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.


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. I generally agree with Larry (open with the Trackers). Around here the focus seems to be on Dyers (the saying goes “if the guys with Clothmaking didn’t win, they weren’t playing right”). Thus, I would open the Trackers hoping that people would pass waiting for the Dyer. If I could get two Trackers for 7 I would take the production hit; but even if I get one for 3 and a guy on Improved Hunting, that seems like a good start.

    If I didn’t get either Tracker I would open the Dyer next, because I wouldn’t want it to be the last thing up and have someone get it at cost. I would probably take the Glassmaker if I lost everything else; better to have a little extra money for the next round…of course, this would depend on what everyone else had left.

    I’ll try to remember to use this setup next time I play.

    Geoff Speare

    September 11, 2007 at 12:35 pm

  3. As overseer I’d definitely start with the Trackers, opening with 3. If I get it I bid 4 on the second Tracker, if not I open the second at 3 as well.

    Dyer is next if I didn’t win both Trackers, opening at 2. If I’m overbid on everything I build a Farmer and let the Glassmaking sit. At that point I want to slow things up to weaken the Dyer, and since both Trackers are gone (without them building a second Hunter first turn) I have no interest in Hunters.

    As second, third or fourth I’d try to get one of the Trackers for 3 or 4. Failing that I’d make sure no one got the Dyer for 2 (bidding 3 if necessary).


    September 11, 2007 at 2:25 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.


    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. No Forts and Granaries on the first round is a standard part of setup.

    The preset cards and the 1 auction/turn rules are the two optional rules.

    Some groups use neither, one, or both. I don’t know which is more prevalent (and this may be influenced by whatever the online version does; I think the online version uses preset cards but allows a player to bid on additional items (if they have the money) after winning an item.

    I think the variable start reduces the power of the opening Overlord, since a Tracker, if players aren’t willing to bid more than 3 on it when they have 7 wealth, tends to go to a player who draws a 6 on turn 1 (who is willing to bid 4), rather than the starting Overlord.

    Tom Lehmann

    September 11, 2007 at 10:24 pm

  8. Tom, is the advantage of the starting Overlord as much as 1 coin (I assume not, or you would have started that player with one fewer coin)? Did you consider less probabilistic ways of reducing this advantage (after all, the player with the starting 6 could well be the Overlord).

    Larry Levy

    September 11, 2007 at 11:13 pm

  9. I consider being Overlord worth about 1.5 wealth overall and 2-3 wealth relative to my Overlord rival, provided you understand how to bid other players up and have a fairly flexible position (so if they try to stick you with what you’re bidding up, you’re happy to take it at cost).

    Suppose I am Overlord. If I can use it to cost everyone else 1 more in payment and I get something cheap (1-2 less) after exhausting their cash, then I have gained 2-3 wealth relative to other players (looking at just this one round).
    This is probably high. Sometimes I’m not buying a card, one of the other players isn’t buying a card, or I can’t risk trying to bid them up (say, on a Granary when I already own one). So, call this 1.5 wealth.

    Suppose I hadn’t been Overlord. If the other player as Overlord is equally competent in bidding players up, I will pay 1 more and the other Overlord gets something for 1-2 less for a benefit relative to my Overlord rival of 5. However, 5 is probably high, as one of us might not be buying a card. But 2-3 on average is about correct.

    If the other player as Overlord bids me up but then buys something and lets the other players get items cheap, then my relative cost to other players also goes up.

    In most games, I am usually Overlord 6+ rounds (out of 9-10 rounds per game). My winning % is currently pretty high, due to greater experience (this will change soon ;-). And, for some reason, the Overlord is frequently termed the EVIL Overlord…

    Tom Lehmann

    September 12, 2007 at 7:56 pm

  10. First off, I think probably the technically correct answer is to open with the Tracker for 3. If you get it, open the second tracker at 4. If you play with random distribution and get a 6, this is even better, probably just go ahead and open the second tracker for 5. That represents your best shot to get both, and probably folks will be a little gunshy of going to 5 for the second tracker.

    But … it seems a little risky, and it would be against my instincts. If you get the first tracker but get overbid for the second, which would be easy enough especially with the random start, I wouldn’t be particularly happy with that start. One tracker with the second off the table and a Dyer gone isn’t setting my world alight, I’d rather have the Dyer. The pair of trackers is perveiced as fairly powerful, so I’d probably assume someone would pay the extra buck or two to deny me the combination.

    So my instinct would actually be to go with the Dyer at start. You might be able to get that at cost or a little above with other players eyeing the pair of trackers and with you now out of the bidding. If that fails, try to get the Glassmaker at cost. If that fails, start one Tracker at 4 and assume you’ll split them. If you get it at 4, open the other one at 3.

    Around here, a pair of trackers is perceived as fairly powerful, and I think the Dyer is probably undervalued, so that is obviously coloring my response.

    Chris Farrell

    September 12, 2007 at 8:27 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.


    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.


    September 13, 2007 at 5:29 pm

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