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Put Me In, Coach — BBH2045 Free Agent Scouting Report

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)

Franchise Players:

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).

The goods:

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.

The Mehs:

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.

Franchise Players:

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.

The Goods:

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.

The Mehs:

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

Franchise Players:

See Ya — $7/0, HR+HR, Slow. The reason you draft curveballers (and walks).

The Goods:

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)

The Mehs:

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.

Written by taogaming

April 26, 2015 at 4:52 pm

Posted in Strategy

Tagged with

Too many words about Baseball Highlights 2045

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

  1. “Pickoff Guy” — Cy, $2, none, Pickoff, PH.
  2. “Intentional Walk” — Cy, $1, none, Walk, PH.
  3. “Hitting Fielder” — Na, $0, S, Glove.
  4. “Whiffing Fielder” — Na, $1, none, Glove, PH
  5. “Crowd Pleaser” — Na, $2, S (2 Copies)
  6. “Regularbot” — Ro, $1, S + S, Slow (2 copies)
  7. “Slowbot” — Ro, $1, D
  8. “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)

transitioning to

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.

Offensive Skill

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. Don’t casually release your last PH unless it’s a crushing play or you were never intending to use your on deck player.
  5. 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.
  6. Sometimes you have to just try the top card and hope. Particularly in the last few cards. But see below.
  7. You only have to win by one run, but runs come fast.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

Deck Management

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.

Free Agency

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:

  1. The “Double Play” — Na, $1, Single, Double Play
  2. The “Fastballer” — Cy, $1, Single, Fastball
  3. The “QuickEye” — Ro, $2, Double, Quick Eye, Slow, PH
  4. “YardBot” –Ro, $0, HR, PH
  5. “Triplebot” — Ro, $2, Triple

NY’s veterans have five hits for eleven bases, an offensive powerhouse. I initially thought this team was dominant, but …

  1. They are below average on speed (no fast player to compensate the slow players),
  2. They have an extra robot (more vulnerable to curveballers, already the best of the three pitching skills).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Boston’s Veterans

  1. “Mr. October” — Na, $0, Single, Clutch, PH.
  2. “Charly Hough” — Cy, $2, Knuckleballer, PH
  3. “Mr. Two Way” — Na, $1, Triple, Slow, Glove
  4. “YaahdBot” — Ro, $1, HR
  5. “Speedbot” — Ro, $2, D, Fast

Four hits for ten bases, but great skills make this my favorite team.

  1. 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.
  2. Clutch is usually an extra hit. Having a PH on a $0 clutch guy means if he isn’t useful you can top deck.
  3. Speedbot can score after his hit on a single.
  4. 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

  1. “Meh” — Na, $1, None, Leadoff, PH
  2. “Curveball” — Cy, $2, none, curveball, PH
  3. “Hitbot” — Ro, $1, Single + Double
  4. “Boomboy” — Na, $1, HR
  5. “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

  1. “Mr. September” — Na, $0, Single, Clutch
  2. “The Fastballer” — Cy, $2, none, Fastball, PH
  3. “Shoeful Joe” — Na, $2, Single, Glove
  4. “Cove Rover” — Ro, $0, HR, PH
  5. “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.

Written by taogaming

April 21, 2015 at 8:24 pm

Posted in Specific Games, Strategy

Tagged with ,

The AI Researcher Who Crowdsourced Harry Potter Fans

(Authors Note — I wrote this yesterday, shopped it around a bit, and decided to post it here instead. The dates are the real dates of when I originally wrote this. Contains some not too surprising spoilers for a Harry Potter Fanfiction).

Writers of Fan Fiction come from all walks, united by their love of the underlying book, movie, game (or whatever). And Harry Potter has an immense following at www.fanfiction.net, with over who knows how many stories and hundreds of thousands chapters posted. Eliezer Yudkowsky writes one of the most popular, Harry Potter and the Methods or Rationality (or HPMOR). This story is explicitly a pedagogical device – a Rationalist tract to teach readers how to think better. (One of Yudkowsky’s other sites is “Less Wrong”) The sugar for this medicine go down is Harry Potter. Specifically, what if Harry Potter had been raised by a loving couple including a scientist, and blessed with a Richard Feynman like intelligence at a young age?

11 year old Harry James Potter – Evans – Verres lectures his friends (and Dumbledore!) about findings from cognitive science and regular science, including proper brainstorming technique, over-condfidence, and Bayesian thinking. Important psychological works like Cialdini’s classic book Influence or Asch’s Conformity Experiments are explained; numerous others are name checked.

