The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Race — Coming back when losing

Learning how to win games that you are losing has been in the forefront of my mind. Reading Wei-Hwa’s latest comment, I realized that my thoughts aren’t likely to evolve much in the near future, so I’d just throw this out.

These thoughts are definitely provisional.

The first step to come back from a losing game is to accept that you are losing. If you are losing, you are behind the curve (either on income or VPs, depending on the stage of the game). So, if you and your opponent stay on the same curve you can’t win. You’ll have to get lucky. At some point, you’ll have to take a risk.

For example, if your natural play would be to settle a pretty good world, perhaps you can risk someone else calling settle and exploring for a better world. I imagine that most of the plays are variants on that theme.

  • Calling your ‘perfect’ role hoping that your opponent(s) call another role you need.
  • Exploring +1 instead of +5 for that one card, hoping to bag your card and a spare.
  • Dumping your hand on an expensive card (instead of playing to keep your next obvious play) and hoping that your next big income will allow you to continue on your path.

Things like that.

As Wei-Hwa says, the “leader” should be minimizing exposure to luck. Just select your ‘good’ role, make the steady play.

When taken together, that means that the leader should be more predictable then the trailing player. [This assumes that the leader has set themselves along a curve and isn’t staring at a sudden dip … like a hand of useless cards].

As a trailing player, you should also look at ways to vary the timing. If you are trailing with a larger tableau, then you have to concentrate on making your builds count more (having a nice ‘density’) or turning on your consumption engine ASAP. The nice aspect is that you can end the game, or let it go on, according to how the VP are working out.

Standard thoughts about losing apply — if you are only slightly behind then you may just need to hope for a bit of luck. Would one perfect card salvage your situation? If so, then perhaps an explore +5. If you are grossly behind, then you’ll need to swing for the fences.

If this all sounds vague; well, to a certain extent it is. By the time you can really ascertain losing, there are enough cards down to make it a case by case basis.

I’m sure that I am forgetting good pieces of general advice. Perhaps I don’t know them yet.

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Written by taogaming

January 31, 2008 at 9:04 pm

7 Responses

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  1. Last weekend, 2×2 game, and I felt I was behind. Last turn (due to VPs) was coming against a P/C player. I needed to maximize my points to have any chance, and I couldn’t predict if he was going to call Dev or Settle (or a Exp +5, which he did). As it happens I had a Dev/Dev play that would leave me with +12 points, and a Set/Set play that was +10. But I chose the Set/Set, because there were a handful of worlds I could draw, with my free card after the first settle, that would net me ~+14/15. Low odds, but I just didn’t think +12 was going to do it (although I didn’t add up his VPs to confirm…I feel like that’s in bad taste generally). Luckily, I drew one of those cards, ended up +14, and won by a point. Also, re: the post that Wei-Hwa was responding to, no way do I make that play without playing at least 50 games.

    I’m also getting less enamored of Explore +5. Sure, sometimes you get a great card, but especially in the late game, you are sometimes spending an action for no net cards or VPs. That’s a really high potential cost, and I’m trying to make sure to force myself to consider the consequences of failing to get a great card on a Exp +5 (i.e. the opportunity cost) before picking it. It’s definitely an action to take when losing, or when you need flexibility to respond to an unpredictable opponent action, but as the leader or near leader you may be better off with a simple 2 VP play somewhere else.

    Lou

    February 1, 2008 at 9:50 am

  2. Choose the move that maximizes your probability of winning the game.

    Explore +5 generally has lower expectation value but higher variance than Explore +1/+1. (A more important facotr in this case however, is that explore +5 is better when you have many cards but not enough good options, and +1/+1 is better when you have some good options but not enough cards)

    All things being equal, choose the move with the highest expectation value. If you are currently ahead, moves with lower variance are generally better at maximizing your chance, and it can be worth it to sacrifice some expectation value to reduce variance. If you are behind, moves with high variance are generally better, and it can be worth it to sacrifice some expectation value to increase variance.

