Archive for the ‘Strategy’ Category
This series of articles cover my (evolving) thoughts about Mage Knight strategy, tactics and planning. There are many ways to play MK, but typically I play solitaire (Volkare or Solo Conquest) or Cooperative (usually Full Co-op scenario … Conquest again). My thoughts are tailored towards that. Most of this will be useful if you play competitive, but some won’t. I have zero PvP experience, so remember that.
On the other hand, after not playing much the last sixth months I’ve been binging with 25 games in the last few week, putting me well over 250 plays (99% solo/co-op) and have scores ranging up to 270 or so in Solo Conquest (standard settings, harder cities can score more), so I possess some skill. I see session reports of people who have much higher scores than I do; I hardly know everything.
I’m going to assume you have Lost Legion, but if not most of this will apply. I do have Shades of Tezla, but those monsters aren’t really incorporated into my thinking much.
Many strategy discussions focus on “which advanced action card is best?” or “which skill is best?”
Interesting discussions, to be sure, but we set the table before the meal is served. Just as it is a mistake to study Joseki (opening patterns) before tesuji (typical attacking/defending moves), so too should we start at the beginning. There are several concepts that form the core of MK.
Mage Knight is about Bombs. Breakpoints appear all over MK … you have enough or nothing. When facing a Medusa (4 Armor, 6 Fighting, Paralysis), ranged attack three is worthless, and you will likely discard your hand to avoid taking two wounds then discarding your hand. Range Attack 4? You win, and get a tasty spell/artifact. Seven influence + a mana buys a spell at a mage tower. Six influence? Nope (well, there may be something available, but not always). 4 Movement won’t get you into a forest at night. You need five. All or nothing.
Therefore, hand size is a bomb. Because you can play a (non-wound) card sideways for +1 Move/Influence/Block/Attack that means that bonus hand size is effectively helping you achieve breakpoints. Don’t undervalue cards that give hand size (typically next turn).
Also, Mana is a bomb. Because mana typically adds two points (with the right card).
Wounds are typically an anti-bomb, but the counter to that is that MK is a timed game, like baseball. You have so many turns before the round is called (by the dummy). If you don’t risk any wounds you are probably going too slow. Ideally you have only a wound or two, but you can win with a surprisingly large number. (Granted, it will hurt your score). If you play conquest at a higher level, avoiding wounds is impossible. You can limp along with a wound, but if you have more it’s probably best to rest (you can still crystallize, heal or do other non-move, non-actions. Being on a useful space like a mine or glade makes that turn more palatable).
You want to do something every turn, but ‘something’ is flexible. Walking to a crystal mine and crystallizing a token from the source is a fine turn during the first day. Presumably you are moving towards another goal as well. (Rarely backtrack in solo-conquest). Getting a peasant in turn one is something. You can’t get an artifact every turn. Yes, sometimes you just rest and get a better hand, rather than limp along for 3-4 turns, or burn your hand to get to a magic glade, to start the healing process.
Too much of something isn’t flexible. If you only got attack skills and cards and spells, you’d be a walking advertisement for murder. If you can walk far enough. Better to get some attack, some movement, some block, some mana generation, because
Typically, in Mage Knight you are defined by your minimum. You will regret being mana short (and relying on the fickle source) or having no followers, or having no bonus movement when the swamps arrive.
You have to spend money to make money. Crystals don’t exist to score 1 pt each at the end of the game. They make your hand more potent, you can often spend them for much great effect early on. You don’t dungeon delve just to take an artifact for 2 points (plus the points for the monster and adventuring). That artifact lets you do something amazing. Sometimes I discard it the very next turn and only get a single use from it. Spend it, but wisely. An artifact you use once to conquer a city bloodlessly is better than getting three uses from it while also carrying a few wounds (or even just being slowed down a turn or two by having to lay siege two or three times).
Cards will come at poor times, need some flexibility. Attack does you no good if the nearest enemy is too far away. Movement does you no good if a dragon will smack you the first step you take. Any card can show up at a poor time. You can’t avoid bad draws. You can mitigate it. But there’s a bit more to it. The game state changes as well, and what is a great card at one point may grow or change as the game goes on. The most obvious cards are spells — they (potentially) work much better at night (or underground), but all cards have some variability. Well, I say that, but it’s not entirely true.
Skills and Followers are always in hand. Followers aren’t as flashy as artifacts, but you know they’ll be there in the opening hand. Yes yes, you can’t use them in dungeons or against monasteries, but you know when they aren’t available.
Finally — Time your actions to the dummy. Should you spend a card for +1? Well, that depends. If your deck is going to run out first, you can afford to pause for a turn to let the source reset, maybe draw some cards that let you be more efficient, etc. Has the End of Round been called? In that case squeeze every last drop out of your hand and followers. This shows up in a few ways.
Let’s discuss the game state in some detail.
The phases of the game
On the first day your goal is to level up. It doesn’t have to be on your first turn, but it shouldn’t be on the last (you want time to enjoy your new advanced action and skill). A follower would be nice, as would several crystals. Artifacts and spells work, too. It’s entirely possible to sac a dungeon on your first or or second turn (or burn a monastery), possibly at the cost of some wounds. But a bad draw could see you discard your hand. In that case, try again. (The TaoLing had a recent game where his first two dungeon raids required him to discard his hand to avoid wounds. On his third try, he got an artifact and was off to the races. A slow start, but recoverable).
You don’t have to get a follower, but it doesn’t hurt. You don’t have to crystallize a token (or sit on a mine), but it doesn’t hurt. Ditto artifacts and spells. Ditto exploring. In general, as long as you expand your power, you are happy on turn one. Sometimes I’m at level 3 by the end of the first day, but not always (or even often). Fame will come later. As long as I’m at level two and have some reasonable growth (an artifact, spell, follower, crystals, or significant forward motion) I don’t mind being ’empty’ in one category, or having a few wounds.
The first night is similar. I’d like to be at level 4 by the end of the night, but it’s not as pressing as level 2 was. Now you start with a skill and advanced cards, you should be able to stockpile power and routinely take a dungeon/maze/monastery and most ruins, although Dragons and White Tokens may give you problems.
During the second day my goals are to make sure at least one core tile is played while grabbing enough fame to get to six hand size (level 5). Getting more powerful cards is nice, but I want a shot at attacking a city on the second night (when spells are more useful) or at least recruiting a large unit. And the hand size
Core tiles require more movement, a lot more swamps/wastelands/lakes, but at some point movement is going to diminish in value. If you haven’t killed your reputation, then influence is going to go up, because once you take your first city you can spend influence (and you’ll get ~3 bonus, +reputation) to buy cards, and possibly the great city followers.
By the third day, I’m preparing for the final assault. I’m hitting targets of opportunity, and sometimes I’ll attack a spawning ground/keep/whatever just to grab a level or increase my handsize, but I’m selective on my targets. Followers are there for city assaults, unless I’ll get a bigger buff spending them early (or its the third day and they’ll reset before I attack on the third night). Note that (except vs Volkare) ranged attacks are not a big deal — most city defenders will be fortified, unless I’ve picked up something like Expose. (If I have a handful of ranged attack, that’s when I start looking at ruins or other enemies to convert those cards into a buff card).
I discuss the state of the game because values change. Swiftness is a great card on a first day battle but mediocre vs the final city assault (unless you can remove fortifications). Buying 10 advanced action cards is great, unless your deck becomes a hodgepodge where you may have all your attacks at the bottom. You might want a +attack skill and +influence skill, but you probably want the attack skill first and the influence skill second, and not vice versa. Naming a card or skill ‘good’ or ‘bad’ also means discussing ‘when.’
The basic deck
You have sixteen cards. So let’s consider the ‘base’ opening deck, independent of the upgraded card. You’ll have these all game, unless you throw some of them away.
Stamina (x2) and March (x2) — Move 2/4. You need lots of move in the game. Typically you won’t need much move towards the end (as you camp outside the final city or wait for Volkare to wander up) but movement is good. Extra movement lets you swing out of the way to sack an extra target, or cross those annoying swamps (or deserts/forests at the wrong time). Movement is better than block against cumbersome foes, because you may be able to partially spend and reduce a wound. Beware of spending too many of these cards early, unless you are just going to camp on a dungeon for points to end the round.
Let me digress to state that picking up a single movement boost (skill or advanced action) is fine, and if I get a lot of cards, a second is not unreasonable. You can wind up with too many ‘cool’ cards and find yourself sitting or spending your cool cards for +1, so picking up move/attack/block/influence in rough proportion to your starting deck isn’t a bad idea.
Swiftness (x2) — As discussed above, ranged attack is great early and mediocre late. Early, I want to use this to shoot something (and not have to block). Later on? If I can use it for shooting, great. If not, movement it is. Also, I’m content tossing these away for better cards (via Training or other effects) or for crystals (via Decompose) around the halfway point. I don’t often do (those cards don’t show up often), but it’s possible. Again, playing vs Volkare Ranged attack never really goes out of style.
Rage (x2) — You need attack to kill stuff. Later on, you may spend this as block, but early on unless you are going to be paralyzed, its usually better to eat some wounds then kill your enemy, and level up and earn your reward.
Concentration (x1) — Concentration is the bomb. It gives you a mana (which is a bomb) or if you spend a green mana it lets you pump another card by four (instead of two). If you have Concentration + Swiftness (with a green mana) and one other card in your hand you could reasonably attack a dungeon on T1. Add in a block and now you can defeat a shadow or gargoyle (albeit at two wounds) or a crypt worm (3).
Block (x1) — Lost legion made block much more important. Block Five (with a blue mana) will take care of most early game things you’ll face, although there are exceptions.
Improvisation (x1) — Without spending a mana, this basically lets you play two cards sideways for +3 instead of +2. That’s not bad (it’s like having an extra ‘blank’ card), but when you spend the mana now you are spending two cards for five. That’s more like it. The flexibility makes this a good card for emergencies (at least, when red mana is available).
Promise (x1) / Threaten (x1) — I want to get an early follower, but I’m not desperate. Especially if there’s no convenient place to stop, these are the most likely to be spent sideways. Do I threaten? If I have to. Obviously I’d prefer not, but especially if I’m getting a reasonable T1 follower (more on that later), I’m fine doing it. If there’s no great follower on the first day, I’ll try to grab two the first night (once I’ve got level three) but … there may not be two available.
Tranquility (x1) — The problem with healing yourself: you have to draw Tranquility with the wound. If you just have a single wound, well, that’s not likely. If you have lots of wounds, that’s its own issue. But if you have a follower wounded then you always draw tranquility at the right time. You can also spend this for another card, effectively shrinking your deck. (Or spend it for two cards if you have a green mana), which may help you over a breakpoint. If necessary, take a turn spend a green mana and grab one card over your handsize, then wait one turn to reset the mana pool and go. Not a great turn, but do-able, and if you are sitting someplace useful, such as a crystal mine, it may have other benefits.
Crystallize (x1) — Again, if I have a free turn I grab a crystal from the pool (of course). But I’m also fine just using it to turn a blue into what I need (assuming no gold). Unless I’ve seen concentration go by, I’m usually pocketing green unless I know what I’ll need next turn (assuming I have no mana) or a color I’m missing (especially if the source is missing). Second choice is usually white (for Mana Draw and Swiftness). But often it’s just ‘what am I missing?’ Unless I’ve picked up a lot of great cards of one color, I want to be flexible.
Mana Draw (x1) — Basically a bizarro Crystallize, except you get a spare mana that you use right away (sometimes to Crystallize, yes!). There will be times when the source locks up or threatens to lock up, and in those cases you may want to spend a white just to turn a black/gold die to a color you can use, even if it costs you a crystal.