It wouldn’t be popular without a great story. Harry fights bullies, leads an army in mock battles at school (replacing Quidditch), makes friends and enemies and conducts experiments on magic’s secrets. Harry pokes and prods, spells, sometimes with fantastic discoveries, sometimes to no avail. As the story progresses, he edges towards becoming a Dark Wizard himself. Harry jokes “World domination is such an ugly phrase. I prefer to call it world optimisation.” He’s a chaos magnet, polite but dangerous, a mile-a-minute mind in a world where almost anything is possible. He’s not infallible and not the Harry Potter you know; this is an 11 year old genius Muggles can’t handle. The Wizarding world has never seen his like.

Lectures mingle with the plot, all while finding time to make allusions, references and jokes about Rowling’s work and other classics. Harry is an 11 year old science geek; he knows all about Ender’s Game,  Batman, Army of Darkness, Star Wars and other comics, films, manga and books. He argues with Dumbledore via Tolkien references.

This peculiar Harry Potter fiction had been on hiatus after nearly 600,000 words when Yudkowsky announced (last year) that the final arc would be published between Valentine’s day and Pi Day (3/14). Fans rejoiced and online discussion blossomed again. For the last two weeks, chapters had been arriving every day or two.

February 28th, afternoon.

Then came Chapter 113, titled “Final Exam” posted on February 28th. This chapter is the hero’s low point, where things look bleakest. Harry is trapped by Voldemort and all the remaining Death Eaters, who have the drop on him. Voldemort (unlike the “canonical’ one from the books) won’t stupidly cast a spell he knows may backfire. This Voldemort agrees with Scott Evil (Doctor Evil’s nephew, played by Seth Green). No elaborate death traps and leaving the hero alone. Just shoot him. Voldemort has a gun (as well as a number of other lethal devices) because he’s worried about magical resonance.

So Chapter 113 ends … and the Author’s Challenge begins : the fans must devise Harry’s escape.

This is your final exam.

You have 60 hours.

Your solution must at least allow Harry to evade immediate death, despite being naked, holding only his wand, facing 36 Death Eaters plus the fully resurrected Lord Voldemort.

Any acceptable solution must follow a ridiculously long list of meticulous constraints: any movement, any spell leads to certain death. Nobody knows where Harry is (or that he was even missing). Harry could use any power he’d demonstrated (within those constraints) but couldn’t gain any new ones. There’s no Cavalry, No Deus ex Magica.  And ….

If a viable solution is posted before 12:01AM Pacific Time the story will continue to Ch. 121…..Otherwise you will get a shorter and sadder ending.

(Emphasis mine). A small section of the Internet exploded in disbelief.

Yudkowsky had done this before with a Science Fiction story called Three Worlds Collide. But this was on his old site with many fewer readers. I’d read the story well after he’d challenged his fans. Now he was working on a bigger scale. Final Exam was posted five years (to the day!) that Chapter 1 first appeared online. HPMOR has well over half a million page views. Readers faced having a story they’d invested weeks of reading (and sometimes years discussing) just end with the hero’s death. There seemed to be no solution. Voldemort, terrified and highly intelligent had planned this trap out in detail; Harry had blundered into it. (Being smart doesn’t magically give you all the critical information you may need, and Voldemort has decades of training and a few insights Harry lacked).

Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres had, in the preceding chapters, solved complex puzzles and all of them played fair (within the constraints of the world) and provided enough clues to satisfy the strictest mystery writer. But this seemed impossible. Fans despaired. I concocted a solution requiring a Patronus, the Cloak of Invisibility, a time turner, the Sorting Hat and still required negligence on Voldemort’s part that would make SPECTRE rip up your bond villain card. Other solutions were not arguably better.

Complex problems are Yudkowsky’s day job, a Research Fellow at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute. He spends his time (when not writing about Hogwarts) dealing with thorny problems related to Artificial Intelligence – its benefits and risks. The big risk, basis for countless fiction from Frankenstein to Terminator, is “Can we control our creation?” Yudkowsky’s research aims to create guidelines for a Friendly Artificial Intelligence, a machine we can trust to guide humanity into a new Golden Age, and avoiding “Unfriendly A.I.”