    This applies to pretty much any game. If youre playing football, and youre ahead, you should probably run the ball more, not do trick plays, and play conservatively, to reduce variance. If you are behind, you go for it on 4th down more, try an onside kick, throw long, etc.

    Another thing (in general to plaiyng games): If you see that your only chance (or only reasonable chance) of winning is if your opponent makes a certain mistake, then assume they will make the mistake, and play the move that wins if they do. I’ve heard this called the ‘enough rope theory’. As in, always give your opponent enough rope for them to hang themself.

    Another thing: If you are worse at a game than your opponent, that increases the value of high variance moves, and if you are better than them, that increases the value of low variance moves.

    Football analogy again: The patriots were beating everyone, and their coach Bill Beliacheck pissed people off by continuing to try and score as many points as possible, instead of doing the normal, and ‘nicer’ strategy of trying to reduce variance by running the ball and trying to end the game quickly. However, I think Bill’s decision made sense because:
    1) His expcetation value by passing was very high, due to the strength of their passing game, and thus while the game was still in doubt this was probably stil la better strategy than reducing variance but also reducing expectation value.

    Alexfrog

    February 1, 2008 at 7:55 pm

  3. I agree with Brian’s point about deciding that you are behind is the first step to dealing with it. The earlier you can make this decision, the more time you have to try and fix it…

    With regard to Lou’s comment, Explore +5 is not just for variance plays for catch-up or fixing a hole (such as needing an extra +1 Military) right away. One of the better players I know first gets a hand of cards during the early going and then Explores +5 2-4 times in a row to get the cards (usually 6 developments) he needs for his long term strategy, while playing out cheap but useful cards (Investment Credits, Interstellar Bank, Public Works, or cheap produce worlds, etc.) to keep his hand size high and not fall behind in tableau. Once he finds the card he needs, he can immediately go to town. He makes sure his Explore +5s happen before the deck reshuffles for the first time, when the odds are generally much better for finding 6s.

    tom lehmann

    February 4, 2008 at 10:50 pm

  4. I tried this last night and I really liked it!

    I’m thinking that the +5 explore is actually less variance than +1/+1. Its going to give you a high chance of getting one good card, and no chance of a second. Its very strong when you have a bunch of cards, but need something powerful to do with them. It also helps you to find key strategy cards.

    I’m thinking of it as the good midgame explore now (+1/+1 is the early game explore, when youre doing it mostly for 2 cards s oyou can afford your development or settle).

    I like how picking explore a bunch slows down the game. Less develops and settles happe nso your opponents get going slowly. When you do build something, you make something big and important, while your opponents might not. So doing the midgame +5 explore strategy causes less build opportunities, but makes you do better stuff with your opportunities.

    I also think I see the purpose of research labs: its not really about getting 1 card of extra income. Its about doing explore +5 and keeping 2 strong cards instead of 1.

    Alexfrog

    February 7, 2008 at 1:38 pm

  5. The one thing about Explore +5 multiple times is that it assumes that you are going to build up for your 3-4 next builds, but presumably that means the first will only cost 3-4 cards (since that’s what you’ll have when you start this) and that build will let you ‘leap’ up to earn the next few (with some trading in the middle).

    I can see how it would work, but the timing could get tricky. Still, I’ll have to try this.

    Brian

    February 7, 2008 at 8:15 pm

  6. The one thing about Explore +5 multiple times is that it assumes that you are going to build up for your 3-4 next builds, but presumably that means the first will only cost 3-4 cards (since that’s what you’ll have when you start this) and that build will let you ‘leap’ up to earn the next few (with some trading in the middle).

    I can see how it would work, but the timing could get tricky. Still, I’ll have to try this.

    Brian

    February 7, 2008 at 8:15 pm

  7. I had a strange 3-player game about a month ago:

    Turn 1: We all choose Explore +1, +1.

    Turn 2: We all choose Explore +1, +1. (!)

    Turn 3: We all choose Explore +1, +1. (!!)

    Turn 4: My opponents both choose Explore +1, +1, I choose Explore +5. (!!!)

    Wei-Hwa

    February 11, 2008 at 8:37 pm


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