The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

The way to win

In response to my comments regarding Le Havre, Larry wrote:

I can’t believe a game can reach the Top 10 on the Geek (right behind Dominion, and with a higher average rating) if there’s only one path to victory.

As others pointed out, games with a single way to win can have a large following. You could argue (with some conviction and merit) that classics like Chess and Go have only one way to win. (“Mobilize your pieces better” and “Make efficient moves.”) But in those cases, the devil is in the details, and these aren’t particularly helpful discussions (which is why I don’t think these games apply …)

For definition, my single path to victory is a simple hueristic that will defeat someone who shuns (or is unaware of) that path.

If everyone groks the strategy and plays accordingly. then tactics and second level efficiencies dominate. I’m sure Le Havre contains levels I haven’t explored (for efficiency), but I can feel like I could summarize the first level strategies … (and ignoring them will cost you the game against competent opponents). [The fact that Alex Rockwell explicitly stated said strategy cemented my conviction. If he’s recanted I’d certainly have to re-evaluate.]

In the BGG Top 100, games that have a single path that I feel confident I could (or have) stated are:

  • Puerto Rico
  • Le Havre
  • Caylus
  • St. Pete (without expansion)

Games where I suspect a strategy exists, but I’m not confident I can state it:

  • Through the Ages (I’ve followed the strategy articles, and I think they are right, but the variance in that provides a lot of tactical exceptions)
  • Brass (I don’t like Brass enough to find out, and I may have had a rule wrong) …
  • Age of Steam (several maps, anyway)
  • War of the Ring (base game)
  • Automobile
  • Ingenious seems like a candidate

I bet most of the (non-fluffy) tournament games at WBC probably have a guideline you can’t violate … that doesn’t mean they have a single way to win; that depends on the guideline.

And yes, you get lots of Coal, make a huge coke conversion and ship it. To be fair, there are details you need to consider (avoiding loans isn’t one of them). “Be efficient” and “Coal is most efficient” are your watchwords.


Written by taogaming

September 27, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Posted in Ramblings

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37 Responses

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  1. I would say Chess has two ways to win – Checkmate &Endgame (but as you say this isn’t very helpful.)

    I played Le Havre three or four times and never enjoyed it.

    simon j

    September 27, 2009 at 8:12 pm

  2. The whole “one way to win” thing is tough to define. Maybe calling them “puzzle games” might be better. Caylus, Age of Steam, War of the Ring, and Le Havre are all to me clearly puzzle games. They throw a lot of stuff at you in terms of mechanics and chrome and whatnot, and in order to win you have to wade through all the non-viable options the game gives you to figure out the one way the game has to be played. Brass and Automobile both struck me as puzzle games that, like you, I have no interest in playing enough to really find out for sure.

    For me, Puerto Rico felt different. The the game seems like it was balanced enough that finding the ultimately strong strategies was an evolutionary process rather than a frustrating hunt through the weeds. But still, even though I got vastly more enjoyment out of it than any of those other games, I can’t argue that it ultimately falls in the same general category.

    Ingenious on the other hand is most certainly not in that category. Like so many of Knizia’s games, Ingenious is a risk management game, with how those risks play out being determined by the hidden tiles other players have, and as such there aren’t right and wrong answers. Just good and bad risks to which it’s impossible to put concrete valuations on. It’s inherently far more variable and much better at throwing you a different set of circumstances each time you play.

    Chris Farrell

    September 27, 2009 at 8:26 pm

  3. Okay, now I’m pretty sure you’re smoking the crack, Brian. I’ve played my share of Puerto Rico and haven’t seen anything close to a single winning strategy. With less exposure, I’d say I also haven’t found one for TtA, Brass, or Caylus either. So maybe you’re just talking about some very generic guidelines (like “money at the beginning, VP’s at the end), which doesn’t sound like a problem at all. At any rate, seven of the ten games you’ve listed are among my all-time favorites, so I guess I shouldn’t be too upset at the Le Havre characterization.