Other researchers (See update at end) suggest we isolate A.I. from the internet (and machinery) to keep us safe. We’d keep the A.I. “In a box.” Yudkowsky contends that Artificial Intelligence worthy of the name will be so advanced it will simply talk its way out of the box (assuming it couldn’t hack its way out). To further this argument, Yudkowsky developed “The AI Box experiment” where one player takes the role of the AI and tries to convince his opponent (the “Gatekeeper”) that it is safe to release him. He’s done this several times, and published protocols for this thought experiment.

Yudkowsky has taken the role of the AI in those prior games. After all, He’s the expert and trying to prove the point. If he can convince you to let an unknown quantity run free; what problem would an AI have. You’d probably think it’s your idea all along. Yudkowsky does this in order to draw attention to the dangers of unfriendly AI development. Once the AI gets out, nobody will be able to put it back. And if the AI is unfriendly, that’s Extinction. Game over.

(For a much more detailed introduction to this line of thought, I recommend the Wait but Why articles The Road to SuperIntelligence, and Our Immortality or Extinction.)

March 1st, AM.

Some readers (most on the discussion group I follow) knew this; but this was fan fiction, not a serious research effort. Harry Potter, not HAL and Dave. Less than 24 hours after the challenge had been issued, some discussion groups proposed the thesisThe entire story had built up to renact the AI in a BOX thought experiment with Eliezer playing Gatekeeper against his entire fanbase.

The argument seems compelling.

  • Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres is a super-intelligent, rational being, capable of discovering the inner workings of magic (well beyond what Harry did in the Rowling’s series, even though the entire series of HPMOR takes place in his first year at Hogwarts).
  • He was acquiring power at an alarming rate.
  • He was now trapped with Voldemort himself ready to pull the plug.

Worse still, Voldemort knows that Harry Potter is not friendly. You would think this goes without saying, but Voldemort is not simply afraid for himself but for all wizardkind. (There’s a prophecy, and it’s a long, complicated story). Acting out of a fear of an extinction level event, Voldemort has done everything in his considerable power to catch and neutralize Harry Potter. And done it well. Harry can’t cast spells without permission. He can’t speak to anyone but Voldemort, who is about to pull the trigger. He’s even forced Harry to speak only the truth (via magic) and answer questions like “Have you thought of a plan to defeat me yet?” so he’ll know how long he can delay.

The only thing Harry can do is talk to Voldemort.

Your strength as a rationalist is your ability to be more confused by fiction than by reality — HJPEV

All the constraints were, proponents argued, a clue. In an earlier chapter HJPEV explains that a rationalist avoids needless complexity. And all the solutions proposed were fairly insane. Harry’s internal dialogue mentally “assigns penalties” to complex explanations. You can chart orbits with the Earth in the Center of the Solar System, but its much easier if you put the Sun at the center. The proponents for the box theory argued that fans couldn’t find a solution because they had put the earth in the center of the solar system. The fanbase was trying to write a Hollywood ending where Harry wins, the argument went. But in the real world people talk out their differences all the time. And people who are in a bad situation have to accept it. (That was an explicit lesson that Harry even learned in Defense class early in the story).

So, in this reading (which I consider more likely) Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is no less than a five year buildup to Eliezer Yudkowsky taking the other side of the Box Challenge – the side played by the less intelligent person. Yudkowsky appears to have engineered a situation where a small but dedicated portion of the humanity simulates his AI for him in the Potter-verse. He’s spent years explaining how to calmly tackle a seemingly impossible problem, list assets, evaluate what they know and discern truth from fiction. He’s unquestionably provided ample motivation. With the deadline approximately 36 hours away, chat rooms are alive with proposals, debates, strategems, tactics, and detailed analysis of any and all relevant documents available on the internet. Arguments are weighed, flaws discovered and discarded and useful nuggets saved and added to a master list.

You know, like an AI might do.

Can the combined super-intelligence talk their creator out of killing their story, with the odds stacked against them? As day turns to evening on March 1st, some discussion groups aren’t interested in what Harry has, they are listing what he knows about Voldemort’s beliefs; what information he can volunteer that would stay Voldemort’s hand. Others are discussing Eliezier Yudkowsky’s beliefs and knowledge, adding another level of meta to the analysis. In the story, Voldemort himself knows (via magic) that Harry Potter cannot lie. What appeared to be a horribly binding constraint is suddenly a fantastic advantage. Could we trust whatever an advanced being with unknown (or malevolent) motives told us?

