The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Phoenicia Opening Question

Four player game with the following cards:

  • Dyer
  • Glassmaking
  • Tracker
  • Tracker

I’ve been thinking about Group Think in Phoenicia, and so I figured one way to deal with this is to just give an opening and ask how it would play out in the comments.

Even better — in your next four player game, deal out this particular opening and play it out. [Note, in the game I was playing, we all used the ‘5’ cards for the opener. Let me know if you do that or just deal out cards.]

Post your responses in the comments (no peeking first). I’ll describe what really happened (and what should have happened, d’oh!) in a few days.

Update: For those who are following along, you can refer to the Phoenicia help page at JKLM Interactive for lists of all the cards, basic rules, etc.

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Written by taogaming

September 11, 2007 at 9:51 am

Posted in Strategy

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14 Responses

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  1. Well, I have enough trouble getting my group to play Phoenicia, much less throwing thought experiments at them, so I’ll just say how I would approach this, assuming that I begin as the Overlord and that each player starts the game with a 5 card.

    There are some interesting options here. Glassmaking never seems too exciting, but if I can pick it up for 5 (quite likely), I can raise my production to 4 without using up a worker. If nothing else, it’s a fine fallback strategy if other things don’t work.

    There’s good news and bad news with both Trackers being available. With identical cards, there’s always a good chance that you can get one for the minimum bid, since people will reason that they can wait for the second one (and figure that if they fight me, I’ll back off and take the second one for the minimum). Tracker isn’t all that prized, so the odds that two of my three opponents will be interested in it seems remote. If I can indeed grab it for 3, I’ve got a pretty good way to finish my turn: train my worker and put him into Improved Hunting, giving me a two-point raise in production for only 4 coins. (I’d pretty much have to train the worker anyway, or lose one of my coins due to storage.) That wipes out my treasury, but I expect to earn 6 next turn, so that isn’t bad at all. This is worth considering.

    The downside of this play is that I know I won’t be able to pick up the second Tracker and get Advanced Hunting. I haven’t played enough to know just how valuable this profession is, but it seems that if I got it, I could save up for one of the Forts and then put all three of those workers into productive labor at a low cost (6 prod and 3 VP for only 12 coins). Sounds pretty sweet to me and it might be enough to let me focus on other things than professions (like Granary, City Center, or Shipyard) until the midgame. I always seem to have more pressing needs than the discount cards, so this makes this parlay doubly attractive. But with both Trackers out there, there’s a real good chance that if I don’t take them both in Turn 1, I’ll never be able to.

    So here’s a possible strategy. Bid 3 for the first Tracker. If someone fights me, drop out and try something else (very possibly doing the same thing with the second Tracker). If I get the Tracker for the min bid, immediately bid 3 for the second one. (I’d love to bid 4 for it, as I think it’s worth it, but that would leave me with an income of only 3 coins next turn–the extra left over coin means I get a card instead.) I can’t believe my opponents will let me get away with this, but it doesn’t hurt to try and if one of them fights me, I can always drop out and put my worker into Advanced Hunting. I’ve also forced an opponent to pay 4 for Tracking, a small fringe benefit. (If an opponent takes the first Tracker for 4, putting the second one up for bid is a good idea, to make sure HE can’t get Advanced Hunting.)

    That just leaves the Dyer to be considered and the attitude of the players now becomes very significant. Is this a group that loves the Dye House (as mine tend to)? If so, there’s a good chance that the later Dyers will go for more than 3, so if you can grab the first one for 3, that might be a good play. If not, you could reason that there’s plenty of time to get a Dyer. Of course, if you can get it for 2, do it, but let’s not assume I’m playing with loving relatives. If I decide to go in this direction, I think my best bet is to bid 3 for the Dyer. If the bid is unopposed, train a worker and end my turn (no matter what card I get, I’ll be able to put him into Farming at the very worst next turn if nothing else appeals). If someone fights me, drop out, take Glassmaking for 5, and end my turn.

    The reason I don’t put the Dyer up for bid (either first or second) if I’m interested in the Tracker gambit is that I think I’m better off with the prospect of an available Dyer still to be acquired than I am with one less opponent to worry about. That’s a judgment call, but Tracker for 3, Dyer for 2 (assuming you’ll lose, but happy to win), and 2nd Tracker for 3 is a reasonable plan as well.

    Right now, I think I would try going for the Trackers. If the player to my left wins the first one for 4, I think I’d put the second one up for 3, to totally shut him out of Advanced Hunting. If another player gets the first one for 4, I might instead try the Dyer for 3, trusting the second player to put up Tracker and lock out the player who won the first one. If I can’t get the Dyer, I think I feel better about trying for the second Tracker for 3 and employing my worker than I do about Glassmaking for 5, although that’s actually a pretty close decision.