    And how DARE you accuse a Knizia game of having only one strategy. Why poor Mr. Farrell might have dropped dead from apoplexy! 😉

    Larry Levy

    September 28, 2009 at 12:55 am

  4. I have played a lot of Through the Ages and Brass, and other than some “standard optimal openings”, I couldn’t name a particular strategy that has been consistently successful, at least not once more than one player is aware of it. This is similar to the Puerto Rico phenomenon, where new players adamantly claim “shipping corn is how to win”, or when people say things like “the factory is overpowered”. It is more group think than a guaranteed strategy. Recently, with my play groups, heavy cotton development has been the current “winner” in Brass. As players have become aware of this, they spend more time developing and building cotton. This has brought ports into the spotlight, and the last game or two, the players building ports had decisive wins as the cotton players spent resources desperately trying to ship their cotton. This is probably the 4th time the “way to win” Brass has changed in my groups, and I suspect the balance will swing another way a dozen plays from now.

    Daniel Corban

    September 28, 2009 at 2:05 am

  5. After 5 or so plays (still a relative newb), I’m not sure coke shipping is a sure means to victory. I have read about that strategy, tried to implement it a couple of times and still get destroyed by my more experienced gaming partner. Sure, it is a very good strategy, and one would be foolish not to integrate it as part of a winning strategy (as with many other moves), but it doesn’t seem to appear as simple in execution.

    My sensing is the most scarce resource in the game is your actions. And being an efficiency game, it forces you to evaluate the opportunity cost at every turn. Coke shipping is strong, provided you can afford the necessary actions to pursue it when the building becomes active (assuming it’s uncontested). It seems that it’s only worthwhile if one can garner about 3 rounds of 4 coal each, convert them to coke in a single go and ship them out. That means about 12+ VPs per action, accounting for energy required as well money gained at the cokery. A good return but considering a trip to the courts can be worth 10 VP in a single action, I’m not sure its such a sure thing. The order of the buildings and thus the timing of their emergence play an important role in what strategy is feasible.

    I too recognize how the ‘same’ buildings might dull replayability in the long run but so far, the randomness of building order seems to differentiate each game adequately. True, there are clearly some buildings which are stronger than others, but it is not so much the buildings you own but the ones you use and when you use them that seem to determine victory.

    Not sure I’m making much sense…after all, I’m still trying hard to do well at the game. Not a 10 in my book, but a clear preference over Agricola, especially when we managed to get a 3-player full game under 2 hours our last time round.

    Matthew Chua

    September 28, 2009 at 2:06 am

  6. It is really unclear to me what the “one -way winning strategy is in Automobile”. Since I plan to play it this week, knowing it would be awsome. I’d even stop to ask who should I pick as first character depending on my position in turn order 😀

    Honestly, not sure about Caylus either unless we are talking of the 2p game there.


    September 28, 2009 at 6:18 am

  7. Well for Caylus, I was told that you always to aim to obtain as many of the 3 good buildings as possible. 2 out of 3 be awesome. Tried that a couple times online and truth be told, I have done quite well when my opponents failed to compete adequately for them.

    Matthew Chua

    September 28, 2009 at 7:12 am

  8. I’m going to agree that Puerto Rico has several approaches.


    September 28, 2009 at 9:22 am

  9. Coke shipping is a sure win in LH, if no one else is going that route (which I think is completely obvious). Where it gets hopefully interesting is in what’s left when everyone knows this. I guess a lot of people feel the timing and tactics remaining are really interesting. And I don’t think there’s any question that this game was preaching to the choir, so there’s a noticeable selection bias at work.

    I still think the shipping price of Coke should have been 3f or 4f.

    Jon Waddington

    September 28, 2009 at 1:08 pm

  10. Yes, some games are “Puzzle Games” where you are mainly learning to wade through the bad options and find the good one, and then following it correctly.

    For some games, learning to actually execute this optimal strategy is incredibly complicated and requires a number of plays to master. I think these can still be interesting, as there is quite a lot of exploration to do in them. Some examples of this are:

    St Petersburg
    War of the Ring

    All of these three are very good games but eventually become repetative after a lot of plays, once you finally master the strategy. Each of these I would say requires about 20-50 plays for an experiences boardgamer to fully Grok the strategy.