Watching the discussion forums with a bit over a day to go, I believe this is the broad stroke solution (with lots of in universe details to be worked out), although I’m irrationally attached to my earlier, needlessly complex answer. I believe this is the author’s intent. It’s elegant. In the universe, Harry Potter will (I suspect) exchange some information about Prophecies and then deduce an alternate (correct) interpretation where it is to everyone’s advantage to keep him alive. To let him out of the box.

In the real world, Yudkowsky gets another argument in his favor. “A few hundred or thousand people could do this to me. An AI could do this to you, easily.” I suspect the answer has already been posted, but I haven’t checked. The submissions page for the final exam already has three hundred thousand words. In less than 36 hours. The author has asked for help summarizing the solutions.

How does magic work in Harry Potter’s world? His experiments are still ongoing. Out here, in the real world, Teller (of Penn and Teller) wrote that “You will be fooled by a trick if it involves more time, money and practice than you (or any other sane onlooker) would be willing to invest.” In our world, Eliezer Yudkowsky spent five years appearing to be writing a story, and just recently the wool has fallen from my eyes.

Footnote #1 — A reader pointed out I did not cite this. I realize that I did not know who proposed this. Some quick googling doesn’t reveal this either. It may be discussed in this Armstrong, Sandberg, Bostrom paper, but I have not bought it. Bostrom’s name is all over the stuff I’ve read, so he probably knows. I’ll try again tomorrow.

Update — March 2nd, 5pm

The deadline is 8 hours away, and Yudkowsky is overwhelmed by the response and requesting help. I have decided to post this now, because I am reasonably confident of the solution, so I am making an advanced prediction. I am less confident of the exact solution, but I do believe that it will involve Aumann’s agreement theorem. My answer certainly will.

I suspect the internet will get a viable solution. However, will the solution make a good story? I’m not sure.

Update 9:30pm (< 5 hours left). I posted my solution to FF.net hours ago. I have no idea how to link to it (since I can’t find it) and I left out a key step hours in any case (oops). But I have posted my actual solution (heavily abbreviated) on reddit in case someone else wants to post it, and as a prediction of the correct answer. I may revise this as errors are noted and I correct them (and add more links), but will put new information in a new post.

Followup post March 3rd — I was wrong.

Written by taogaming

March 2, 2015 at 3:30 pm

Too many words about — Acquire

I’ve been on a mini-Acquire kick, and thankfully the local gaming group is happy to indulge me, so I’ve been revisiting this classic. Acquire should be taught in schools. It’s a classic game design that I put on par with Backgammon: it appears to be all luck but the skill just shines through more and more. As I’ve played the last few games I find myself thinking about things that I’ve never seen in writing. Then again, when it comes to Acquire strategy little is written (at least online) beyond basic strategy.  So, as always, my random thoughts about Acquire in non-condensed format.

As Acquire has a few rulesets with subtle differences, some clarifications — when a merger happens, the merging player decides first, and then it goes around the table. No three-way mergers (the new rules allow this). I use the classic names … Imperial and Continental are the expensive companies, Tower and Luxor are the cheap companies, with Worldwide, Festival and American rounding out the middle. (What can I say, I appreciate the classics. One of my few upgrades has been finding a copy of Acquire with wooden tiles.) This article doesn’t include any variants, either.

What you already know (because you are reading this here)

  • Running out of money (for more than a turn or so) is the kiss of death.
  • Better to fight for a few stocks than evenly invest in everything. Majority and Minority payouts are Acquire’s “Bombs”
  • Even if you can’t remember the exact distribution of stocks (I rarely bother) you should know the distribution of stocks you are invested in.

The Early Game

Like many games, Acquire has an early game, midgame, and endgame. (Like most good games, Acquire has a long and complex mid-game. Early game and endgames are usually cut and dried, and can be played well with a few heuristics). In the early game, a company could be founded on almost any turn. In the end game, no more companies can be founded.

In the early game, the basic rule — Always found a company if you can. Free Stock is great. And if one player forms a disproportionate share of companies, that player has a huge edge. (Rolling well is good strategy in backgammon, too. You heard it here).  It may very well be possible to come up with an early game situation where starting a company is wrong, but thinking about the exercise proves the rule. (The midgame is another story).

The real (and often debated) question — Which tier of company do you start?

What is missing from most of the other articles is any sense of board reading. Acquire’s board is so simple and elegant that people don’t discuss it. But that would be like analyzing Risk without mentioning Australia. Now, if it’s the first turn of the game you have little to go on, but little isn’t “nothing.”