The Tactics Deck
In both solo and co-op the player(s) pick their tactics, then dummy chooses randomly. You rarely want to take a high number, but there are exceptions. At night taking Preparation (5) can help if you need one key card (usually a spell or artifact) for an assault if you have a good hand, or Sparing Power (6) if you have a poor hand and plan on building up to one huge hand. (Alternately, attacking ASAP and then taking the cards from S.P. next turn to ensure you have at least one real card, so you can discard all your wounds).
Against Volkare there’s something to be said for taking The Right Moment on the third day. The double turn lets you fully commit to a defense (or attack) and then declare the end of the run immediately on your doubled turn. (Obviously, you have to have an empty deck). Attacking Volkare (or defending) and then instantly calling the round is one of the key tactics against Volkare. Unless you have built an overwhelming force (which you can do in Solo) you’ll want to attack with all your units, then reshuffle your deck, reset your units and do it again.
Also, against Volkare’s Return (where you frequently wait in the city for him to arrive) you don’t care about turn order as much. It’s just two points (if the deck doesn’t end). But Volkare deserves his own section.
Back to Solo Conquest. Typically on the last day/night take the lowest number to ensure going first. With nothing better to do early I will grab the 1 on the first day, but I will grab the 2-4 as needed (whichever one speeds up my first level up). First night, if you are in a good mana situation tend to take long night (and hope the dummy doesn’t draw the one) because it makes my deck 3 cards larger, so I can spend a bit more dramatically and rush forward. But if not, taking the Mana Manipulation (3) card is a life-saver. Preparation to fix your hand is an option (taking Tranquility while you have two wounds, taking a card to ensure your first combat, etc).
In Co-op you’ll have to discard one of the player’s cards, but we still tend to take the (no special ability) 1 card whenever convenient then discard it. That makes the next days/nights a bit safer.
Let us discuss public relations. In Solo Conquest, a slightly negative reputation isn’t big deal. If you are at -2 when you take your first city, you’ll be slightly positive after your +3 reputation at the city (one per chit you killed). If it’s the red city (artifacts at 12 Inf/pop) that’s bad, but for each of the other three you’ll be able to buy a card (Green), spell (blue) or unit (White, which allow you to buy any units). Useful. If you build up your reputation even a bit (no pillaging, no burning monasteries, and killing a few orcs and dragons) to +1 or +2, you can often sit for several turns (again, not at red) and buy several card. Nice. But the downside is that keeps and mage towers are also -1 reputation, so it’s incredibly easy to drop five slots (or so), from that. A threaten, a keep, a mage tower, attack the city, that’s four steps. Sure, you’ll kill 2-3 orcs ASAP, but after that? Only when convenient.
So in my typical (Conquest) game, I am slightly negative reputation. Some games you can tell you are going to go hard negative. -5, or even the dreaded X. In those games, you want to get a few followers quickly, and then if you are lucky enough to see Thugs (before you get to X) or Magical Familiars grab them . The rewards for going negative will be good (an artifact for each monastery burnt, plus more fame). Typically I may try to save a Dragon for after the first city: kill it to go from X to -3, and then interact once or twice before the final assault. But what you don’t want to do is drop hard before you get a single follower.
And Norowas? You probably don’t want to go hard negative with him, at least not until late.
In Volkare’s return, you are likely to be camping in the city for a turn or few before Volkare shows up. In that case, a solid positive reputation gives you sometning to do. Chuck your influence (and movement) cards for a spell or advanced action. Even 12 Influence for an artifact is doable, if you are positive.
Your deck is what you have to work with. And the map is … what you have work on. The meals you partake on on your way to the final banquet. A smorgasbord of locations to visit, set aflame, and cook your meals on. Sometimes literally.
Villages — You can recruit, heal (3 inf/wound) and by no means should you forget the ability to pillage (-1 reputation for +2 cards).
Crystal Mines — Good stopping points, and good places to spend resting or even just crystalizing. Ditto Magical Glades.
Keep — Better recruiting (more common, anyway). The hand size bump (when near a keep) isn’t a great buff, but they stack, and there is always a keep next to the white city.
Mage Tower — A spell is a serious incentive (at least the first one or two until diminishing returns set in, unless you have a good source of mana). On the plus hand you can select your spell, versus the artifacts blind draw. Sometimes you sac a monastery and get two artifacts that aren’t much use (duplicate what you are already good at). For both Keeps/Towers you want to sidle up on them early on just to make sure they don’t have something you can’t kill (Golems and other high-armor and/or physically resistant targets)
Monster Den/Dungeon — Both of these are a single brown token (that you can’t see before you commit). The monster den only gives you two crystals, but you can bring followers. The Dungeon is an artifact (2/3rds) or spell (1/3rd). Unlike fortified sites, you can use ranged attacks. Sometimes you have a choice, and the choice is dictated by your hand. If you have ranged attacks, head for a dungeon. But without those (and only mediocre block) you may want to take a fortified site b/c you are sure you can hit it. The advanced sites are similar but with tougher monsters. Of the two, the Spawning Ground is better — two browns is less of an issue than a Draconum, and adding crystals ti an artifact (Grounds) is better than adding a spell (Tomb).
Maze — A somewhat tune-able Dungeon. You have to spend 2-6 movement (and movement from the movement phase does not carry over) but you can take a single follower. Often in the early game, two crystals is the best shot.
Monastery — Ah, the Monastery. These have the ability to interact (for advanced actions and followers) or burning. (Note — the purple defender isn’t fortified!). Often enough, you interact one turn, flambe it the next. As discussed above, assuming you have a follower or two already, the reputation hit for the first time isn’t bad. Burning a second monastery (or lots of threatening) may spiral your rep to the point you never get another unit. But (assuming you can handle the majority of draws) the three steps of reputation will be easily balanced out by the artifact and ~5 fame.
Rampaging Units — These aren’t sites, in one respect, but like sites they cost time and cards. Both are in short supply. The first orc you kill? Great, that’s a level (usually). Killing one later on, not so useful (except in the cases where you can literally shrug off the damage and the card would be one you’d likely discard anyway). Later on kill rampaging units when it’s convenient or you have to to move on. Killing a Dragon is valuable (points wise) and sometimes necessary but typically requires significant resources. Are those resources going to be needed? Time your deck. There is nothing worse than killing a dragon before walking into the final battle and realizing your deck cannot generate the attack needed to kill the last unit.
Putting it all together — You can’t really plan on sites, but you know what to expect. Just as with your deck you’ll have to go with the flow, but the game is all about tradeoffs.
In Part Two — Some comments about the Conquest vs Volkare’s Return, the heroes and the minions.
I read – with interest – the recent article on the Math of Roll4tG. I have some quibbles, but let’s get to the core…
In short, the player who moves the most dice from his Citizenry or the general supply to the cup will generally win. Every $ you spend will generally give you another VP at the end of the game. This is in many ways similar to RtfG, where the player who drew the most cards in the games is usually the victor.
- Finish faster because you’ll probably roll an extra settle
- Also be able to leach an explore/ship (or even other dev/produce)
This article covers my (evolving) thoughts about Quartermaster General strategy, tactics and planning. This article assumes the game with Air Marshal, but a fair amount of it applies to just the base game as well.
Currently (in our group) games rarely go past Turn 15. One side wins via a 30 point lead. This colors my view on discarding and Economic Warfare. Any game that goes past 15 turns is usually just seeing if the Allies win by 30 points or win by total points on T20. I’ve never seen a game where the Allies are ahead at T15 (or later) won by the Axis, although I assume someone has.
My (one) criticism of QG is that each game revolves around the appearance (or lack thereof) of key cards for each side. QG feels balanced as a series, but most individual games seemed wildly unbalanced. It is, after all, a card game with each deck sporting a dozen or two unique cards. Each game feels different, but on the order of “Woah, look at this new way the (Axis/Allies) are crushing!” Even when balanced, the game feels like the Axis rushing to win before they run out of steam.
Time will tell if this is typical.
Supply and Tempo
Quartermaster General’s main thrusts are tempo and supply. (Pretty good description of war, actually). Most turns you play a card, and that’s it. One turn = One card (plus maybe a bolster two or an Air Deploy). Some decks (particularly Japan) let you bank turns, but one turn = one card. You get twenty cards, plus a few bonus (if the game goes the distance).
If your supply is cut (say, the UK’s North Sea Fleet) you may lose several turns time after a chain of units (North Africa, Africa, etc) go out of supply. And out of supply units can’t build or battle, so you don’t even get any last licks in. Losing one key point in the chain can cost 4+ turns and key cards. Even if you rebuild your fleet right away (to put everything back into supply), it’s a terribly urgent move. If you don’t get cut – if your opponents dawdle and give you time to build a bit more (Bay of Bengal, India) – suddenly you have two supply routes and losing that Fleet is annoying, but not devastating. It costs 1 turn, but you get to keep the rest of your turns.
A long spread out chain makes your position fragile. You risk having to play an Urgent move at a time of the opponent’s chosing. If they have a well placed bolster or two enemies time it correctly, you may be unable to recover even with the right cards.
Many cards spend tempo for long term advantage. That’s what a great status card does. You spend a turn playing it, and then next turn you can do more. Germany excels at this. Blitzkrieg (“Use once per turn when you battle a land space. Discard the top card of your draw deck and build an army in the space battled.”) lets you turn a Land Battle and a random card into a Land Battle, a Build Army and the tempo to play it.
(I’d buy a lot more books if they came bundled with the time to read them).
So an early Blitzkrieg earns back interest. Germany’s deck gives it a massive tempo advantage.
German has to pay twice for this:
- A random card for each use. We’ll discuss this later.
- A tempo right now. Often times this isn’t a big problem, but it’s a cost.
For cards like Blitzkrieg the second cost is rarely painful, but for many status cards (and events, etc) the cost is paramount. Especially in the base game, which is much less fluid. Consider three spots Germany-Eastern Europe-Ukraine. The first player to build in Eastern Europe is now the invader. Yes, the other player can battle, then you rebuild (back and forth) but of course Germany has to worry about the UK and Moscow about Japan (or Italy). If the invader has something comes up you can ignore Eastern Europe for a turn and lose the initiative.
If your opponent has Eastern Europe and something comes up and you have to ignore it for a turn? You just lost your unit in your Capital.
Examples of Tempo:
Consider a novice UK player. We’ll call him, oh, Tao. He looks at his opening hand and sees not many battles, but builds and the “You may build in India” status card. Ah ha! That’s fast points, and the UK often struggles to get points. Germany goes into Western Europe, ‘Tao’ drops his status card, and the next turn Germany builds in … the North Sea. If the UK had a sea battle, no big deal. But I don’t (ahem, the UK doesn’t). And now Germany starts hitting the UK. On the other hand, Build the navy first, Germany would have to Sea Battle (hardly Germany’s strong point), then build a navy and while that would be painful he’d be neglecting the East Front. A huge swing. Build the Home Fleet First.
On a more advanced level, the UK’s second build can be into North Africa (unless an event comes). Even if Italy builds into the med, the UK can reach N. Africa first. If the UK declines, Italy can go in there and at that flips who can battle across Gibraltar. I’m coming to the conclusion that the UK really should grab N. Africa as the second play, because now all of those sea battles can go towards the Med. And once the UK parks a Navy in the Med, things get ugly for the Axis. (I believe this play will swing our play group’s win ratio from Axis winning 2/3rds to Allies winning over half, possibly even more).
You want to threaten the initiative, to force your opponent to respond. Cutting supply is a squeeze. Taking a critical point (like N. Africa) is a squeeze. If an ally is nearby you can each strike at a weak point and only one can be defended. Or you can use a bolster card to get a critical tempo advantage to swing at two points (or to take the initiative). At it’s heart, Deploying an Air Force gains initiative. If you go Eastern Europe + Air Force, then if your opponent land battles, you lose the planes and attack the Capital. So one player can squeeze one opponent, with the right plays. But two people can almost always deal with one opponent.