    Le Havre is similar except that it seems to me to have a lot less depth, and the optimal strategy is much easier to figure out than in some of the others. I have only played it 4 times, as after those plays I felt like I already had figured it out, and that the main line strategy so completely dominated everything else that it wasnt worth playing further. (Plus its quite long, and while I do think its good, it didnt feel good enough to justify playing it).

    Some games are much deeper because they have multiple different paths which can each be competitive at the highest level, and (importantly), you cannot always take the same path and have it be competitive.

    Several examples:
    Puerto Rico
    Race for The Galaxy
    maaaybe Agricola

    These games add a couple layers of depth:

    1) Instead of learning one optimal path, you must learn to master several different paths. Each one tends to take that 20-50 games of play to master, thus multiplying the depth of the game severalfold.

    2) In addition, you must learn to recognize which of those several possible paths is actually available to you in this given game.

    In Race for the Galaxy, the cards you draw open up the potential for playing the various strong paths. You cannot attempt to play one that the cards you have been given do not allow.

    In Puerto Rico, your position in the game and the early plantation draws and role selections drive you into a particular position, from which you must figure out which of the several competitive paths is available to you, and pursue it.

    In Agricola, the cards you are dealt can push you towards certain paths over others, however this doesnt occur as strongly as in Race or Puerto Rico.

    I think it requires a couple hundred plays or Puerto Rico or Race in order to learn to master each of the optimal strategies, and to recognize which to use in any given game.

    As an additional note, my game Homesteaders which is coming out soon is in this genre of games, and I believe it to be on the Race/Puerto Rico end of the spectrum, and not on the Le Havre end. This is because there are a handful of strategy paths that are viable at a high level (as opposed to just one), so you have to spend time learning each one. Additionally, like in Race or Puerto Rico, you cannot always choose the same one, because either the land auctions to support that strategy do not come up on the correct turns for it, in this particular instance of the game, or because someone else fought you over that strategy and bid the auction up too high. Because you compete with each other via auctions, if each player is pursuing the same strategy, it will be too expensive and will become less efficient. There is a lot of potential for a player who has mastered each of the viable high level strategy paths to outplay an opponent who has mastered only one of them, because they can choose to pursue the one that is being contested the least by the other players, and is thus the cheapest and most efficient in the auctions.

    I think that it is those two things that separate the best of this category of games (Race, Puerto Rico), from the ‘merely good’ games of this Genre, like Caylus and Le Havre. 1: Multiple different viable top level strategies, that you can learn to master. 2: Some game mechanic which prevents you from always playing the same one of the viable strategies, so that you have to learn them all.

    I certainly like games like Caylus and Le Havre, and they are great until you master the one strategy, but they just dont have as much depth of replayability.

    (I am really hoping that Homesteaders will prove itself to be in the very deep, multiple viable strategies, hundreds of plays to master category. The fact that it has auctions for the things that determine your strategy path, and that a number of those lead to viable strategies, makes me hopeful that this is the case).


    September 28, 2009 at 5:59 pm

  11. I am curious where people place Scepter of Zavandor in this discussion.

    Daniel Corban

    September 28, 2009 at 6:21 pm

  12. As an example of what I mean, lets compare St Petersburg to Race for the Galaxy:

    In St. P, you must master the following to perform the one main line optimal strategy that exists in the game:

    * Buy the cheapest workers, as many as possible until very late in the game. (This also means you must learn to save enough money to enable this, and you must learn to manipulate the number of workers that will appear to be correct for you, and possibly not for your opponents. You also have to learn how many workers will be expected to come out on each turn, especially in 2 player).

    * Learn when to begin building buildings (generally turn 3), and which are most efficient, and how much to spend for them each turn.

    * Take the most expensive Aristocrat available to you on turn 1 and buy him. Learn what aristocrats to take in middle and late turns.

    * Learn which upgrades are best and most efficient, and how to best enable yourself to get them. Learn the importance of Aristocrat upgrades (especially with less players).