  1. How close are you to the seeded tiles on the board? (They will all likely be companies in a round or two)
  2. How close are you to the center of the board?
  3. How many tiles do you have near the company you start?

Taken together, these should give you a good idea of the tempo your company is going to have, and if you’ll control that tempo or not. A central company near to a few loose tiles where you have lots of central tiles has great tempo. You’ll be in a position to have that company absorbed … and quickly. In that case, you hope to have a payout soon, and you’d want an expensive company. On the other hand, if you are in a corner/far away from other companies/have no nearby tiles you expect a slow tempo. Your money will be locked up a long time, potentially the entire game. Buy cheap.

You buy cheap for two reasons. The obvious one is that you don’t want to lock up your money. But the other reason is that the cheaper companies have a better Return On Investment if they never get bought. Suppose you could magically convert (at no time) $2,000 into a company as it founds. If you do that for Tower, you have 10 shares. At the end of the game, it’s safe at ~25, so it’s now $800/share, so you make $16,000 (assuming you win majority). If you get a similar ROI on the other $4k you start with, you’ll wind up with $48k, a respectable score (whether it wins depends on the games tempo).

Let’s do the same, but with Imperial. Now you only get 5 shares ($400 each). At the end of the game, the company is safe at ~25. The company is $1,000 share, so you make $10,000 … and that’s still assuming you won majority shareholder bonus. (Unlikely, unless you invested further into it). You are already $6k behind the Tower investor.

Each investor gets a free share, but in the endgame that only matters to the tune of $200. ($800 vs $1000/share). In the long run, negligible. But in the short run….

Look at a company that’s going to plop in the middle of the board and get bought out quickly. You get a free share, buy six and then get bought. For Tower you spend $1200 and get $2000. For Imperial you spend $2400 and get $4000. The same rate of return. But now when the company forms again, the Imperial investor is way ahead (assuming you keep the stock), because your “free” stock is now worth twice as much. Even if the second founding of the stock winds up growing into a safe company, you still get more from the double dip.

Now, what if you are wrong? You found Imperial, buy up your 6 shares and suddenly Imperial has gobbled up a chain and is well on the way to safety. Well, you aren’t in a great position. You bet heavily … and lost.  Too much illiquid money. But in Acquire you only control a fraction of the board play, and the best you can do is estimate the tempo by looking at what you can see. You can’t see that the next player is going to form another company and control the merge temp. You rarely have all the tiles necessary to guarantee or block a merge.

The midtier is less committal.  This says you aren’t sure about a company.

(If players read this and believe it, you can estimate what a player believes by how expensive his company is).

Incidentally, buying a double batch (6 shares) of an expensive company is borderline extreme (with fewer players) unless there’s really no other company worth fighting over. Players should be fighting for minority positions as well as majority.

(Sidebar — You have some implicit collusion. The rest of the players should (if good) keep people honest. A company that is about to get bought out will have a minority shareholder and a stock fight (possibly for majority, or minority). Someone with 13 shares of a company shouldn’t be able to see it bought, restarted, lathered, rinse and repeated unless they have a perfect storm of tiles. They trick to benefit from this (more of a guideline) is to make sure that it’s not “you win, everyone else doesn’t” for a merger. Usually the minority shareholder is happy (or maybe they just miscounted). But this is more of a midgame point…)

When you can’t found a company in the opening

For the opening, especially if you don’t have a lot of control, be happy with multiple minority stakes. Taking a huge position in a company is asking to watch it grow fat but keep all if it’s money in the bank while someone else merges, then uses their assets to take the majority away from you. You don’t want to have a few shares in every company, but minority in multiple companies can beat a rock solid (7-3 lead) in two.

On the turns you can’t found (whether you’ve founded or not), don’t just play tiles randomly. You want to place a tile somewhere you’d be happy to see a company start (near yours, particularly if you control a merging tile). You don’t want to play a loose tile near a company you have no stake in. However, growing a company you have no stake in (especially an expensive one) works well. And don’t give up potential merging tiles recently.

If you have a pair, you can play one and hope to start it next turn. However, consider if both tiles have the same number of neighbors (that you don’t control) and what would happen if someone founds the company before it gets to you.

Barring any of that play a tile away from everyone else, preferably in a corner. If your company is fresh, you may want to put an isolated tile near it (to make a potential chain). Or make a company near yours a bit bigger, ideally reaching it toward you. (You may still wind up absorbing them, but then other people had to grow your company for you).