The Deck as resource
Decks range from 37 up to 51 cards. If you assume you are going to play 20 cards, plus discard five at the start. Plus 5 bolster/air deploys, that’s 30 cards. But in our play style we only have 15 turns, so that means 5-8 fewer cards played. Even if you go the distance, you have cards to burn. I’m willing to discard aggressively (either at the end of a turn, or to reallocate resources) with those cards. Cards knocked off the top of your deck only matter if you are going to run out. Germany and the USA can spend a card every other turn. The final push to win it can be worth your entire deck to earn that decisive VP. Similarly, discarding (weak) cards from your hand to trigger a status is fine.
Yes, discarding could mean that economic warfare cost you points, but the game often ends by the 30 point concession (which is now the real auto-victory, instead of the two Capital rule).
So you can afford to discard four cards to go fetch a build or battle (or deploy Air Force card) once without much pain, assuming you don’t mind giving up those particular cards. You can even do it twice. If your cards are unlikely to be useful soon, consider chucking them during the prior discard phase. You may save a card or two or draw a great status/event. Each deck has several game changers you’d want to get hold of, and those you just have to draw.
Sometimes you need to reallocate. But discard aggressively, particularly for non-playing event/statuses/bolsters. Most decks have a few ways they can go, and once you decide not to do Operation Sea Lion or that hitting an opponent with economic warfare isn’t a big deal, get rid of those cards aggressively.
One time to keep a few bad cards is if you are planning to spend them as part of a bolster cost (or to trigger a status). Then you hold them to avoid drawing all useful cards you don’t want to chuck.
One final note on Re-allocating resources. If you have a card that puts cards back on the bottom of our deck (such as Rationing or Rosie the Riveter), you can re-allocate to shuffle your deck, which may put those cards back on top! (This is really only important if the UK puts the awesome “discard a German status” Engima back on the bottom of the deck by Rationing. I still wouldn’t re-allocate just to do it, but it would tempt me).
Card Limitations and True vs Small threats
Novices make non-squeezing plays. They battle their opponent because …. just because. The UK can’t afford to spend all of it’s precious land battles early. Yes, the Resistance may let you take Western Europe, but how will you take Germany? Save them for when they matter, or you can threaten a squeeze.
Or consider if the axis attempts Operation Sea Lion (the Germany Amphibious Invasion of the UK). This can actually happen fast (I’ve already shown a self-inflicted version). Assume Italy and Germany are both in Western Europe, with Italy having an air force. Italy battles into the North Sea (sacrificing the air force if necessary) to clear the space (the US has headed to the Pacific). Now the US gets a play, but if they don’t occupy the ocean (or Lend Lease) Germany builds a navy before the UK and moves an airforce into the N. Sea.
The UK is in trouble (particularly if there is no AF in England).
But Italy only has two Sea Battles, and Germany only has two Build Navies. If either player has squandered both, it won’t work. And you can’t really have Germany attack and the Italian navy build … the UK gets a move in between, and they usually can build a navy. So you need to get the cards and get a bit of luck, but wasting the card to check if the Royal Navy has a Build card is pointless and forecloses most of your shot for Sea Lion in the future. To summarize – Well timed Squeezing in the Atlantic is huge, battling just to battle does nothing. The UK has more sea cards than Germany and Italy combined.
(Similarly to how I think the UK has been ignoring N. Africa in our group, I now think that the Axis have been ignoring Sea Lion in our group. But the US can also help stop Sea Lion just by building it’s east coast navy, so it’s available to Sea Battle Germany the turn after Germany builds into the N. Sea, or to build after Italy battles).
Tempo and Two Points
Why are we seeing most games end by 30 point concession? One player gets off to a rocky start and falls behind (maybe self-inflicted, maybe not). They earn two points when everyone else earns four, or four instead of six. If your team is earning two points less per round, you lose in fifteen rounds. If two players are earning two points less on your team, then you lose in eight rounds. All three? Five rounds.
Our last game hand an instructive Allied Victory. Germany, unlike most games, drove towards Scandanvia on turn 1. (Presumably he had a handful of cards that required an army there). The Soviets played Germany-Soviet Treaty of Friendship… to build in the Ukraine and Russia, then the US played Murmansk Convoy, giving the USSR two more builds. That’s an extreme example, but not outrageous. The odds of the Soviets starting with that event is just under 1/3rd, and the odds of the US holding Murmansk are only slightly worse, call it 10% odds of this being a possible opening.
Now Germany had a defensive knife fight on the Eastern Front. If he’d taken Western Europe on T1 that still would be true, but then Germany would be earning 4 points a turn instead of 2 during that fight. The Axis lost on around turn 15, so those two points a turn were decisive. (Obviously Italy ended up getting some points in Western Europe instead of Germany, but Italy spent several turns doing this instead of building his own point base).
If Germany earned two extra points each turn, the game would be effectively tied.
Don’t discount two points a turn. You don’t want to sacrifice tempo or risk a long term squeeze for it, but all else being equal, grab the points. Germany can go East immediately, but then Italy has to go to Western Europe. (Since it’s a 2-team game, it’s zero sum. Denying Russia 2 a turn is just as good as earning two points, but as we’ve seen there are tempo considerations on Europe). If Italy could have gone into the Balkans or Med for a point, that’s a cost. As the UK, once you’ve secured your home waters getting a second supply center early (Australia or India) on turn 3-4 is 30 points over the game (in undisturbed). That turns an automatic loss into a nailbiter.
(Also note Germany going to Western Europe threatens the North Sea and Sea Lion in the early game, So it’s a points + squeeze, whereas Italy in Western Europe on Turn 1 means the UK can grab Gibraltar).
Taking a Capital looms large because it denies all of that player’s points and also severely restricts their card play. Moscow is the most precarious, but apart from the US they are all reasonable (the US could fall, but that would be amazing. I’ve seen the West Coast conquered, though).
The Wild Blue Yonder
Planes are tempo in metal form. You can drop them (with a deploy card) as part of a turn, and they let you go on the offensive. You build + AF, they attack, you can take the loss and attack back. But the units and cards are a limited resource, which leads to the interesting question: When do you to take the AF as a loss versus accepting the loss of the army/navy and reposition the AF? Obviously if you can’t move the AF to a legal adjacent space, sacrifice it instead of the base unit. Evaluate the tempo situation of each option. If the tempo is OK, take the regular unit loss. If the tempo squeezes you, lose the AF. (Obviously if you have another AF card in hand, then that adjusts it). Having an AF on the board lets you also threaten multiple fronts. Build an AF and now you solidify a front and maybe threaten to sacrifice to kill your opponents’ AF. If the give up the normal unit, you can then move the AF (after battle) into a weak spot.
Each country has natural choke points. If Italy can’t get into the Med (or control N. Africa, after that) they’ll have a tough time getting extra points. An AF can be a critical position holder. (As Italy, Build Med/ Deploy AF med as the first play is reasonable, hoping to build N. Africa, move AF to N.Africa. Now Gibraltar and the N. African forces shield the Med fleet). I don’t mention an Deploy Air Force in my discussion of openings, but if you have one you’ll usually throw it down on a choke point ASAP.
Economic Warfare (EW)
In the base game, Economic Warfare routinely entered into play. With the expansion, since most people don’t play most of their bolster cards, the threat of earning a ton of VP as your victims sit and do nothing is much reduced. (Good! That’s not fun). Economic Warfare (and any forced discard) hits random cards. It may discard cards they want, or cards they don’t want. As the opening (draw 12, discard 5) proves, all cards are good sometimes. Most EW cards also give you a VP or two (this isn’t true for the US). Not much – I’d certainly rather drop a status card that earns points each turn – but those few points add up. If you have the tempo, take them. The loss of cards also forces some caution on an opponent if the game does threaten to go long, and who knows, you may hit a great card. Another consideration is that if your victim is desperate and not playing a card you know will crush you, it’s probably in their deck. If you are Russia and Germany is Land Battling instead of playing Broad Front (“Battle up to 3 Soviet Armies that were adjacent to yours at the start of the turn”) It’s reasonable to guess that the card is still in his deck. (Russia doesn’t have EW cards, but you get the idea). Similarly, if the Reich is partying in Moscow for a few turns and Russians are muttering “Winter is Coming,” then probably Russian Winter is somewhere in their deck. (Maybe they are dropping response cards, because Winter by itself isn’t enough, but you never know).
After the expansion, play EW cards for the points and to help your opponent feel constrained. Or just whenever you are in a solid position and waiting for a good combo. Until you get hit with the second EW card (or Heavy Bombers) it isn’t so bad, although you’ll have to cut back on re-allocation and maybe not discard as aggressively.
If you do run your opponent out of cards you may be able to waltz into their homeland, and deny them any more points for the final few turns.
Not really related to EW, but you can also sometime squeeze a final point by joining in a supply center, if the other person has already scored their two points! (Italy can go into Western Europe to get a point, after Germany took two. This is useful if you need one critical point to end the game). This won’t get you one or two a turn, but sometimes you need to scrounge it!
Card Diversity and Limits
Apart from the deck limit, each deck has a card diversity limit. Japan has few battles, but lots of responses that let you stack battles. Be aware of how many of each build and battle card you have, and know when you are running down. Don’t spend them wily-nily.
Some status cards that let you convert any random 1-3 cards into some other card. Russia and Germany can spend two cards to fetch a build army from the discard pile. Italy can spend 3 (ouch) to fetch a land battle from the discard pile. The UK has Resistance which lets you spend 2 cards to attack Western Europe or Italy. These can be great options, cycling chaff to pressure the enemy. Sometimes you even want to do this when you have the right card in your hand! (Particularly Resistance, since the UK wants land battles for different spaces). If you have one of those cards, you can be a bit more liberal in spending those cards. Russia, in particular, can cavalierly toss Build Army cards in the opening.
The Opening Discard
Given what I’ve stated above, I hope to draw five useless bolster or EW cards in the opening to make the “Twelve Choose Seven” choice easy. What I don’t want to see are lots of builds and battles, particularly all my land or sea battles! Those lack flexibility, and you don’t want to run out early. If playing with the optional rule that allows for mulligans as long as a pair from each side agree (which I do), don’t mulligan easily, because you have to give up one good card. Mulligan because you have to give up three or four cards, or are staring at way too many battles.
Notes about Specific Countries
Deck information is total cards, # Armies/navies, # Battles Land/Sea, EW cards, Ev(ents), Status, Response, Deploy AF and Bolsters)
Germany (7 armies, 3 navies, 2 AF)
(51 cards total, 6/2 A/N, 7/2 Land/Sea, 5 EW, 7 Ev, 11 Status, 0 Resp, 3 AF, 8 Bolster)
The most important cards are Statuses: Blitzkrieg and Bias for Action let you turn a Build into a Build + Land Battle and a Land Battle into a Battle + Build at the cost of a random card. These effectively let your deck count as having many more battles and builds, but also means that the German deck is not nearly as thick as you’d expect at 51 cards. You hope to spend 5+ cards a game on these guys. Similarly, Dive Bombers lets you battle twice, which is useful in dealing with Air Forces. The Production Initiative Event lets you go get one of those statuses, so expect the Germans to get at least one (maybe two) of these early. Conscription lets the Germans discard two random cards to play a build out of their discard pile. Coupled with a Blitzkrieg this makes the German feels a smaller deck, but every card builds or battles.
Germany’s Bolster cards mainly let you battle hard and often and are also quite good.
Germany’s weakness is that it really can’t do much against the UK (barring a coordinated assault or mistake) and it’s not a point machine. You can often get to the Ukraine, but Russia may scorch it. By all means take Moscow but be aware that the Russian events will probably mean you can’t keep it. Germany effectively scores by denying the USSR points. Italy will often outscore Germany, even as Barbarossa rolls on. As long as you fight the Reds, that’s fine.
As the Russians, you should not feel the need to keep a front line next to your opponent. (Particularly if they have Bias for Action and not Blitzkrieg).