    * Learn hand management, including when you need to take things into your hand to open up the correct number of spaces for you, for the next round, and what should be taken into hand. Also, learn to weigh hand management concerns with the potential for opening up something later. Learn to hoard extra aristocrats of different types that you cant afford now or for who it is less efficient to buy now than to buy buildings.

    * Learn all of the tricks to generate small efficiencies for yourself.

    Thats StP. Thats the one strategy.

    For Race for the Galaxy, you need to learn how to execute each of the following strategies (this is just for the base game):

    * Military Strategy
    i) Standard Military strategy
    ii) Contact Specialist Variant
    * Development Discount Strategy
    * Production Strategy
    i) Blue World Strategy (Consumer Markets/Free Trade Association)
    ii) Brown World Strategy (Mining Conglomerate/Mining League)
    iii) Diversified Economy Strategy
    * Merchant Strategy (This is using Deficit Spending/Merchant World to convert high trade power into VPs by taking Consume:Trade, instead of using trade solely for income)
    * Hybrid combinations of these strategies

    Several of these strategies are about as deep as the entirety of the St Petersburg strategy, and thus you already have several times as much depth/replayability.

    In addition, you must learn:

    * How to pick which strategy to use in any given game / What cards are the facilitators of different strategies, and when presented with options, which cards that you have are the strongest facilitators of their respective strategies.
    * General opening income techniques which help facilitate any strategy.
    * How role selection impacts each strategy / Value of each role selection to each strategy, at various points in the game.
    * How to identify your opponents strategy and select roles that further your goals without helping them much.
    * Leeching strategies to gain benefit from your opponents exected role selections, or to deny them good use of those roles.

    While Race is still a “Puzzle Game”, the depth and replayability is far greater than in StP, which in turn is greater than Le Havre.

    Chess and Go are also “Puzzle Games”, they just have a ton of depth.


    September 28, 2009 at 6:29 pm

  13. I think you need to be more specific about the standards for “one way to win”, otherwise we can just say “get the most victory points” and put the silly boardgames away.

    “Is unaware of” is not a very good qualifier, since it’s just a proxy for experience. You probably have to assume players of equal and significant experience. (“Experience” is not a strategy, though it is often the best advice for newbies.)

    I’m not sure this is helpful, but I think you’d have to see something like “if we played a game 100 times with good players, the winner would have followed this strategy more than 80% of the time”.

    You probably have to do something to distinguish tactics from strategy. (In chess, it’s not helpful to say “the winner moved his pawns”. It only a little better to say “the winner almost always started with this move” (unless the moves develop into a position). I’m not even sure whether “the winner always controlled space E5” is useful, since there are many ways to do that.)

    I don’t mean to be completely negative, since I think there definitely are some games that are solved, but I’d hate to see lots of games dismissed by this kind of thinking. (I haven’t even played Le Havre yet, so I hate to see it tossed in the dustbin.)

    Two final comments: I think games with an auction component get around this (Princes of Florence is surely the epitome of this). And I’ve played a lot of Ingenious and I can’t even imagine what your rule would be.

    alex s.

    September 28, 2009 at 7:00 pm

  14. Some very interesting discussion here. I don’t pretend to know all the answers to the issues raised, but the one thing I’m having trouble with is the assertion that Saint Petersburg is a deeper game than Le Havre. Certainly there are some tricks in figuring out St. Pete, but after half a dozen games, I felt like I’d grasped about 90% of it and was pretty much done with the boardgame (it still makes a great 5 minute PC game). After half a dozen games of Le Havre, I didn’t feel anywhere close to mastering it. Maybe I’m just slow, but I don’t see St. Pete fitting in with all these other deep strategy games.

    Larry Levy

    September 28, 2009 at 10:02 pm

  15. Yeah, you might be right on StP vs Le Havre. StP didnt take long to figure out the main strategy, most of the learning about that is about small efficiencies. I would guess that Le Havre actually has a lot more of those small efficiencies to learn, which makes it deeper. Its just frustrating that everything else you do is of such second-order importance to how many times you manage to visit the Colliery and Marketplace, and how much Coke you can ship.

    I still liked Le Havre and I think its a good game. I just dont have the incentive to play a game of that time length repeatedly after I feel I have figured out the main strategy.