Tempo and heading for the middle game

Unless your game starts with a barrage of mergers, you have to worry about the position.

If the game seems like it will be particularly slow, consider conserving cash, especially if the game is fluid or you aren’t threatened (and can’t threaten) right now. You may be able to snipe later if others spread to thin. Don’t be overly invested in a company unless you are sure it’s folding (or maybe if it will guarantee you majority at the end game for a not too expensive price). Holding up money means admitting you aren’t sure what’s going to happen, and hoping that you’ll have better information next round. But again, tempo. If you are going to be flush next round then you may as well invest now.

The standard rule for “which company to compete in” is your right hand opponent. There’s a natural logic to this. Often, it will be a new company and three shares gets you minority stakeholder and (somewhat) discourages anyone else. If it’s the only choice, by all means. But there’s a logic to fighting the player on your left, too (if nobody else has). Consider a two player fight. They have four, you buy three. They buy 3 more. You buy one (say) to prevent anyone from contesting minority. At no point would any merger have seen you win. So that doesn’t matter.

Suppose your company absorbs another one. And now suddenly there’s a stock fight for this presumed safe company. There aren’t infinite shares, and situations arise where everyone wants to grab into this company. Maybe it’s a good deal (trading two Tower for a size 6 Imperial). Now you trade into your minority position first, which may deplete the stock and let you tie/win. And if not, you buy first. If the merger happens by anyone but the majority shareholder, you get two chances to snipe the last available stock for the tie/win. Obviously this matters more when the stock is close to running out.

Now if your company is absorbed, you tend to want to follow the other player. If he trades or sells, you can keep the now majority position and hope to re-open it. You don’t want to commit first. But if you are the one merging, you are always committing first, and the left/right doesn’t matter. So, overall, the left-right coupling of the game is important and should be a consideration, but it’s not nearly as cut and dried as other articles imply.

The end game

( I skipped the middle game. You have to know where you are heading).

In the end game, many early-game rules are reversed if everyone is flush with cash. In that case quickly kill any small companies you don’t have a winning position in, so that the shareholders get the smallest payout. But if you own the companies, grow them. The most extreme example I’ve seen of this is (simplifying to a linear board) and assuming that all American Stock is gone.

WW.FF.American(safe)

If you don’t have any worldwide or festival, want to merge Festival into American and then Worldwide into American. You definitely don’t want to worldwide and festival to merge. Look at what gets paid out.

If each merges into American, your opponents get $6000 in bonuses ($2k + $1k, twice) plus $300/share. But if Worldwide folds into festival (or vice versa), you have $3k + $9k in bonuses, and the big company will sell at $600/share. That’s a lot more money to your opponents.  If Worldwide and Festival can grow (on the Y-axis), then killing them is even more important.

Of course, that assumes that there’s no fight for American. In that case, you may want to give up the bonuses. Why, because Any shares to convert Worldwide–>Festival–>American convert at 4-1. In that case you may very well want to toss off a bit of extra cash to your opponents to keep them from being able to convert everything to American.

In the real world, positions shade grey; you have to determine what is important. But the idea remains. In the endgame, merge what you hate to get it off the board ASAP, unless it provides much needed liquidity to opponents. The ideal situation is to have a company you don’t care cornered and control the merge tile. It can’t grow (or, if it’s 6, you don’t care) and you keep your opponents from gaining cash or converting the shares into a company you are fighting over, until the fight is won.

The Last Share

Toward the endgame, the last available share becomes important. Even if you don’t know exactly who has how many of what, start counting the available stock. Aim for the last share. Sometimes you can squeeze someone (particularly your left hand opponent) by threatening to get near them. For example, if your LHO has 10 shares of a safe Tower and you have 6, buying even a single share represents a major threat, particularly if you have 6 shares in a company that may fold into it. Because you convert first (unless they merge), you can trade for 3 (up to 10) and then buy three (up to 13). But even without that people may buy some shares, and then you can tie with the last share. Particularly if your LHO is viewed as more of a threat, your opponents may do this rationally. Often it comes about when they’ve lost count.

If you know that everyone would trade 2:1 (because it’s profitable) you can predict when the company will be out of stock well if you know the distribution of the absorbed company; that can influence your decision. If you think the next player will merge and there’s just enough shares (of the survivor) for you to trade, buy something other than the survivor (if that helps you, if not you may buy the shares hoping that the next player few players can’t merge and you get a double dip). And again, if you control the merger, you may be able to squeeze out by buying shares and then merging them at a time when you know you’ll get to trade and the (former) majority shareholder won’t. So, watch the dwindling stock pool carefully.