Germany has a minor theme in getting to Scandinavia. This turns their economic warfare against the UK into a serious threat, and offers a few more points with Statuses. If the US comes calling you may want to play Atlantic Wall (to make land battles in Western Europe costly) and Jet Fighters to blunt the US economic warfare, but honestly I chuck that.
Typical opening: Western Europe, then Roll east. Rarely you can head east and let Italy secure Western Europe (typically if he has no bonus scoring cards, but even then, you are forcing him to use a limited Build and army that could be spent elsewhere). Leaving Western Europe open after Italy’s turn is not an option, it’s an invitation to lose brutally (The US has plenty of ways to give the UK a bonus turn.)
So grab Europe and take two points now. Sometimes drive for Scandinavia and the N. Sea. Great opening, play the Forced Conscription to build twice (Go West and East) and then drop your monstrous status cards and don’t look back. Guns and Butter is a great card because it lets you fetch and play a build or battle. Note that Western Europe opening lets Italy play Afrika Korps, which lets you drop a navy in the Med and an army in North Africe, so that the Axis control Gibraltar. You won’t care but Italy does.
Cards I love to discard in the opening – EW cards and statuses, Volksturm (if you are fighting for the Fatherland, you’ve lost).
Italy (4 armies. 3 navies, 1 AF)
(37 cards total, 4/3 A/N, 4/2 Land/Sea, 2 EW, 7 Ev, 5 Status, 3 Resp, 2 AF, 5 Bolster)
Poor Italy is a lot of fun, IMO. You can get points from Mare Nostrum (+1 for the Med), Balkan Resources (+1 for the Balkans), Africa and the Middle East (Imperio Italiano) and parts of Russia (Anti-Communist Sentiment). Coupled with a plunder card (one time +1 for each army/navy outside of Italy you can rack up 5-6 a turn starting very quickly (particularly if you get the early double build. With the Afrika Korps you secure the Med early on, really nice temp.
Your downside is you barely have any cards or pieces. The Italians can harass Russia or the UK somewhat, typically not both. Actually, the best play is to harass each one in turn as a squeeze. Italy also can use the time to play a few minor Economic Warfare cards for the spare points.
Typical opening. Secure the Med, the generate extra points. Shore up Germany’s weak spots and apply gentle pressure. If you get Italian East Africa (which you could play on T2 if you took the Med T1 and the UK didn’t battle it) you threaten to grab India as quickly as Turn 3! This can also help keep the US out of Szechaun. Like I said, Italy has options.
Don’t be afraid as Italy to just get some points and then solidify a position. Play Economic Warfare cards (or Plunder) for spare points if nothing happens. Use Division Azul to remove a Soviet Response. The tide will turn, you have to win first!
A note on the Balkans – There are several cards that hose the Balkans, but you have a status that gives you points for them, so you just have to accept the loss from time to time.
Cards I love to discard in the opening – Golden Square Coup, German Reinforcements Counterattack, Monte Cassino (if Italy falls, etc etc), Anti-Communist Sentiment (Yes, it’s a point per turn, but it’s really hard to keep for long, what with Russian Winter and all, and the other point statuses are better.
Japan (5 Armies, 5 Navies, 2 AF)
(43 cards total, 4/6 A/N, 3/4 Land/Sea , 2 EW, 0 Event, 3 Status, 11 Response, 3 AF, 7 Bolster)
Japan has seven battle cards. Japan has seven battle cards. Just like Italy. Look at it again. Seven.
Japan has a metric zillion of response cards and bolsters that say “When you battle, do this other awesome thing.” In my very first game, as Japan, not knowing what to do, I stumbled on a very good Japanese strategy.
Turn 1: Sea of Japan. Turn 2: Build in China. Turns 3-10 (ish), play a response card, pausing maybe to drop a VP status card and build to get the VP.
Then – on command of the Emperor – Unleash Hell. You know, sea battle, then “After a sea battle, also land battle, then build a few armies, then maybe some more battles and, oh, I don’t know, drink all the sake.” And then when the counter attack hits, just flip up some response cards to nullify it.
That’s a pretty good plan.
Using your land and sea battles without responses leaves you no way to trigger your responses. Note that you can battle an empty space to trigger responses!
All three of Japan’s status cards grant a new VP condition, corresponding to a SE Asia Strategy (Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere) an Easter Pacific Strategy (Forward Bases) and a South Pacific strategy (Imperial Designs). Japan can (barely) stretch to India or Australia. So a status, + 3 supply centers gets you up to 8 or even 10+ points a turn. If this is happening the US had better be rolling through Europe.
Japan may have to fight the UK or US quickly, if they drop a status that lets them build in Australia or Szechuan early, but often you get left alone.
As Japan you have to be somewhat flexible because Magic discards a random response. Japan’s chokepoints aren’t just annoying things like Vladivostok not touching Japan, but having to remember which responses you have. Several of your bolsters also let you discard a response from hand to do an action, which is nice.
Japan doesn’t really have the armies to march on Moscow, but if the Soviets have to fall back and forage for supply they can threaten to eliminate them completely. Rather surprisingly Japan can actually threaten the US (especially with Forward Bases to make the threat earn VP). Taking the Western US is a 4 point swing, and probably gives Germany some breathing room. But Japan will have to pick his battles.
Typical Opening is Navy in Sea of Japan then China (2 points) then whatever your hand says. Note that if you have Special Naval Landing Forces you can drop this on T1, build a navy and activate it on T2 to grab China and the Phillipines/Iwo Jima. Then you could drop a status on T3 and be at 5/turn!
Cards I like to discard in the opening – EW cards, everything else is conditional. Evaluate your hand for Japan. It has lots of moving parts.
USSR (7 armies, 1 navy, 1 AF)
(41 cards total, 8/1 A/N, 6/2 Land/Sea, 0 EW, 6 Event, 7 Status, 4 Resp, 2 AF, 6 Bolster)
A fact that I am reminded of when I play this game. The Soviet Army took more casualties than the size of the entire German army. Every year. (I’m not entirely sure it’s true, but I heard it, so it probably is). See those 8 build army cards? May as well be infinite. Women Conscripts lets you put a played Build Army back on top of the deck. Defense of the Motherland lets you build twice (for two discards, in addition to the build). Guards lets you spend two cards to play a build from the discard pile. Asian Reserves (a bolster) fetches two back.
No discussion of Russia would be complete without Russian Winter. This is your one-time get out of jail free card. It’s for when Moscow is occupied. But don’t just slap it down. You may want to put down the Rasputitsa, which cancels a build in/adjacent to Moscow. And Stalingrad, Moscow and Leningrad responses keep armies in Ukraine, Moscow and Russia. Be sure when you play the winter you’ll have time to build there next turn.
Another status worth mentioning is Shvernik’s Evacuation Council, which keeps all your troops in supply. This is good because you can build behind Moscow and still fight after Moscow falls. If you have a lull, it’s often worth playing. It also means that when you play Vasilevsky Takes Command in the Far East to eliminate the Japanese army in China you get to keep the army in Vladivostok. (Ditto Tito’s Partisans for the Balkans). You’ll often want to play Scorched Earth to deny the axis the VP from Ukraine.
As noted before, you can build up a quick offensive with German-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Demarcation and/or Murmansk Convoy.
You only have two sea battles, but can often use them on the Sea of Japan or North Sea at a critical moment.
Typical Opening – Ukraine (two points a turn, while it lasts) then drop down statuses and responses to hold off the inevitable (unless Operation Sea Lion starts, at which point you have to attack!)
Cards I like to discard – Usually a build army or even two (especially if you Asian Reserves!) Trans-Siberian railroad is a great late game card, but not worth holding early. Leningrad protects Russia, which is nice, but it’s no Ukraine or Moscow.
UK (5 Armies, 5 Navies, 2 AF)
(47 cards total, 5/5 A/N, 4/5 Land/Sea, 2 EW, 7 Event, 7 Status, 4 Resp, 3 AF, 5 Bolster)
Britannia rules the waves. So do that. Much like Italy, I find the UK fascinating. Russia has a grim situation, the US has to position it’s overwhelming force, but Britain can do lots of things. Try to spread out to score points. Harass Europe, slug with Japan. Build into the North Sea (after Scandinavia) and try to support the Soviet Union, particularly if you have Warsaw Uprising. (OK, that’s probably not good).
Interesting. Much like Italy, you’ll have to time your battles. The UK can rely on the US to give you a spare turn or sometimes build, so you’ll have that. You’ll want to play either Resistance (discard two to battle in W. Europe or Italy) or Rationing (discard a different card to put your played card on the bottom of the deck), both of which turn your spare cards into a huge asset, and typically mean that instead of 9 battles you have many more.
For Bomber Command, just trust me and Bomb Italy.
If you can drop a Navy (+AF) into the Mediterranean you’ll note only deny Italy points, you’ll practically ensure Europe’s fall. You only have to survive 4 sea battles there, max.
Typical Opening – Build Navy, then you may want to battle the med or seize N. Africa. If not, Dutch East Indies, Australia Forms the Directorate of Manpower or Lord Linlithgow Declares India to be at War all give you two more points a turn and put some pressure on Japan.
Cards I like to discard in the opening – Free France is similar to Resistance, but much inferior. In order to use it, you have to actually open up Western Europe. Ifyou can keep it empty for any length of time, the US can invade for you. Mackenzie King Drafts the National Resources Mobilization Act is just an inferior point card that doesn’t actually let you build, it takes too long. I’d only keep it if I had no other status/event that let me build in a remote supply center. General Smuts Strengthens Ties to UK has builds in typically mediocre places without providing supply. Singapore as well, but if you have Australia it’s great.
USA (5 armies, 5 Navies, 3 AF)
(50 cards total, 5/5 A/N, 4/4 Land/Sea, 5 EW, 8 Event, 9 Status, 0 Resp, 4 AF, 6 Bolster)
As the US, your job twofold: Second, win the endgame. First, ensure there will be an endgame.
Your goal is to put pressure on the Axis, and fast. The best way to do this is to play cards that help the UK or the USSR in the opening, and grab points. Sure, in the endgame the US Economic Warfare dominates, but with the expansion the game rarely lasts that long. Toss those to Rosie the Riveter, who lets you cycle cards. The US can often give it’s allies (particularly the UK) a turn. It’s wise to do it, particularly in the opening or when they can use a tempo. Once that’s done, see who you can attack first. Assuming you spend 1 turn helping allies and another getting the Western US, you attack Europe on turn 5. Japan takes longer (although if you have Fleet deployed to Pearl Harbor you can play it, then build a navy in the Pacific and then attack the sea of Japan on T5 … if your Navy is still around).
You shouldn’t entirely discount EW cards. Some turns you just have little to do. Probably it’s better to put down one of America’s great status cards, like Aircraft Carriers or Amphibious Landing (both turn a battle into a battle + build), Radar (save your ships) or Superior Shipyards/Wartime Production (double build). Since it takes you so long to attack the Axis, the slight delay for dropping a status or two will usually be canceled by the benefit before it matters.
The US also has a bit of a problem because of it’s distance. If you go for the Pacific you’ll need Hawaii and another forward base. That leaves you one army free (assuming you have two in the US). Presumably in Szechaun. You can’t afford to go placing armies wily-nily. If you go for Europe you can afford a few spaces.
The US also has 3 AF counters, and 4 AF cards, so feel free to sacrifice an air unit or two….
Side note –If the game balance does swing heavily towards the Allies, starting the US without it’s initial army may be a reasonable balance and is thematic.
Typical Opening – If you can’t give a critical tempo with Lend Lease, Murmansk, Arsenal of Democracy or Free French, build in the Western US (two more points a turn). American Volunteer Group Expands lets you build into Szechaun and count it as a supply center, two more points and attack Japan from the west. Pearl Harbor quickly gets you to Hawaii (rarely beyond, since Pearl Harbor‘s builds are in a specific order as per the FAQ). If you don’t get into Szechaun, you can go fight in Europe or the Pacific. If Russia is in trouble, you probably want to go to Europe. It will take you a long time to pressure Japan, but you can fight Germany quickly (if you can build two navies).