    September 28, 2009 at 10:33 pm

  16. I can’t speak for Zeptor, but I can talk about Outpost, the game Zeptor is derived from. In Outpost there are a number of viable strategies, and the choice of which one to take is strongly affected by what order the upgrades appear in and how much your opponents bid for them. You need to find a path to victory that will not leave you at a dead end if someone bids you up a little higher than you expected (something that’s more likely to happen if that someone realizes that putting you out of the game will increase his or her chances of winning.) Princes of Florence is another such game, and I think this is often a feature of auction games. I find it interesting that the games discussed in this thread are not (in general) auction games.

    Eric Brosius

    September 28, 2009 at 11:05 pm

  17. Yeah, I wouldn’t call St Pete more interesting than Le Havre. But in terms of interest per unit of length and complexity, Le Havre is pretty ridiculous. It’s amazing how a game with (man, I don’t even remember how many) different resources manages to feel so repetitive.

    Good point about economic games with auctions, Eric. I’m not a big fan of Princes but Vegas Showdown, Homesteaders and Amun Re are all good examples of how adding auctions to a game with lots of interaction between different kinds of income producers works well.

    Also, Alex, I have Phoenicia and we can try it even though I almost stabbed my eyes out over the graphic design.

    Sean McCarthy

    September 29, 2009 at 1:11 am

  18. Yeah, I wouldn’t call St Pete more interesting than Le Havre. But in terms of interest per unit of length and complexity, Le Havre is pretty ridiculous. It’s amazing how a game with (man, I don’t even remember how many) different resources manages to feel so repetitive.

    Good point about economic games with auctions, Eric. I’m not a big fan of Princes but Vegas Showdown, Homesteaders and Amun Re are all good examples of how adding auctions to a game with lots of interaction between different kinds of income producers works well.

    Also, Alex, I have Phoenicia and we can try it even though I almost stabbed my eyes out over the graphic design.

    Sean McCarthy

    September 29, 2009 at 1:11 am

  19. Alex, I think you are vastly overestimating some of the required play numbers. I think the basic number of games required of War of the Ring to identify the key strategies is about 5-ish – maybe 3 games for the Free People, maybe 5-6 for the Shadow. People figure out that Le Havre is all about the Coke in 5-7 at the outside, with their Agricola experience slowing them down. These are not numbers to reach mastery of course, but the number required to be pretty clear on the one viable strategic approach to the game. At that point, many players will lose interest; the vast majority of players do not play to become masters.

    Honestly, I don’t think this is all that complicated. Games of all sorts require a variety of experience to be interesting. If players are playing off a script, most folks will lose interest. The factors that make a game feel scripted are fairly easy to identify: high degrees of symmetry, low levels of chaos, systems that rapidly hit steady state. Auctions won’t help you if there is no variability in the value of items up for auction (Princes of Florence’s auction works but isn’t particularly effective as auctions go for this reason). Randomness won’t help you if players can’t manage risk. It’s all about pacing and narrative arc, not about specific system. Any system can be made boring. On the other hand, not every system can be made interesting; worker placement is an example of a system that is inherently uninteresting that requires some sort of twist to make viable (as games like Aladdin’s Dragons, Pillars of the Earth, and Agricola provide, while Caylus doesn’t).

    Chris Farrell

    September 29, 2009 at 3:05 am

  20. As I’ve argued before in this forum, I think PR has solid enough strategic underpinnings (even though it is very tactical in feel during play), that there is more than one way to win.

    With regard to St.P, I think things are a bit more complex than are being stated here. In the base game, there are two main competing strategies: big economy (build up income, switch to VP prod via big buildings on turns 3-4) and early observatory/big aristocrats (where getting an observatory gives a player a qualitatively different set of options), plus a third “tightrope” strategy that is based on the observation that players, except for possibly the first aristocrat in round 1, cannot efficiently invest all their starting cash in income generation until the beginning of round 3. This inability to invest means that one can either just let this cash sit idle or start investing in some VP generation much earlier. There’s a narrow strategy space where one can trade off some income generation for some “extra-efficient” early VP generation (which will vary from game to game depending on just what cards show up) and just barely outperform the two “mainline” strategies. I find many “puzzle-solving” gamers tend to overlook/dismiss this strategy space in their quest for high-level simplification.