    Larry Levy

    September 11, 2007 at 11:58 am

  2. Just a correction note for Larry and Geoff.

    If you get both trackers (for 7, presumably), your production will be four, not three. (Advancend Hunting is a straight two production per hunter).

    It’s also interesting to turn things around. Suppose that you are correct in your “overseer” strategy, whatever that is. What would you do as the 4th (or 3rd, or 2nd) player against it? The overseer will come out better (position is important, and valuable).

    The overseer has a nice position. If the glassmaking was replaced with (say) a prospector or indentured worker (or the other dyer) thens no guarantee he could get anything at list price. Interesting to compare how things would change if one of the opponents may hold a ‘6’ (or ‘4’).

    Brian

    September 11, 2007 at 2:00 pm

  3. You’re right, Brian, I forgot that the worker in Hunting would get an extra production if I got both Trackers. In that case, I definitely open with both Trackers and bid 4 for the second one. With my group, I think I’d have a very good chance of winning this bid (someone would really feel like they were taking one for the team to bid 5 for a Tracker and I could see that being tough to do on the first turn). Even with a more experienced group, I’d do it and be happy I forced someone to overpay for a Tracker. That truly seems optimal.

    So, if I’m NOT the overlord, what do I do? I bid 4 for that first Tracker, of course! As you say, this benefits the overlord (presumably he will get the second Tracker for 3), but it’s better than having to bid 5 for the second one. None of the other strategies change. Glassmaking should never go above 5 and Dyer will go for 3 or 4, depending on the mood of the group (I don’t think I’d pay more than 3 for it in the first round, which means with my group, I’m probably not getting it).

    Mark shows his experience and makes a good point about Glassmaking if you lose the Dyer. Letting it sit to slow the game down makes good sense. However, I’m not sure I’m happy with employing my only free worker as a Farmer. Yes, it’s nice to pick up my production by two, but I’ve used up a worker and all my cash to do so and I haven’t improved my infrastructure at all. Plus, Farming never gets better, so I’ll never get more production out of that worker as long as he stays there. Is it worth considering doing nothing and take two cards and a coin into the second turn? You might be able to get a Smelter and train a Miner or do some other interesting things. Just wondering–I’m pretty cautious with the money I spend on my workers.

    It’s also interesting to see Mark worrying about making sure that the Dyer goes for more than 2. With my group, and I imagine Geoff’s, this isn’t a concern. There’s just no way we’ll let the Dyer go for the minimum bid. In fact, my guess is that the likely bid will be 4. This may be groupthink or a more experienced approach, but it’s certainly notable.

    Crap, Brian, this is really interesting stuff! I usually don’t get into the strategic side of games–I find tactics more enjoyable. About the only game I ever really analyzed like this was Puerto Rico, which is one reason I like it so much. The pity is, I’ll be very surprised if I ever play with anyone in my group who winds up devoting this level of thought to Phoenicia, but it sure is fun to think through these examples! It’s got to help my playing as well, assuming I have much luck getting it to the table!

    Larry Levy

    September 11, 2007 at 3:58 pm

  4. Mark shows his experience and makes a good point about Glassmaking if you lose the Dyer. Letting it sit to slow the game down makes good sense. However, I’m not sure I’m happy with employing my only free worker as a Farmer. Yes, it’s nice to pick up my production by two, but I’ve used up a worker and all my cash to do so and I haven’t improved my infrastructure at all. Plus, Farming never gets better, so I’ll never get more production out of that worker as long as he stays there. Is it worth considering doing nothing and take two cards and a coin into the second turn? You might be able to get a Smelter and train a Miner or do some other interesting things. Just wondering–I’m pretty cautious with the money I spend on my workers.

    I prefer the Farmer play because it raises production to 5 for the second turn, meaning you can concentrate on other things than getting over the 3 prod hump. This includes being able to bid 3 for Prospector, save the rest earning two cards if the drawn card was a 5 or 6, and get a Miner on the third turn. The saver, buying the Prospector for 3, would have to move the Hunter to Mining giving him the same production of 5 but a turn later. If he snags the Prospector for 2 then he’ll be able to move his untrained worker to Mining only if he drew a 6.

    With that first turn draw just about any new card is usable, including many ways to get more workers. Both Indentured Servants are still available, the second Dyer is a credible option, Granary is great to shoot for a fourth turn snag of
    Dye House, Glassmaking is fine and saving into the third turn is also not bad.

    There are conditions where I don’t like doing the first turn Farmer. If there are still Trackers in the deck or if the Indentured Servants have come up I’m much more leary about going for the Farmer. In fact I generally prefer not to do the first turn Farmer, but in this situation I think it works.