Cards I like to discard in the opening – Apart from EW cards (and P-51 Mustangs, an EW bolster card), Theater Shift (great late game card, but just useless for the first half, besides you can play Flexible Resources to pay 4 cards to play out of your discard pile later on). Patton Advances seems good, but remember you have to be adjacent to Western Europe, which also has to be open. Way too early for the opening hand.
Update (10/13) — Fixed the name of the space around the U.K. It’s the North Sea.
My Dearest Wormwood,
After receiving your most recent letter, on your advice I watched the video on quick and easy voting for normal people. I am surprised that this comes as a revelation to you, since We who are down below routinely allow our charges to vote for a wide variety of things using what our patients semi-jokingly refer to as the Chicago Method (“Vote early and often”) and what your video refers to as Approval Voting.
And, as befitting our station, we scrupulously respect their votes whenever suits our mood. Which is more often than not, because all voting methods have flaws. Surely Our Father has taught you all the details of Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, which has dozens of applications to suffering and gaming. I myself learned it at an early age.
(A more pedantic member of our kind – although I doubt you will ever encounter one – may state that Arrow’s formal proof does not strictly apply here. Math is a realm of The Enemy – and as such I have no done no more than dabble, lest I be accused of heresy again – but I believe the idea generalizes. I will check with several experts I am dining on tonight).
Whenever a vote is proposed, you should of course make sure the outcome is as you desire. The stakes are high!
The video numbers make for a poor example for more interesting applications, so let us juggle them a bit. Surely even a youngster such as yourself is familiar with creative accounting?
- The five vegetarians prefer: Veggies, Burgers (w/Veggie option), Steak (in that order)
- The three carnivores prefer: Steak, Burger, Veggie
- The lone Burger guy prefers: Burger, Steak, Veggie
In all cases the 1st two are “acceptable,” so burgers get nine votes, and is an acceptable compromise.
First of all, note the obvious flaw with the system. It punishes excellence. This means that, despite all of its problems, you should suggest Approval Voting whenever possible. Your goal should be to promote mediocrity and lazy thinking in all aspects. Do this consistently and your patients will always dine out on the most milquetoast and bland meals possible, never taking chances, never risking sublime beauty!
Do not mistake my critique of this system – which is done as a general exercise to instruct my favorite nephew – for a serious criticism!
Now, let us make a small change.
If, on the final restaurant named, people don’t vote on something acceptable because they prefer the currently winning option. Now, so long as Burgers are listed last, Veggies will win, because the Vegetarians, being more delighted with the currently winning option (named first or second), decline to raise their hands for Burgers. Which will now lose 5-4, despite being a unanimous winner before!
Then simply force those shuffling carnivores towards their tofu. Demand their happiness while they respect the group’s decision. Be sure to smile broadly as you choke down your okra. Sing praises towards democracy, which levels all of our patients in the same way that water always strives for the lowest resting place.
(As to my prior criticism, I simply state that while Vegetarian restaurants can be excellent in theory, much like excellent non-alcoholic beer it does not occur in practice).
As always, he who sets the vote order (and he who votes slowest, deciding after others who have raised their hands) has an immense amount of control, particularly if they well judge the preferences of others.
These tricks (along with a few more which I dare not reveal, lest this letter is intercepted) will let you control the outcome with ease, which is why we are serving a slightly maggoty meatloaf for the thousandth night in a row instead of the exquisite venison or lovely pouched trout, both clearly visible in the cafeteria.
Your affectionate uncle,
[H/T to Chris Farrell’s twitter feed]
My first (semi-joking) comment was that the Tao of Gaming method was to have everyone list all their options, then reject them all and walk away. This prevents mediocre games, although I admit that also has problems. I had thought I tweeted a joke about that but, much like Screwtape, I prefer the old method and send my messages encoded in the pitches and volumes of screams, although I do keep up with the times and try to limit my conversation to at most 140 screams.
An amusing coincidence — I was already thinking about the Impossibility Theorem earlier today, since my side project incorporates a quote by Kenneth Arrow in the next chapter.
Looking over my scouting report for the free agents a few things jump out at me:
- More hits are certainly better. They are vulnerable to cyborg pitchers, of course, but gloves are much more common. And the do load up the bases. I don’t think I’m wrong to devalue home runs. The comment that you only need to clear the bases at the end of the game is somewhat wrong. Certainly I expect a single glove on my opponents last play (particularly if I’m a home team) so you need HR+HR. But also pickoffs and double plays mean that leaving people on bases has some issues.
- I concede I over-valued PH but as I play more games I’m starting to find more uses for conditional players and trying to top deck a good player (or even just to move towards a reshuffle). A highly situational player with a PH gives you some variance. That being said, PH itself is conditional. If you go for a lot of “Glove + Hit” guys, you typically won’t mind top decking your conditional players (like, walks, double plays, etc) and try to get something better. If you try to get the perfect cyborg combination, you are playing for luck. It can work. I just had a game where we had something like 4-5 blind PH, and they all were reasonable, in hindsight. That being said, you rarely need PH on solid always good players.
- I probably overvalued revenue. The data seems to say that. Of course, it depends on the format. Best of seven you are probably only seeing your guy 2-3 times for revenue if you buy him on game one.
The Rally Cap expansion adds a few new skills:
- Rally:X gives you X, but only if you are losing.
- Hold cancels all threatened hits (against any type of player), but only if you are losing.
- Closer cancels all threatened hits (against any type of player), but only if you are winning.
In general, you probably won’t be losing or winning until your third card (since you don’t resolve threatened hits until after you take the immediate effect). So if your opponent opens with, say a slow-bot (single+single) and then a double, you could play a rally on your third card. Personally, I’d rather not be losing and focus on getting a card that prevents scoring, which is generally useful. But, sometimes you fall behind. It happens. Hold is like a pitching rally, but it has a great effect, cancelling all hits. Unfortunately that (alone) won’t help you win.
Closer is better than hold, because if you are winning then cancelling hits is great, but you actually have to get ahead. Because of timing effects, visitors will tend to get better value from Closers (since you have tempo in resolving runs) and Home teams will get better value from Hold. The problem is that you don’t really control when they come up (except the turn you buy them).
So, these are (IMO) situational cards. Because adding the expansion adds variance, a lot of situational cards, and a fair number of double-digit cost cards, I think it’s reasonable to expand the free agent market by a card or two (as an agreed upon variant). All of these are conditional skills, which means if you only have one, and it isn’t useful, then you can top deck that card away for another. But as soon as you get lots of them, top decking becomes much more of a crap shoot. This may be why I like Glove so much. Glove+Hit rarely sucks, even if it is perfect. (But Multi-hit guys do crunch it).
No discussion of the new skills is complete without mentioning Start-Up, the homerun hitting leadoff batter. If your opponent has that, all Rally/Hold cards become much better. If you have Mr. Start-up, then all closer cards become huge. (He’s in a different expansion, but in the deluxe game you get them all).
Format is Name (Type) $ cost/revenue, hits, skill, speed (average if not shown), PH (if applicable).
Pete Biggio (N) — $12/2, Single + Single + Single, Rally:HR, Slow — A Rally HR is good, a hit that can’t be cancelled. And then he loads the bases and threatens to clear them on the next hitter.
Chance Evers (N) $8/2, Single + Single, Teamwork (If the next player is a natural, add a triple to their hit box) — The one thing that adding a hit does is prevents gloves. So, assuming you have another natural (a fair assumption), this is a single+single+triple who spreads the wealth. 3 hits for fives bases that can’t all be blown away by a fastball is fine. A touch pricey, but decent revenue.
RallyBot (R) $10/0, Single + Double, Rally:HR, Fast — OK. Rallybot is good. Fast single+double is a run, and if one gets gloved your single can’t get double played. A Rally HomeRun is a big deal. The downsides are all minor, but add up. RallyBot hits enough you won’t mind lacking PH, but no revenue also hurts. At the price point you can probably do better.
John Clayton (C) $9/2, Single + Double, Hold — Hitting + Hold is good. Situational, but useful. OK, Clayton has enough hitting to be a generally playable card, and hold as mentioned, can be huge.
Rollie Quisenberry (C), $5/2, No Hits, Closer, PH — A closer can win you the game. A vicious last card as the home team that lets you put in a decent power hitter on deck. If you are winning, you shut them down. If not, you swing. (But probably not as the last card, since the visitor’s on deck works). This is honestly borderline meh.
Sparky Rivera (C) $6/2 Single, Closer, Slow, PH — Another closer, and with a hit and some revenue.
Bruce Smith (C) $12/0, HR + HR, Hold — OK, two home runs is no trifling matter. Even if you don’t wind up cancelling the hits you threat two runs (plus any base clearing) and are really only vulnerable to Walk, Spitball (or Magna Glove if you have the full set of expansion). The only real issue is, can you get two good players.
Animator (R) $8/2, Double, Rally:Add a single to each remaining player, PH — OK, realistically you are going to be able to maybe play this as a rally on the third card. (Maybe 2nd as home team, if you your opponent doubles and clutches or some such. (Ignoring Start-up). So call it three more singles. That’s a lot of hits, unless your opponent has a lot of knuckleballers that’s pretty good.
Wilbur Wagner (C), $11/2, Single + Double, Closer, Fast — Can’t PH. A good player, but for $11 you should get good value, and can probably take two decent players. I’m not sure I love closer enough to spend $11 on this, but he will undoubtedly be a good purchase some times.
Trevor Wilson (C), $3/0, No Hits, Closer, PH — As Rollie Quisenberry, but cheaper and no revenue. When you use him, you really will probably want some money. Almost certainly part of a multi-buy turn, so I can’t rate him terrible.
Trail Blazer (R) $4/2, Single, Rally:Single, Slow, PH — An inferior slow bot, but PH and revenue. Not a fan.
Pioneer (R), $6/1, Double, Rally:Double — Double is solid, if unspectacular. Two doubles is good, but Rally is somewhat tricky.
Sammy Sandberg (N) $4/1, Single, Teamwork (If your next player is a natural, add a single to their hit box), PH — Underwhelming. Effectively a Single + Single with a condition of tipping your hand. But maybe you can use this to get someone to hold off on a fastball from this guy. If you are buying this guy it’s hopefully because you are getting a second player. I’d probably prefer one great player, but this isn’t horrible.
Early Sutter (C) $5/1, Single, Hold, PH — An interesting card. PH makes this workable, if you get down, being able to cancel everything is huge. He doesn’t do much to get you back in, but a single may be enough. Still, preventing a blowout has a purpose. I’m torn.
Contracts to Avoid:
Richie Appling (N) $5/1, No Hits, Rally:Single, Fast, PH. — Did I type this right? If you are losing this guy gives you an unblockable fast single?
Some more thoughts about PH and Anti-Combos
One thing I haven’t explored is effectively deck trimming by getting either solid people who will almost always be worthwhile (big hitters or Glove + Hit) guys and/or a few PH people and chucking all your non-PH rookies, and then effectively trimming the deck size by using all your rookies/vets to top deck. But to do this you don’t want a lot of conditionally useful cards, because the variance will kill you.
But conditionally useful cards are also anti-combo anyway. Having 6 Quick Eyes + Sliders (both of which trigger vs Cyborgs) is overkill, most decks field ~3. Having 3+ Leadoffs are useless. (Even two is somewhat risky). Too much hold/rally/closer is risky. So ideally you’d want to have variety, but that means sometimes you draw cards and never get to use their special abilities. Still trying to figure out the balance on that. (Rally, in that sense, isn’t so bad because if you are never behind it’s not terrible, unless of course you fall behind in the bottom of the sixth).
How much would I want of any skill?
