The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

More Phoenicia Strategy and Tips

Rather than integrate them with my first article, I figured I’d just post them. Most of these come from comments (both left in my blog, in person, and in email) from others. Thanks for the comments!

Clarifications and corrections:

I said that “A player who wins several items at cost is probably running away with the game.” That should be narrowed to the early game (in particular). The general points holds that if one player gets item at costs while everyone else gets bid up, that’s an advantage. Try to be the person who doesn’t get driven up in cost. Later on, a particular item may be much more important than getting leftovers cheaply.

My worker analysis was incorrect in the original post (I did fix that, but here’s more). The problem is miscalculating how much trained workers should cost. Your first trained worker costs ‘2’. A fort (at cost) will give you three trained workers for 13 … a bit more than ‘4’ each. An indentured worker is ‘3’ but will get bid up. The cost for a trained worker varies, but ‘4’ seems reasonable. This means that hunting earns you 1 income for 6 invested, farming is 2:9, mining is 3:12, and cloth is 4:15. Another point is that your first spare worker only costs 2 to train, so getting him working is a good deal.

Hunting is a bit weak (at 6:1), but gives cheap VPs (and may help with a breakpoint). Improved Hunting changes the ration to 1.5:6. Advanced Hunting makes a powerful 1:3 ratio.

More Tips for New Players

  • Beware of the player who gets a ‘complete package’ early on (storage, extra workers, and a technology) early on.
  • If there are two good items up for auction, don’t be surprised if the second goes for more than the first (if there are 3+ people in the auction).
  • Most runaway wins come from either:
    • A player getting an uncontested Dye House (via Discount) on the first turn of deck two. [Hint — The players with Granarys should be saving up right before deck two]
    • Someone getting advanced hunting (Multiple Trackers) cheaply. [Bid them up].
  • Don’t buy a fort if you have unused workers. If you have a hunting tool (because you’ve moved your hunter to mining, usually), then a fort becomes much nicer.

A digression on Game Balance and Lumpiness

I’ve heard (often) the complaint that “whoever gets an early four is doomed.” In economics, the ability to reinvest does lead to compound growth. However, Phoenicia doesn’t have a pure market economy. You can’t put each dollar into the bank, you can only move ‘big’ amounts of money. Having clothmaking and a spare trained worker with 10 dollars (5+5) and 9 dollars (5+4) are the same — you can’t use clothmaking this turn. Now, 11 dollars is a whole other kettle of fish.

Phoenicia has a ‘lumpy’ economy (hence the ‘breakpoints’ concept). If you have an extra few dollars, you may still have to absorb a big purchase, which provides time for others to react. Some purchases (forts, clothmakers, shipyards) are particularly lumpy.

There’s certainly luck in Phoenicia, compared to other things an ‘early four’ isn’t that bad. If I get both Dyers, I’d rather get an ‘early four’ and then see an early DyeHouse, rather than an ‘early six’ and no early dyehouse. Still, one player can earn more from the cards early on. The variance in the deck isn’t nearly as large as in most games that use cards, but it exists.

Dealing with a run of fours

If you are one of the nearly 100% who only get early fours, this tip section is for you. If you have a bad card:

  • Concentrate on increasing your production. Turn your cards into production. You can also do this by bidding ‘four’ on an indentured worker, keeping 2 to put them in hunting. If you get outbid, then someone is blowing that extra production they got.
  • Focus on the breakpoints that an average hand would get, and bid them. You are going to get outbid, so consider overbidding your breakpoints to grab a good item.
  • Consider a cheap granary, which will let you sit on the four and rebuy a new card, this effectively increases your production, forces you to store, and puts a storage squeeze on the production leaders.


There are two real breakpoints for storage: holding production, and the ability to save and then hold production.

A player who can’t hold his full production should be desperate for storage (or at least good ways to spend his income on VP if he can’t get storage).

A player who can save and then hold next turn’s production is usually doing that to counter production leaders [which is a good thing]. Typically you need to have storage equal to two turns production (or so). [This is what the Granary provides early on].

Beyond that, storage isn’t terribly useful, although you can usually open the auctions safely as other players will be short. But remember, four storage in the early game puts you in the second category. If you never improve it, you’ll eventually fall to (or below) the first category.

Someone who

On Being the Overlord

Being the overlord is good. Among other things, you can

  • Open up items you don’t particularly want, which drives the cost up by one for everyone else.
  • Get an item for cost after everyone else has bid up the earlier items

If you cost everyone else a dollar and save a dollar or two not getting bid up, you are well ahead. If you can grab the Overlord from a rival, that may be a swing close to the value of a card, since you gain the savings and they lose them. [One reason to buy VPs with the city center ‘prematurely.’]

But there are other tricks the overlord can use:

  • Consider a situation where a great (expensive) item exists and a few good items exist. If you are being outproduced, consider opening the ‘good’ item that you and the production leader want. He’s now in a tricky situation. If he bids it up, you can let him have it … now he can’t afford the ‘best’ item. You’ve got rid of one rival for the best item.
  • When a deck changes, if you’ve got one of the discount providers and the target shows up at the same time as the other discount provider, then you can open up the target. For example, if the options “Dyer, Dye House, Smelter, Caravan” and you have the other Dyer, you can open the Dye House with no competition for discount. This takes luck, but it’s something to be aware of.

Tips for experienced players

  • Beware of conflicting discounts. Often, you’ll only be able to get one item a turn (unless someone is improving their production). So having a shipyard and city center isn’t as good as doubling up on one.
  • Let’s you and him fight. When you are overlord (or allowed to open auctions, once the previous overlords have passed), be sure to set opponents up against each other.
  • If you’ve saved (and can threaten two items), then open a cheap item, watch others drop out, and then save some money to do it again.
  • After the early game, most every turn has all cards purchases. The game is setup so that there are an even number of turns in phase 3. So if one turn has the last phase 2 cards show up (evenly), then there will probably be a single turn of phase 4. If the phase 2 & 3 cards split, then there will probably be a 3/4 turn and a phase 4 turn (Becuase there won’t be enough VPs on the 3/4 turn). If there are two turns of phase 4, shipyards and extra workers (from refugee settlements) will have more impact.


Written by taogaming

September 11, 2007 at 10:51 am

Posted in Strategy

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