    It’s also interesting to see Mark worrying about making sure that the Dyer goes for more than 2. With my group, and I imagine Geoff’s, this isn’t a concern. There’s just no way we’ll let the Dyer go for the minimum bid. In fact, my guess is that the likely bid will be 4. This may be groupthink or a more experienced approach, but it’s certainly notable.

    I’m showing my personal bias rather than my experience with the local game group. They haven’t played enough to have a feel for which cards to prefer. I’m not a big fan of first turn Dyer, I prefer to get it later in the first deck if I can.

    frunk

    September 11, 2007 at 4:48 pm

  5. Hmm… I usually play variable, not preset, start which affects some of this.

    As Overlord, I open Tracker for 3; if I get it, I open the second Tracker for 4. First turn 2x Tracker is pretty strong.

    However, as second player I bid 4 on the first Tracker — on turn 2, I am 80% to employ a Hunter and have 3+ coins to hit a production breakpoint. If the first player passes on opening the second Tracker, then I open it for 3.

    If, as Overlord, I am outbid on the first Tracker, I then open the second Tracker for 3 (this prevents the second player from getting both Trackers). Even though I am generally happy to take a single first turn Tracker at 4 (for the reason given above), I don’t bid 4 on the second Tracker as Overlord as I now know I will not get both Trackers and will have later competition for Caravans, etc. I am still happy to take a Tracker at 3 (since I can employ my worker and get an immediate production boost of 2) but I am also happy to be overbid as this means that neither Tracker player got an immediate production boost, which means that there will likely be a cheap card available next turn for me…

    As third player in this situation, I don’t bid 4 on this second Tracker. I don’t like to match the person immediately on my right as I’m likely to have to pay 1 more for items multiple times during the game.

    As fourth player in this situation, I am happy to bid 4 on the second Tracker.

    If both Trackers go to players 2 and 4 for 4, then as Overlord I would open the Dyer at 3. Why? Because at 3 on the very first turn, I am likely to get it and then, by employing a Hunter, I will remain Overlord the next turn (by being the only player to get 2 VPs). For this reason, I consider this a stronger move than opening the Dyer at 2, being overbid by player 3, and buying a Farmer.

    If player 3 took the second Tracker for 4 instead, then as Overlord I will open the Dyer at 2 and let player 4 overbid me at 3 and, at that point, I would buy a Farmer. Being second to the Overlord is a fine player placement. I am happy to go Farming in this situation as players 2-4 have chosen their immediate technology paths, which means that I will be more likely to be left alone to purse Mining (which is attractive in a four player game with two Smelters).

    As either player 3 or 4 with two Trackers split as above, then I am happy to overbid a Dyer opened at 2 and become Overlord. (Typically, I am not willing to buy a first turn Dyer for more than 2, but becoming Overlord makes it worth 3.)

    With a variable start, considerations are a lot messier as some players may have 8 wealth — enough to buy a Tracker at 4 and employ a Hunter — and some may have only 6 (one of these will either try to grab the Dyer at 2 (as a way to make up for a weak start) or take a Glassmaker at 5 (as a way to extend their population cheaply, given that a Fort becomes a harder purchase when you are slightly behind the curve in Phase I).

    Tom Lehmann

    September 11, 2007 at 8:37 pm

  6. Tom, since you don’t use the preset start, do you also play with no Forts or Granaries in the first round? Just curious.

    For everyone else, how many play with a variable start? I don’t think I’ve heard of a group that doesn’t use the preset 5’s. Much of this probably comes from the gamer’s usual desire to play with the rules in the box, but most people I’ve asked about it think it just makes sense to start everyone out evenly. I’m wondering how common this feeling is.

    Larry Levy

    September 11, 2007 at 9:58 pm

  7. If both Trackers go to players 2 and 4 for 4, then as Overlord I would open the Dyer at 3. Why? Because at 3 on the very first turn, I am likely to get it and then, by employing a Hunter, I will remain Overlord the next turn (by being the only player to get 2 VPs). For this reason, I consider this a stronger move than opening the Dyer at 2, being overbid by player 3, and buying a Farmer.

    If player 3 took the second Tracker for 4 instead, then as Overlord I will open the Dyer at 2 and let player 4 overbid me at 3 and, at that point, I would buy a Farmer. Being second to the Overlord is a fine player placement. I am happy to go Farming in this situation as players 2-4 have chosen their immediate technology paths, which means that I will be more likely to be left alone to purse Mining (which is attractive in a four player game with two Smelters).

    Is going second versus third enough of an incentive in this situation? The second place Tracker player is unlikely to bid for much, since they need to spend 4 to get their Improved Hunting working. They’ll have a card and two coins to spend. If they get a 5 saving the other 3 will give them two cards on the third turn.

    frunk

    September 11, 2007 at 10:55 pm

  8. Interesting comments, all.

    Tom’s (first) comment hints at one of the points I was thinking about …. some of the more subtle orderings and changes that occur. In our game if the overlord had opened items in a different order, the overlord position for next turn would drastically differ, something I’d never really considered on turn one.