Glove — Lots is OK. Multi-hit cards become better because it’s hard to overkill glove. Magna Glove (2x glove) cards are useful, but tend to not hit.
Fast/Curve/Slider: I’d be happy to have 2 of the fast/curve (naturals/robots) and 1 slider (vs cyborgs), unless I knew my opponent was highly lopsided in a game, having double that in a deck tends to get me the average right amount, but risks a bad split. Of course, there aren’t too many in the game, so it’s hard to get too much of this.
Double Play — These can actually count as a double glove, with the limitation that you can’t hit fast people, and you risk a clutch (or stolen base) happening, but these have their place, as they tangle with multi-hit cards. (Which makes me believe that multi-hit fast cards I need to value more).
Pickoff — A slightly inferior glove (assuming you pickoff only one person. One natural in the magna-glove expansion picks off all, including fast, which is huge). But also stops leadoff, etc.
Walk — Too many of these are anti-combo, but a hypothetical “All walk” team would effectively let your opponent score # hits – 3. Walk does combo with Double Play, Pickoff. (Stop Barry Sosas HRs, double play them next batter).
Clutch — Anti-combos with itself, somewhat, and also with home runs. But clutch itself reduces the values of gloves (which are good) and good.
Still enjoying this, and teaching it whenever I get the chance.
The Free agents include 23 naturals, 23 Robots, and 14 Cyborgs. So there are slightly more cyborgs than you’d expect (given that starting teams are all 6/6/3, except for NYs 5/7/3).
Format is $ cost/revenue, hits, skill, speed (average if not shown), PH (if applicable).
Looking at Free Agents shows tradeoffs everywhere. More expansive players tend to be better, but if you bag two cheaper players that will often work out well. You improve two players and reduce variability. I’m lconsidering price in ratings, but since you can’t save money extra price may not matter. If you have $7 then a great $4 may be inferior to a ‘good’ $7, since you can’t double up.
I haven’t been particularly scientific about this. I just looked at each card and tossed it into a rather large pile. I suspect I’m wrong fairly often.
The ‘Boys (and Girls)
Barry Sosa — $9/1, HR+HR Sosa is the “Anti Glove” guy. If your opponent (like me) draft gloves (ignoring double-plays, pickoffs and cyborg pitchers) then Sosa clears the bases. Sosa single-handedly makes walk better. He doesn’t PH, but in most cases you are threatening enough runs that you’d always want him.
Derek Balanger — $5/4, none, Double Play, PH. Balanger rocks as a first purchase. For game 2 double play is a better pickoff, and the money will get you a great team. You might literally be able to get an extra player (or much better one) each time hie plays. Later on you PH the guy, and hope he’s not a guy you PH to. Obviously not a great purchase towards the trade deadline. He’s the ultimate ‘fun clubhouse’ guy that gets you a great team.
Frankie Foxx — $4/2, Double, Glove, Slow, PH. Assuming you are picking this guy up as part of a two-person deal, Foxx is great. Revenue. Glove, a double, pinch-hittable. In a two player deal you often don’t have much choice, so if I was taking him + a random 4/5 player, I’d always take Frankie Foxx first, and hope for a better 4/5 to flip up. Obviously if you have $7 there are better players available… but at $9 often he’s my first buy (if I’m guaranteed another).
Boog Banks — $5/2, Double, Glove, PH. A nice cheap two-way player. The extra $1 is often enough to preclude a two way deal, which is why he’s not like Frankie Foxx. But if you can afford him he’s better (since he isn’t slow).
Dave Trout — $5/3, Triple, PH. Yes, you are getting mainly revenue, but a triple also works and is big enough to eat a glove.
Moose Giambi — $7/2, HR, Glove, PH. A big hit, a glove. Decent revenue. PH.
Mark Lopes — $5/3, S+S. A few hits and money. OK. Yes, this will not get gloved like Trout, but I like Trout’s PH a fair bit.
Troy Jeter — $7/3, S+S, Glove. Two hits and a glove. He fits into most rotations in the 2-4 spot (#1 spot at home, sometimes). Good revenue makes this a nice pickup, unless revenue doesn’t matter anymore.
Joe Mays — $5/1, Double, Clutch, PH. A decent hit plus clutch and you PH if you need defense.
Mickey Maris — $7/0, S+HR, Glove. Home runs have a certain quality all their own, and the extra hit is nice. But bad revenue and no PH. Maris is a great final pickup and a terrible early one, so he averages to good (because you can always wait).
Ty Terry — $8/2, HR, Clutch, PH. A great hit, and clutch, but expensive. Still on a team with lots of singles the clutch will score a runner or two, and then threaten at least two more runs.
Bucky Tulo — $6/1, Triple, Glove, Fast, PH. Glove plus a big enough hit to be a threat. Fast is somewhat useless here.
Hank Hornsby — $8/3, Single, Leadoff, Fast, PH. — OK, Leadoff + a single is fine, and good revenue. If you have $8 you probably aren’t getting two people unless there’s a lucky draft (and not all the $4 are great), so this is a reasonable early draft, because you are setting yourself up for revenue. I’d still tend to prefer Hit + Glove people, but I’ll admit this guy is OK, although he blares Nick Hornsby songs in the dugout.
Ichiro Matsui — $6/1, S+S, Glove, Fast. A fast Regular bot who cancels a hit? Not kicking that off my team.
Babe Bench — $5/1, S+D, Glove, Slow. An extra base over Ichiro, but slow instead of fast somewhat cancels. A bit easier to get a 2nd player with the Babe.
Ozzie Foxx — $5/2, Single, Double Play, PH. I like a single double play, and being PH means if it doesn’t work you can chuck it for something better.
Brooks Nettles — $6/1, S+S, Clutch. I like clutch. It’s a conditional unblockable hit and scores a run. Good enough to make this guy playable, although If you already have a lot of clutch he’s a pass.
Nellie McGhee — $5/2, Single, Glove, Fast, PH. Almost a pure defensive card, but a single is better than nothing. Meh plus.
Peewee Rizzuto — $4/1, S, Glove, Fast, PH. Not the Poor Man’s Frankie Foxx, since he costs the same, but an unlucky man’s Foxx. Fast is not worth trading revenue and an extra base hit.
Bucky Cano — $7/2, S+S, Double Play. As noted, one double play is often good, and two singles get some runs. But you can’t PH this guy so you are spending $7 for two average singles (and a pickoff) most of the time. Not bad, but you are likely not getting Cano’s full potential most games. Compare with Ozzie Foxx, where you give up a hit but have the ability to PH him out (and maybe pick up a second player if you got good revenue).
Maury Aparicio — $5/1, S, Double Play, Fast, PH. Another double play guy, but only a single and poor revenue. At least he’s PH.
Willie McGwier — $8/2, S+D, Glove, Fast. Two hits and fast. But $8 and no PH.
Contracts to avoid:
Josh Lynn — $5/2, none, Leadoff, Fast, PH. I amended my prior post; I don’t hate leadoff, but most Leadoff hitters had literally nothing else going for them. Leadoff + Single would be a vaguely superior RegularBot. Here you have a fast single that can’t be cancelled by glove. But how many people would waste that on a single as the first play? Answer: Only someone who has 6 defensive cards.
Cy Pie — $8/2, Single, Leadoff, PH. Yes, he’s single +Leadoff, but he’s $8. Most other $7s or 6s are better, and unless they were a horrible fit two $4s would be better.
The ‘Borgs of Summer
Fun facts — In the base set there are 2 spitballers, 2 Fastballers and 4 curveballers and 2 Knuckleballers.
Juan Spahn — $8/2, D+S, Curveball. Curveball is the best pitching skill and two hits as well. He has a high price, but a decent swing.
Max Verlander — $11/2, T+D, Curveball, Fast. The best pitcher in the game, but expensive. Worth pitching a game (even a playoff game) to get, IMO. The argument for one player (instead of two good ones) is that you can only play 6 people a game, and it’s tougher to predict what your opponent is going to do if there’s more variability. The downside is that more variability means risking more bad hands. Knowing that Verlander is in your opponents deck (or hand) makes things tough. Do you play your best robot first as a bluff? The downside to drafting Verlander is that once you’ve played him, things are easier for the other manager (“The threat is mightier than the execution.” — Nimzovitch). I’m still processing the “One great player vs two good one” debate.
Hoyt Niekr — $5/2, S, Knuckle ball, PH. Useful in the right situation and PH otherwise. Depends on what your opponents are drafting but in the right situation much better than a glove. after a few more games I’m gaining in appreciation for the knuckeballers. They murder regularbots, are just as good as glove against S+D guys, and do a number on the three hit bots.
Hideo Tanaka — $8/0. S+S+S, Curveball. Hideous Revenue aside, Tanaka’s a game changer: He usually removes two hits (or a big one) and adds three for you. He’s a literal half-human monster who sets up a big inning and murders a robot.
Daisuke Darvish — $7/1, S+D, Curveball. Have I mentioned that curveball is good? And two hits!
Blue Moon O’Doul / Satchel Seaver — $6/3, S, Fastball, PH. Fastball isn’t bad, the revenue is good.
Nolan Gooden — $5/2, D, Walk, PH. A walk is fine, particularly if you have some monster batters opposite. Walk is also a great card for a visitor save, you give up at most 1 run per hit, and only if the bases are loaded.
Catfish Carlton — $9/1, S+S+D, Spitball. An interesting choice. Your basic team plays roughly 1 cyborg per game, but half of them don’t hit. An advanced team may average that (slightly more), but free agent cyborgs hit. Even if you dn’t face ‘borgs, Catfish does pretty well putting them on base. Hitting cyborgs tend to not face spitballers, since cyborgs are rarest. I’d prefer to get another $9 player (or $5+4) if available, but if your opponents have loaded up on cyborgs he’d be a great choice. (Also, if you’ve loaded up a cyborgs, he’s a good defensive draft).
Yu Nomo — $8/3, Tr, Knuckleball, PH. Having a triple and PH makes this a reasonable pickup, but at this price point I’d be looking for two players if possible. If not, then he moves up a category.
Dizzy Drysdale — $5/2, D, Spitball, PH. Spitball isn’t great, but there are some hard hitting cyborgs out there.
CC Clemens — $7/2, T, Fastball, PH. CC compares somewhat less favorably to the glove+triple people. Yes, fastball can cancel multiple hits, but cyborg also triggers quick eye. Given the price point of the Glove+Hitters, she’s a fine pickup but similar to many others.
Sandy Gibson — $7/1, HR, PH, Fastball. Similar to CC.
Contracts to Avoid:
There are no cyborgs I’d put on this list. Cancelling all hits (or kuckleballing or walking) is too good.
The Blurns-hitting Machines
See Ya — $7/0, HR+HR, Slow. The reason you draft curveballers (and walks).
TurtleBot / Turtlebot LG — $4/2, S+S. You know, these unassuming bots have a lot going for them. S+S with average speed puts a RISP and is better than a double versus a glove. Fine leadoff hitters. After a series or two you’d love to see a curveballer wasted on the turtle instead of practically any other bot. The crowds love him. A great pickup as part of a two (or even 3) player deal. Fear the turtles.
Bat 44 — $5/2, S+D, Stolen Base, Slow.A bit more expensive than the turtles, an extra base, but slower and give stolen base. One of those bots that doesn’t seek glory, just goes out there every day and gives it 110 percent (withing a floating point margin of epsilon).
Bat 100L / Bat100R — $6/3, HR, PH — A good hit and good revenue.
Bat 90 (two copies) — $4/1, HR, Quick Eye-Single, PH. Often picked up as part of a deal.
Big Mo — $5/0, S+S, Quick Eye-HR, Slow — OK, a Quick Eye Home run ruin a glove heavy team. Put two runners on, hit a robot to lure out the curveballer, whammy. I undervalued him early on. No revenue hurts, admittedly, but for $5 this guy will win games. There’s a game of chicken when he’s out, someone will blink and get him.
