’s better (militarily) to make a few odds-on attacks than to make many slight advantage attacks (as I learned to my chagrin). You don’t want to roll the dice often. It’s also better financially. However, politically you want to spread out. Overkill in an area doesn’t score (except for company tiles). I’ve seen a near-win by a player who had one permanent tile (mercenaries, I think). The odd alliance, government reform, and ‘use immediately’ tiles filled the extra actions. I think that case was extreme; but you can easily loose by grabbing too many tiles. It puts you under time pressure. Most people seem to end with ~5 permanent tiles, plus 3-5 others (alliances, one-shots, return to draws).

Finally, the tiles that can be used as a free action (particularly the ‘top 5’) just beg to be used to allow parting shots on the last action. A player with War Office and Logistics (on a continental strategy) can move 3 units into a country and attack twice. That’s a huge swing. A player with Mercenaries can drop a free unit and attack, or attack and then attack again (if the first one fails). Of course, that means not having a unit around defending early on. The other use for those tiles is to rush to take the easy neutrals (the 1s).

All of the above ignores diplomacy, a key area of the game in some groups. But we play with a minimum of table talk. But by all means be aware of when you can ally. Most of the time you’ll only ally with a weak partner against a strong (leader) enemy. But consider allying if it helps even the battle. You’ll risk losing a unit (on a seven), but may cause a tie. This assumes the main player has a unit to lose. Remember that in naval battles, you can choose the number of ships to help. [Land battles are all or nothing].

Hopefully the group in Texas will like this. My opinion on Struggle has fallen slightly; but if I enjoy it when I suffer a brutal loss, I’ll still play a few more times.

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Written by taogaming

May 24, 2005 at 9:13 pm

Posted in Strategy

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