    Our group has mainly played with preset cards. I’m hoping to move to the new rules with the players who’ve got a handful of games under their belts. (This game here had most players only on their 2nd or 3rd game).

    [Needless to say, I lost. One of those make a move, then realize that your opponent could make a good counter … sigh].

    Brian

    September 12, 2007 at 12:55 am

  9. Mark, it’s a close call, I agree, but I do value 2nd over 3rd in this case for several reasons involving the fact that the Dyer player is on my immediate right: if the second Dyer comes out, I will effectively become Overlord as the Dyer player is busy; if a single Granary (my breakpoint purchase for 4 if I draw a 6) comes out, the Dyer is not interested in it and I can bid on it without an intervening Tracker player (who may be willing to bid on it, pushing back a Hunter another turn, in order to guarantee a storage solution (remember with split Trackers, the Caravans will get fought over more)). A Dyer player is far less likely to bid on a Prospector (my breakpoint purchase for 2 if I draw a 4) than a Tracker player who only has “half” a technology (with the Trackers split) and draws a 4 (so that they miss the production breakpoint with 2 wealth leftover). Lots of little factors that add up, making the difference in whether I end up bidding 2 or 3 for the Dyer…

    Tom Lehmann

    September 12, 2007 at 8:21 pm

  10. Why no handicap for player who starts as Overlord on turn 1? Because the Overlord rotates on ties. If that player does the obvious “boost” economy move of buying a Farmer (after driving the others up on bidding), then that player will cease to be Overlord. If not, then that player has typically sacrificed a bit of economic growth to stay Overlord. That’s the intended tension between early VPs and later ones (which are obviously more efficient from a production standpoint).

    The Tracker tends to shake this up, giving a player an early VP lead. In 2 and 3 player games, where there is no chance of getting two Trackers (only one in the game), this is part of the Tracker’s strength. In 4 and 5 player games, where there are two Trackers, a player can get an early boost from the Tracker but another player with the other Tracker can take the Overlord away on a tie result.

    Tom Lehmann

    September 12, 2007 at 8:38 pm

  11. Chris, glad to see you disagreeing with me! Your comments about your local group’s evaluations of Trackers and Dyers and your willingness to exploit this in your bidding is important. As Brian has also hinted, playing contrarian versus your local groupthink so that you can get things cheap is an important tactic.

    Tom Lehmann

    September 12, 2007 at 8:44 pm

  12. Mark, it’s a close call, I agree, but I do value 2nd over 3rd in this case for several reasons involving the fact that the Dyer player is on my immediate right: if the second Dyer comes out, I will effectively become Overlord as the Dyer player is busy; if a single Granary (my breakpoint purchase for 4 if I draw a 6) comes out, the Dyer is not interested in it and I can bid on it without an intervening Tracker player (who may be willing to bid on it, pushing back a Hunter another turn, in order to guarantee a storage solution (remember with split Trackers, the Caravans will get fought over more)). A Dyer player is far less likely to bid on a Prospector (my breakpoint purchase for 2 if I draw a 4) than a Tracker player who only has “half” a technology (with the Trackers split) and draws a 4 (so that they miss the production breakpoint with 2 wealth leftover). Lots of little factors that add up, making the difference in whether I end up bidding 2 or 3 for the Dyer…

    I can certainly see the argument, but I’m not convinced it would make enough of a difference for me. On second turn I think I’d actually prefer to go third, giving me a better shot to be first when deck 2 comes around. I also probably place too much weight on the undesirability of building Hunters once the Trackers are taken (at least until late in the game), which further discourages me from going Dyer/Hunter.

    frunk

    September 13, 2007 at 9:17 am

  13. As a Dyer player, I am happy to build a Hunter after the Trackers are gone, planning later on to shift it to Clothmaking. I’m not willing to shift Farmers to Clothmaking, but shifting Hunters to Clothmaking is still pretty effective and it eventually sets up a turn where I buy a Refugee Settlement and employ a Clothmaker and two Hunters (using previously bought tools) for about 22-25 in the late midgame for 6 production, 4 VPs, and 1 storage (assume 9 cost for Ref. Settlement, 4 training cost, and 11 Clothmaking; less with Public Works, you may have to pay a bit more for the Ref. Settlement).

    Tom Lehmann

    September 13, 2007 at 2:49 pm

  14. Yeah, I agree it isn’t a bad play. It’s more a pattern of thought than a valid tactical concern.

    frunk

    September 13, 2007 at 5:29 pm


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