Kong 35 — $6/1, HR, Clutch, Slow, PH. I can’t put an HR bot as Meh, can I? I kind of want to, though. Against a team that is going Hit+Glove, feel free to drop him lower.
Model SK / Model TT — $6/2, D+S, Quick Eye (single). Solid bot with 3 hits (against cyborgs)
Boomer 3 — $7/0, S+S, Leadoff, Fast. I’m anti-leadoff, and this guy isn’t even PH. But for $7 you can’t get two people, so he’s borderlne good.
5 Tool Model — $10/1, S+S+S, Clutch, Fast. OK, not only is he vulnerable to the curveball, a knuckler will eat him alive. To balance that you get clutch and fast, but the revenue is also poor. I think I’d prefer two players, which should be fairly frequent at this price point.
Sonic Bat — $5/2, S, Quick Eye-Triple, PH. The counter to a cyborg heavy team. Situationally useful.
Wiffle — $4/0, S+S+S, Slow. Good early hitter to score some runners and if the bases are loaded then Wiffle is almost as good as a HR hitting ‘bot (either you’ll draw a curveballer or a glove in both cases).
Z Bat — $5/0, D+HR, Slow. Less hits than Wiffle, but more total bases. Actually slightly worse if you are expecting a glove (since S+S will score an average runner on 1st). But against no Defense this will score two runs + any base runners, whereas wiffle will just score the bases.
Model T — $6/0, S+D+D, Slow. Like Z-Bat, this will score 2+ bases against no Defense and is more resilient against a glove. All three of these models suffer from revenue, but 5 bases of offense and multiple runners is not to be sneezed at.
Sprint 36 / Speedo 42– $6/1, S+D, Stolen Base, Fast. OK, against a Double Play crazy team fast is good (and stolen base may let you score one of those average guys before the fielder hits), but these are weak hitting robots. I consider these a step down from Wiffle/Z Bat/Model T, but you do gain speed and a smidge of money, at the cost of an extra hitter or bases.
Speedbot — $6/1, S+T, Fast. Ditto.
Mini Motor CX / Mini Motor FX — $4/0, S+S, Stolen Base, Fast. Meh. Useful as part of a combo purchase
Contracts to Avoid:
Unless my opponent were loaded for robot bear, I’d always consider a bot. But if you see lots of curveballers early you may consider going au natural.
This article covers my (evolving) thoughts about Baseball Highlights 2045 strategy, tactics and planning. I’m not the best person to write this, but I’m not actually actually terrible at the game either. This does not discuss the expansion packs. I don’t consider this done, this is more of a draft to generate discussion, but I’m tired.
General Tips for new players
- Put someone on deck barring a good reason not to
- Be wary about releasing your last pinch hitter early. (I prefer to call them pinch hittable, since they go out of the game, but nobody asked me)
- Pay attention to your opponent’s drafts (and releases sent down to the minors). Obviously this matters more in a 2p game.
- Drafting two way players (with hits and defensive actions) may not be better, but it will make your decisions easier.
- The value of revenue decreases over time. Skills that cancel all hits by a specific type of player increases over time (as players get better).
- Strongly consider drafting two players instead of one (if that’s an option).
- Don’t underestimate the difference being a PH makes.
The Starting Teams
All four starting teams have 10 rookies and 5 veterans, the Rookie lineup is identical for each team. Unless otherwise noted, a player’s speed is average and they aren’t pinch hittable. Since this is baseball, I’ve given them nicknames for reference.
Format is Type (Cyborg, Natural, Robot), $Income, Hits threatened (S/D/T/HR), Skills, PH or Speed
- “Pickoff Guy” — Cy, $2, none, Pickoff, PH.
- “Intentional Walk” — Cy, $1, none, Walk, PH.
- “Hitting Fielder” — Na, $0, S, Glove.
- “Whiffing Fielder” — Na, $1, none, Glove, PH
- “Crowd Pleaser” — Na, $2, S (2 Copies)
- “Regularbot” — Ro, $1, S + S, Slow (2 copies)
- “Slowbot” — Ro, $1, D
- “Doublebot” — Ro, $2, D, Slow
Each team’s five veterans differ, but there are consistencies. All teams have $6 on veterans, 2 PH and 3 immediate skills. Most teams have 2 Na + 2 Ro + 1 Cy (making the basic full team 6 Na + 6 Ro + 3 Cy). Most teams have “average” speed (meaning for each slow they have a fast player) and four or five hits for 8-11 bases.
So, the average starting team looks like:
15 players, 6 Na/6Ro/3Cy, $19, 14 hits for 19-22 bases, 5 Pinch hitters, and 7 skills, and is roughly average in speed, but with 3 slower players.
Judging card attributes
In theory card attributes are easy to judge. More hits are better, having an immediate skill is better than not, faster trumps slower, more revenue is better than less. Being pinch hittable is better than not. However, it’s difficult to judge tradeoffs. Would you rather go from average to slow and gain PH? Is it better to hit another single (or a double instead of a single) as compared to a point of revenue? Those are the questions. So, skipping the obvious (more is better), let’s examine the card attributes.
Race and the Arms Race — Robots and Cyborgs and Naturals, oh my. Race is a neutral attribute, however, there are three pitching skills that will cancel all threatened hits of a batter. Robots have trouble with curveballs. Naturals cant hit fastballs, and Cyborgs can’t handle spitballs (I wish they’d picked sliders, as ‘cyborg slider’ sounds good, but slider is an expansion skill). In theory this is all rock/paper/scissors, but curveball is much better than the other two. Most starting Naturals have roughly a single. Some of the veterans hit for extra bases, but that’s cancelled by a few rookies that don’t hit at all. Early in the game a spitballer is practically worthless. Each team has only three cyborgs, and two of them don’t get hits at all. But each team starts with 6 (or 7) Robots, and all of them hit doubles or better (or multiple base hits). Those are hits worth cancelling.
How do I rate the other pitching/defensive skills:
- Walk is reasonable. It neutralizes speed and can save a run or two in the right situation,. Sometimes it will save a run against a single, since average/fast runner can’t stretch from second. Against single hits it is inferior to glove and against multiple hits its inferior to the curve/fast/spit ball, but it always applies.
- The Knuckleballer reduces all hits by one base (and cancels singles). This totally nerfs singles, and each team has two who start with S+S. But you’d much rather have a walk against home run/X.
- Glove cancels a single hit, but against anyone. Early on, this trumps the pitchers, but you’ll draft people who have multiple hits, so it will become weaker later on.
- Pickoff is substitute glove. This can be useful against leadoff batters (who always get on base if played first) and against a runner in scoring position (RISP) instead of cancelling a mere single. An average/fast baserunner on second is usually a run. They make it on a single. Also leaving any base runner (even slow) in scoring position is asking to have a clutch played against you. So yes, it’s better to cancel the hit (because it may have scored other runners) but if you can’t pickoff is a fine substitute.
- Double Play is a conditionally superior pickoff. You can get two baserunners, but not fast ones. But conditionally superior also means conditionally inferior (said the man who just lost game seven of the word series when his double play caught exactly zero runners).
All things being equal, my feeling is
Curve > Glove > Fast > Double Play > Pickoff > Knuckle > Walk > Spit (early)
Curve > Fast > Glove > Walk > Spit > Knuckle > Pickoff > Double Play (later)
I’m not sold on this. This is open for debate. And as the Hideous Hog noted: ceteris is never parabus. If everyone drafts naturals early, fastball is king that game. Pay attention.
Clutch is my favorite offensive skill. Yes, you need to trigger it. You get an extra single, you score at least one run. About the only deck it’s pointless in as an all HR deck, and those aren’t easy to build (and are still vulnerable to knuckleballers and walks). A conditional unblockable hit. Having a clutch or two in your deck will also cause the opposing manager distress. A manager may save the final glove but then you score before it matters…
Quick Eye works well, especially on a robot heavy team. No opposing cyborgs means no opposing curveballs. You are willing to forgo a single or double if every robot gets their hits. If they do have cyborgs, you get some value from your robots, even if cancelled. Quick Eye only looses to clutch because some teams may drop to 1-2 cyborgs.
Stolen Base is ok. It may grab a run (if you are on third) that you couldn’t get, but often those base runners would likely score. Stealing an average runner from 1st to 2nd is good, as is stealing a runner home. Everything else is ok.
Leadoff is easily the weakest skill. One single can’t be stopped, sure, but only in the first play. Worse, if you are the home team forgoes a defensive play (thanks to Mark Delano for pointing that out). Useless in extra innings if drawn randomly. Useless if you top deck it for a pinch hitter except in the first inning. Every other skill may be worthwhile if drawn in extra innings or as a pinch hitter. For all this you make a single not gloveable (but pickoff-able). Even after as few games as I’ve played I think leadoff should work whenever bases are empty (or in extra innings, empty or not). Having a PH instead basically means “Play a random card instead” which isn’t great for planning. Avoid leadoff. (I’ve got a variant proposal). I will note that Leadoff (as home team) can be followed up by Double Play as a possibility.
Unlike defensive skills I don’t think this is particularly open for debate.
Clutch > Quick Eye > > Stolen Base > Leadoff
Revenue depends on the format you are playing, but it declines as the game goes on. A high revenue free agent (like Dave Trout) may be a great first acquisition but a mediocre final one. The revenue of the player (hopefully rookie) you send down to the minors also matters, but a bit less, since they only come back after a shuffle.
Hits are the offensive side of the game. More hits are better because they stop gloves. You can get shut down by the appropriate pitcher, but get through. Extra hits mean extra runs (assuming you can bring them home). Four (average) singles score two runs and are harder to cancel than a single HR (barring a Knuckle ball). Of course, you want a density of runs, since you only get six cards. But hits differ from other aspects of the game in that they really don’t have diminishing returns.
Marginal Utility and Deckbuilding
If you have one single, you don’t score. Two singles, you don’t score. Three singles scores (average runners), and every single after that scores. A double play robs two runs. A glove robs one. Assuming average defense, you get two hits cancelled and a pickoff. 6 average singles yields one run and strands two. If you can convert the last single to a HR you get four runs, unless it gets cancelled. Every thing past that gets converted, although some pitchers cancel multiple hits. At the margin, every increased hit is a run.
Fall to 5 singles, and average defense shuts you out. There’s not much difference between 5 hits and 3 hits. At that margin, you aren’t going to score against average defense. You have to play to go into extra innings (and which point you’ll still likely be in a bad position, due to baserunners). You may very well score against a low defense’ if your opponent isn’t drawing (or playing) defense he’s pounding offense. But if you have so few hits you should have defense…
Marginal utility applies to defense and most skills but those suffer diminishing returns. 5 Quick eyes doesn’t help, you aren’t likely to hit more than 2-3 cyborgs a game. Six gloves are OK, but you’ll let a steady stream of hits from free agents who have 2-3. Better to have 4 gloves and one curveballer or fastballer to cancel a few extra hits by a single batter. All stolen bases doesn’t help if you don’t have enough hits to get on base.
This isn’t to say that you can’t angle your team. Just that many skills suffer diminishing returns. Being one dimensional makes you easy to manage against. If you knew your opponent would field six gloves + hits, you could draft a great team to beat it. Having all the same hit type is also a bit problematic. Even a team of 7 HRs (all with one and a two bagger), you’d probably only score 3-4 runs (after two gloves and maybe a walk/pickoff). A team with HRs wants cards generate RBIs. A team with singles wants extra bases to clear them out at the end. Multi-hit cards stop gloves and threaten points and big hit cards and clutch bring them home.
Which is a long winded way of saying I’m not sure how to value various hits. So let’s add speed to the mix.
Slow runners conflict with stolen bases. And they want a few triples and home runs. Average runners (at least, enough of them) are content with doubles. A team of all slow runners and all average probably only differs by a run, unless you have lots of stolen bases.