    (The original first turn Mistress had the problem that, when it came up, it was so efficient that it effectively eliminated the third strategy and dominated other approaches to the first strategy.)

    When I designed the New Society expansion, I put a lot of effort into enlarging the third strategy’s viability, while still keeping the two other strategies intact. The New Farmer, which seems to puzzle some experienced players, can often be used for this strategy, as can various other cards.

    tom lehmann

    September 29, 2009 at 8:02 am

  21. Like Outpost, Phoenicia has several economic “paths” which proceed at different rates. I designed it to be both much, much tighter than Outpost and to make a far earlier switch-over to VPs (from income generation) more viable and interesting (the City Center-> Public Works path). This adds another strategy which can sometimes win faster than other strategies but, if pushed to the hilt, leaves your economy too small to afford the most expensive auction items.

    tom lehmann

    September 29, 2009 at 8:33 am

  22. If Le Havre is dominated by the coke strategy (I don’t disagree), then how about Le Havre’, where coke only sells for 4f? Or Le Havre”, where it sells for 3f? Is there still a dominant strategy in those games? Is it still coke?


    September 29, 2009 at 12:40 pm

  23. Outpost and Phoenicia’s sets of strategies sort of balance each other from game to game by the timing of when their key cards come out. A player who commits to New Chemicals early in Outpost will be at a major disadvantage if Scientists or Labs don’t come out for a long time. That rewards a “fast on your feet” meta-strategy. But that strategy will often lose to a “commit to the full” meta-strategy which hits its key cards early. There’s a nice feedback in that the players have the (limited) ability to manipulate the upgrade card flow, but at the cost of resource flexibility.


    September 29, 2009 at 12:58 pm

  24. LeHavre” (3f coke) would resolve a number of issues, but I haven’t had a chance to try it yet. On the plus side, there would still be a shipping path, but it would have to involve either 3/4f goods (leather, cattle, bread, coal, coke) or steel. And steel has its own set of inefficiencies. Certainly more buildings would become relevant, including more specials.

    On the minus side, the costs were set with the 5f coke in mind, and it would create some over/under-priced buildings here and there. And I’m sure purists will find other holes.

    Jon Waddington

    September 29, 2009 at 2:01 pm

  25. I was looking at some of the Le Havre strategy articles on the Geek when I came across the one where Alex presumably first proposed his “Coke Is It!” strategy. But in that article, he was only talking about the two-player game. Just to be clear, when people are talking about the Coke strategy, how many players are you all assuming? I’ve only played Le Havre with 3 or 4 players (and am unlikely to ever play it with 2).

    Larry Levy

    September 29, 2009 at 4:55 pm

  26. Larry, I commented on this in Brian’s more recent follow-up post. Number of players is relevant in the sense of available competition for the main line. The more players compete for it, the less efficient/valuable it is. But at least two players must compete for it, as it will be a runaway otherwise. To me, that feels a bit like Kill Doctor Lucky, at least if you want to try something else.

    The more I consider this game, it’s clear that Rosenberg wanted it be like this, with one main line that is balanced across player ranges by competition for critical actions. If the lines were balanced, there wouldn’t be enough interaction and competition.

    The game, then, is in timing the asymmetry of viable options, and what you can get in “around the edges.” Yeah, you’re all going to get some coal and coke, all going to get some ships, etc., but as Brian says, “tactics and second level efficiencies dominate.” And to be fair, there’s quite a bit of game there, and apparently a lot of people like that sort of thing. Because it’s the sort of thing they like. 😉

    Jon Waddington

    September 29, 2009 at 5:31 pm

  27. For St Petersburg:

    There are actually more viable options with more than 2 players, as Tom mentioned, Observatory for Aristocrats can be a winning strategy, providing another path.