General Thoughts and the On Deck Circle
The big drafting choice is offense versus defense. More hits or stop their hits? All the teams start with two gloves, a walk and a pickoff plus 3 more skills (which are usually 2-3 defensive). Expect to see about 2-3 defensive plays by a starting team. Your opponent isn’t playing randomly, expect those gloves to hit a double or better; expect the pickoff/walk to count. A starting team generates ~6 hits for about 8 bases (although this depends on which veterans show up). A perfectly average starting team would be about 2-2.
In the real world, average rarely shows up in individual contests. You draw hitters one game, defense the next. Even with starting teams it varies wildly. But look at your six cards and imagine the game against an average team. Particularly in a regular season game, you can accept a loss if you get a better position in the market and put a good player back on top of your deck (or discard a weak player). It’s more painful in the playoffs, but sometimes you punt a game.
Who to put On Deck is a big decision. Putting a player on deck can be done for a number of reasons:
- The visiting team can play the on deck card without needing a PH to use the defensive action (only) against the home team’s sixth card. As the visiting manager, the whiffing fielder is a great choice since its a glove and no hits anyway. Nothing wasted. As visitor you need a strong reason to not put someone in the on deck circle.
- You have a high variance player – one that is useful in some situations and useless in another. For example, the Intentional Walker is great against the HR hitter (and many free agents), but he doesn’t do anything against a single guy. He is also a PH, so you can keep him out and put in a different situation guy on deck and use one or the other. For example, a decent (not great) batter. If you need the variance guy, you play him, if it looks like you wont, you put in the hits.
- Knowledge — You can always PH for a random player, but having a player on deck means you know a bit more. You get one pinch hit where you know what you are getting. Pinch hitting for a random player is often a desperation move, but desperation moves sometimes work. And by putting someone on deck you’ve reduced the # of players the top card could be.
- Notice that the visiting team’s first card can’t use an ability except for leadoff and their on deck card is often used for the defensive ability only. The home team can use many defensive abilities one their first card, but can never use on deck except via pinch hitting. The visiting teams advantage is being able to use two mediocre cards efficiently (assuming that one is mediocre offensively and the other defensively). The home team’s advantage is tempo, being able to decide what to do after having seen one more card. You can’t control where you play much, but being aware of it may help you make a better decision.
- Similarly — As the home team, expect one hit to be cancelled from your final card (or worse). The visiting team can often save a home run for the last card and hope that the home team can’t cancel (or PH), but the home player should probably play his on card five unless he absolutely needs the run scored on his other card.
- When you are a dollar or two short of a good acquisition: put a player on deck to try and bump up your revenue. Then you have to be careful not to pinch hit your revenue back down. Or you can protect some money for next game if you have extra by putting in a $2 player on deck. (Which also helps lower your revenue to go first for a key player or choose to go second in hopes of letting your opponent take a non-key player and giving you a new option, if there are many acceptable drafts).
- If you have a superstar and 5 shlubs, consider putting the star on deck and then back on top of your deck for the next game. Or if you have 2 future minor-league-legends, put one on deck and discard him at the end to cycle your deck a bit faster. In general (particularly when purchasing) cycling is good. Don’t put a solitary shlub on deck, you need to send someone down to the minors! (This is assuming you plan on making a single purchase. If you plan on making two, you’ll want two shlubs).
If you’ve got a few PHs you may can be liberal in ‘conceding’ a game or protecting a player. If you find yourself in a close game and want your on deck player back you chuck a PH and put him in. The loss for doing this is that if you hadn’t put your player on deck, you could use your PH for a random player.
Beyond this, what do I look at? If you have below average hits, you may throw a big hitter into the on deck circle, particularly if he’s zero revenue. This is because of the marginal utility discussion above. If you draw another hitter you can PH to above average hits. If you draw defense you may be able to hold off. If 4-5 hits won’t score a run dropping one hit on average to get a better fielder may let you escape into extra innings with 0-0. Similarly with too little defense, switch out some defense for more offense and bank on a high scoring game. Consider the marginal utility. A 3rd curveballer or 2nd spitballer is a reasonable on deck play …. there is diminishing marginal utility and what if your opponent drew few/no cards you can cancel? With a bad draw, try to be unbalanced and hope for the best. Sometimes you get lucky because your opponent is also subject to variance, and you are hoping that by reducing your mediocre offense they’ll waste their extra defense. You’ve already conceded the point. (You can also try to small ball and get a run or two without any hits, leadoff/stolen base/clutch).
When do I not put a player on deck? Rarely. The only example I’m positive it was right play was when I had $11 and Max Verlander (an $11 cost player) was a free agent. I could have put a $1 player on deck but I didn’t risk drawing a $0 non-PH player.
Tips for Playing the Minigame
- As the home team, expect the visiting manager to play a defensive card in the on deck circle (or curveball). Plan accordingly. The home teams Home Run batter should often go fifth or fourth.
- The visiting team can often risk keeping the last batter as a big hitter, since the home team will only have one card left. Of course it may still be a PH, but it often isn’t.
- Consider playing your best robot early, especially if your opponent knows you have a better one in your deck. Your opponent may sit on their curveballer. (Ditto other aspects).
- Don’t casually release your last PH unless it’s a crushing play or you were never intending to use your on deck player.
- All of the above points are bluff and counterbluffable … I know that he knows that I know. As a home team, you may keep your last player as a double play, and hope to just give up the hit but clear the runners out. If you have two players without hits, you may try playing all four of your hitters hoping to pressure your opponent into saving a card for the end.
- Sometimes you have to just try the top card and hope. Particularly in the last few cards. But see below.
- You only have to win by one run, but runs come fast.
- Don’t be afraid to slap down a 2-3 hit card early even if you don’t get to use the skill. (Obviously, the less useful the skill is, the more the advice applies). Early runners have plenty of opportunities to convert. Singles in the fifth inning, however, only get one more card.
- You know at least 1 card in your opponents hand — the free agent he just bought. Do you remember what it does? (Bonus question — Is it a PH?) Similarly, holding your free agent to your last card (especially as visitor) can let your opponent make guaranteed plays, particularly when he remembers that your free agent does not have PH. This is not theoretical. In my first tournament, I knew one card order guaranteed a victory and the other a draw, because I knew what my opponent’s final card was.
You go through your deck in (roughly) two games. I’m assuming that you always put a card in your on deck circle. When you are buying free agents it slows down a bit because each one you buy goes (effectively) from discard to on top.
If you aren’t buying free agents that means that if you didn’t see someone in game one, you are seeing them in game two. If your opponent fields mostly rookies + veterans in the first game, you’ll hitting all free agents in game two. And if you are down to one card on your deck you should be able to remember if you haven’t seen your stud yet or if you (I personally would not allow note taking in a tournament, to prevent tracking and to keep the game moving).
In general you want to discard your on deck card at the end of the game if it’s a base card (even a veteran) and keep it if it’s a free agent. If a game is decided you may PH to cycle bad cards off your deck (more base cards than upgrades) or to trigger a reshuffle if most of your shlubs are in this game, to keep them out of their deck for next game.
For the love of Pete (Rose) know the last card in your deck is. This can make your PH (or on deck decision) obvious. I lost a tournament on this point.
If you have less money, the decision to go first or second is yours. If your opponent has an obvious play you can’t block, you should probably let them go first, particularly if you have a nice middle range of money (say, 6-8, particularly on boards with a bunch of 5-7 cost guys and the one $9 guy your opponent will get). Maybe they’ll flip up another player. If you are tight on money, and there’s only one player (or combination) you really want, then go first, or risk getting blocked.
Going second may also let you react, remember that all players acquired will be put on top of the deck.
If you have $9 or more, you may be able to buy two players. This is a good idea. You’ll upgrade two rookies (or rookie + veteran). Sure the single $9 guy will be awesome, but you’ll still have a rookie and you’ll get two new players next game.
I happen to like (perhaps too much) natural hitters with gloves since the balance offense and defense. You can put your weakest hitting glove on deck (as visitor). You’ll still want a few other skills (diminishing marginal utility) but natural players also tend to have decent revenue and speed.
Avoid anti-combos, like slow players and stolen bases, or multple leadoff hitters. (Avoid leadoff hitters in general).
When chucking players consider marginal utility and not just your own. Dropping a cyborg (or two) can be surprisingly effective if your opponent has spitballers/quickeyes or even if they are on the board. If your opponent drafts them no harm, and you can draft them later. Even dropping a single cyborg means you’ll average one a game, and sometimes none, making all those skills useless. Swapping out naturals and robots can also be done. There are only so many curveballers/fastballers.
There are so many combinations I’m loathe to go into more specific advice
The Starting Teams in Detail
New Yorks’s Veterans:
- The “Double Play” — Na, $1, Single, Double Play
- The “Fastballer” — Cy, $1, Single, Fastball
- The “QuickEye” — Ro, $2, Double, Quick Eye, Slow, PH
- “YardBot” –Ro, $0, HR, PH
- “Triplebot” — Ro, $2, Triple
NY’s veterans have five hits for eleven bases, an offensive powerhouse. I initially thought this team was dominant, but …
- They are below average on speed (no fast player to compensate the slow players),
- They have an extra robot (more vulnerable to curveballers, already the best of the three pitching skills).
- Yardbot has one of the PHs and $0. That’s an anti-combo. If you are routing the other team you may pinch hit for him to up revenue, but usually he’s going to hit and that means $0.
- Mediocre skills. Fastball early on is worse than a glove (as you are probably cancelling a single, maybe a double). QuickEye should usually trigger, but slow means you’ll need another double to bring it home. DoublePlay can’t pick off fast players but is usually at least as good as a pickoff.
- “Mr. October” — Na, $0, Single, Clutch, PH.
- “Charly Hough” — Cy, $2, Knuckleballer, PH
- “Mr. Two Way” — Na, $1, Triple, Slow, Glove
- “YaahdBot” — Ro, $1, HR
- “Speedbot” — Ro, $2, D, Fast
Four hits for ten bases, but great skills make this my favorite team.
- Glove is great, and on a triple hitter slow isn’t much of a burden. You can’t steal home, and can get caught in a double play, but there’s only one guy on base. I like Glove + Hit guys, as noted above.
- Clutch is usually an extra hit. Having a PH on a $0 clutch guy means if he isn’t useful you can top deck.
- Speedbot can score after his hit on a single.
- Knuckleballer is weak early on, but great against RegularBot (S+S) in the opening series. And he’s PH, so if he’s not useful you can top deck.
Los Angeles’s Veterans
- “Meh” — Na, $1, None, Leadoff, PH
- “Curveball” — Cy, $2, none, curveball, PH
- “Hitbot” — Ro, $1, Single + Double
- “Boomboy” — Na, $1, HR
- “Theftbot” — Ro, $1, Single x2, Stolen Base
4 Hits for 7 bases, but a stolen base and leadoff is another single (bringing it up to 5H, 8 bases) that can PH. (All average speed). LA plays the small ball. In general I don’t like LA, although if you get your leadoff player as a visitor (you want one player with all offense for your first play) it’s fine.But you don’t control that. One nice thing is that there are no $0 people, which means you only have one in the deck. Variance may be nice, but this lets you PH a bit easier. My instinct is that LA is the weakest team, but in the variance noise.
San Franciso’s Veterans
- “Mr. September” — Na, $0, Single, Clutch
- “The Fastballer” — Cy, $2, none, Fastball, PH
- “Shoeful Joe” — Na, $2, Single, Glove
- “Cove Rover” — Ro, $0, HR, PH
- “Regular!Bot” — Ro, $2, S+S (Like RegularBot, but a crowd-pleaser)
Five hits for 8 bases, but clutch is often another hit. Again all average speed. High variance revenue lets you make drastic revenue adjustments if you focus on that instead of winning games. That’s a plus early on. Fastball gets steadily better, particularly against people like me who draft naturals with a hit + a glove. As mentioned before, I like clutch, but the PH could be on better people.