    However, my experience with over 100 2 player games on BSW is that Turn 1 observatory is generally an auto-loss (when other people do it against me, I can just see hoe badly it destroys their game – they cant afford the turn 3 worker flood, for example). In 2 player games I usually get close to 10 aristocrats without observatory, if not 10, so there isnt a benefit there, and the loss of the early money is critical.

    Regarding Le Havre, I think that a lot more strategy potential would open up if Coke shipped for only 3, and if the Cokery had a reasonable limit to how much coal could be converted for one action. (8? 10?).

    Also, the coke effect is smaller with more players, as you cant get as much of it, however it still seems to be the same based on comments of many people: you must focus on it enough to get ‘your share’, or youre in big trouble.


    September 29, 2009 at 7:28 pm

  28. I said “early Observatory”, not “turn 1” observatory. I’m happy to take it in hand on turn 1; in general, you want to spend your extra cash on turn 2 putting it out and then starting the slow grind of getting extra Aristos. The only way a turn 1 observatory works is if you then draw from the worker deck and get a 3 or a 4; the extra boost in early income is pretty nice. However, if you draw a 7 (or a 9), then you’re in big trouble… It’s a huge variance play.

    In 2p, it also depends on what scoring rule you are using: +10 Vps per extra unique Aristo over 10 (which is what one of the computer implementations does and is what the NS expansion changed it to) or 0 (which is what a strict reading of the original rules would say).

    I would certainly agree that the “one strategy” you state is most effective in 2p. The tightrope stategy tends to get easier to pull off as more players are added. I’ve won with it in many 3 and 4 player games.

    tom lehmann

    September 29, 2009 at 9:06 pm

  29. In general, I respect Chris’s opinions, but every now and then he makes a statement that convinces me that we live in alternative gaming universes:

    “Auctions won’t help you if there is no variability in the value of items up for auction (Princes of Florence’s auction works but isn’t particularly effective as auctions go for this reason).”

    WTF??? I don’t get to play PoF very often, but I have played it against strong players in many different groups. In my experience, early Jesters will typically go for 700-1200; architects and work redos go for 400-700; and parks, forests, and lakes go for 200-400, with the prestige draw going for either for 200-300 or 500-600 depending on group think. Sure looks like variability in what’s up for auction to me!

    tom lehmann

    September 29, 2009 at 9:51 pm

  30. I have three general comments:

    A) Some of these “one way to win” problems are really player scaling problems. For example, I believe PoF has one way to win at 3 players (lots of works, by various means) and more than one way to win at 5 (the building strategy becomes viable when the number of works/player drops). I believe that StP (base game) has one way to win at 2 players; but not at 3+. I suspect that LH has one way to win at 2 players.

    B) As others have pointed out, the issue remains what happens when everyone at the table understands the “one way to win”? Does it simply become a game of executing tertiary efficiencies well (which some may enjoy while others may find this boring) or does the resulting player competition for the in-game resources to pull off the “one way” then reshape the strategy space, allowing other strategies to prosper? In 3p LH, Dave Eisen claims that if two players butt heads over coal/steel/coke, then a building strategy can easily succeed. In 4p PoF, increased competition over works, jesters, and work redos will often allow a building strategy to succeed.

    C) I’ve seen many play groups where a strong player who’s good at finding “one way to win” will often convince all the other players that a game is “solved”. I well remember those who claimed this was true for PR… multiple times for different strategies (shipping, building, etc.)…

    tom lehmann

    September 29, 2009 at 10:26 pm

  31. In 3p LH, Dave Eisen claims that if two players butt heads over coal/steel/coke, then a building strategy can easily succeed.

    What I’ve seen so far is that because of the timing, two (or even three) people can all use the same path, just in different sequence. In fact they should, because if they “butt heads” it hurts them both (if I’m in your way, odds are pretty good you’re in my way). So the defecting(ive?) player is strongly incented to disrupt their sequence, basically by temporarily pursuing it himself.

    Which is to say, I guess, that I agree with Eisen, but only if the others are being clumsy about it instead of effectively colluding.

    Jon Waddington

    September 30, 2009 at 8:55 am

  32. Yes, the real question is “Once everyone knows that Strategy X will dominate unless countered, then what?” In auction games, the price of Strategy X will go up until an equilibrium is hit. In Le Havre ….

    I haven’t seen the butting of heads give another strategy a boost, but merely make 2nd order effeciences matter. Typically to pursue the coal coke strategy, you have to move the coal collection house as often as possible, which means you have to vacate it. Your presence will block others, which does lower the value you get (say, you convert 12 coal instead of 20), but that still dominates other strategies like not converting at all. (I have only played LH with 3 or 4). Often you’ll combine this with a few other plays (like one big livestock conversion) but that’s because the rules of LH force you to leave a building before re-entering.

    Also, going to the “other buildings” doesn’t preclude building lots of other stuff or other strategies too. You’ll still take a huge offering. So you can argue “Coal + W” versus “Coal + Y”, but those are second order effects.

    It could be a group think, I’ll admit.


    September 30, 2009 at 9:06 am

  33. I just wanted to pipe up to agree strongly with Tom’s comments, except for one (peripheral) thing…

    Builder is actually stronger with 3 players, since the onus gets put on the guy who didn’t get the Jester to bid up what the Builder wants, or else the Builder scores absurd amounts of points. Unfortunately, this is highly risky for the guy trying to jack the price, so the Builder tends not to have to pay enough for his bread and butter. In 4+ player games, the stuff the Builder strategy needs becomes more valuable to other players because hybrid/cheapass strategies become viable, and even necessary, so bidding it up is less of a gamble/ keep the Builder down play.

    That all assumes that people are paying rational (1200+) prices for Jesters, mind. If Jesters go for 800 each, Builder has no hope.


    September 30, 2009 at 2:02 pm

  34. Interesting. That goes counter to my own experiences, where three player games often finds 1-2 players going hybrid and 1-2 player going pure works (depending on how the bidding goes). Pure builder, even with cheap prices, doesn’t seem competitive with the works strategy.

    What sort of winning scores are you seeing in 3p games? Low 60s (where builder has a chance) or mid-70s (where a builder has to have a perfect storm sort of game)?

    tom lehmann

    September 30, 2009 at 8:40 pm

  35. Tom,

    Low-mid 70s typically. This is mostly online on BSW.


    September 30, 2009 at 10:34 pm

  36. Probably too late, Tom will likely miss the reply, but my point was to the effect of exactly what you’re saying: Jesters have a pretty clear actual value, as do Headhunter cards and prestige cards, which all the players are pretty much aware of. The fact that you can peg their value pretty closely is my point; an auction is interesting and produces variation when there is a lot of asymmetrical information and so people are making judgments about value based on incomplete information, rather than just running numbers.

    If there was a certain set of circumstances in which Jesters were worth 400, and other circumstances in which they’d be worth 1800, and it would vary from game to game, that would produce variability. But in PoF, a first turn Jester is a first turn Jester for everyone, and once you’ve figured out that’s worth 1000 or so, that’s what you bid and you have an advantage over players who haven’t quite grasped that yet, and for no particularly good reason.

    Chris Farrell

    October 1, 2009 at 4:34 pm

  37. Chris, I wondered if that was what you getting at — wanting variation in valuation based on different player position/info as opposed to no variation at all.

    However, even there, I think things in PoF are not quite as clear-cut as what you’re saying. First off, there is some hidden info that biases player’s valuations — even on the first turn — namely, the works cards they hold. If I hold works without synergies, I’m much more likely to go for a building strategy, as opposed to a “head-hunter” or Jester strategy. This affects my valuations on turn 1. Second, many of the ranges I specified (700-1200 for first Jester, for example) are fairly wide. 500 is 1/7 of your starting cash. If Jesters, Architect, and “Headhunter” cards are getting bid up to near the high ends of these ranges, then one very viable strategy is to drop out and get something for 200 or 300. Going contrarian is rewarded in PoF; over the course of a game, taking what nobody wants will often save you about 1.5 work’s worth of money. That’s a lot and if you are good at leveraging what you do get, this will often bring you into contention for the lead. Third, once players have bought in the first round, there’s effectively “terrain” that then informs player’s evaluations on later rounds.

    tom lehmann

    October 3, 2009 at 8:59 am

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