Finally, the mid game

Given how many caveats I’ve said about the opening and endgame, you shouldn’t be surprised that I have little to say about the midgame. There are some tricks and tips, some general advice, but each game you have to weigh things. Still, there are things to note.

The first company bought out usually reforms, often because it’s the only available company or sometimes because the people with shares will try and reform it. People have a healthy fear of starting up a company that others will benefit from, but usually I see people not start the company, and then sigh when the next player (or two) starts it. If possible, you should start it in a place where it will be isolated for a while (if possible), or where you can keep it from merging. Just as in any bureaucracy, delay is the strongest form of denial. If you can control the tempo, by all means do so.

After a merger, the complex decision is often how much stock to trade/sell and keep. The closer you are to the end game (and the more companies available to be founded) dictate how risky it is to keep. If this is the first merger and there are plenty of potential start up spots, you can often get by with keeping it all. Trading 2-1, even if you lose value, will often give you tempo for a company that could easily be permanent. Selling often occurs towards the late endgame, or if you need the cash, or if the company was fairly big (5-10), as the next company will not often grow quite so big as the board gets more crowded. The exact decision depends on the position, but if you aren’t sure, consider how well you are doing. If you handily win, trading most of your stock may lock in gains. If you are losing, may as well swing for the fences and hold.

The player with significant stock who trades in last is in a good position. (Which does give a small benefit if you are fighting your right hand opponent for the stock). Note that if a company is owned by two people in a row, it could easily by merged by the first opponent then reformed by the second. (Possibly swapping primary/secondary in the process, but both opponents are probably doing quite well versus the field, and there should be a concerted effort to freeze them out).

And if you aren’t sure if the bought company is going to reform, consider what the next player to place a tile did with his stock. If he kept everything, particularly if it looks risky, odds are it’s starting again with the next tile.

Miscellany

Look for forking plays on an opponent. If one player is pressing one of their positions, press them on a different stock.

Just because you get little or nothing for a merger doesn’t automatically make it bad. Particularly if the merge forces the leader to commit to a trade/keep/sell position earlier. Also, putting a 2nd (3rd) stock back in the available pool may make the people who held onto the early target nervous. But, unless its very close to the endgame, not merging is probably a bad play.

If you have nothing in the available companies, consider growing companies into adjacent (unformed) blocks, such as

AA.X

If you play at the ‘.’, then you’ve kept something from forming next to American. Sure, you’ve also made American bigger, but presumably you’ve kept some tempo. (The position past the X matters a lot, but lets assume it was an edge).

Thoughts on player count — I almost always try to play with four. With more, you will have less control, and you’ll likely need more stock to guarantee winning a company. Unlike 18xx, money is not fixed. More players, more capital, less control. What would be ludicrous with 3-4 (buying 8+ shares in a single company early on) seems reasonable. If it hits, you’ve got a vast windfall, and it wasn’t like you could compete for many companies anyway.

Being the 3rd person to buy into a company isn’t ideal, but it can work out surprisingly well. Tying for second with three shares may spur both of the others to overinvest. (The founder buys again, then the minority holder, and the founder may buy another batch, just to be safe). In a slow game if you hit your other company first you can swoop in later. Having a position may let you trade 2:1 either into or out of that company. And after a merger (particularly if you go last) you may find you are suddenly the primary or secondary stakeholder as others dump. You may get similar results by buying two shares or a single share. However, often I buy a single share just to deny someone from getting both 1st and 2nd. Particularly early on, an isolated/expensive company looks safe, but you take out insurance. And then someone buys two shares to “take out your second place,” which then drives the primary holder to buy a few more shares.

The converse: don’t be afraid of taking second place, especially in a company that you didn’t have much hope for. Take half a loaf. If people want to outbid you for a dire company, let them. Just as in poker, you can defend your blinds with a bit less than normal, but don’t defend them with any garbage.

Conclusion

Beyond the basics, Acquire comes down to tempo, board reading, counting (unless you play with open holdings, but even then the last available stock matters), and risk. I feel that Acquire has more positional play than many modern classics. Much like Go, an Acquire position has an Aji (taste). The thing about taste (as opposed to sight) is that it lingers. Playing a tile over here versus over there has a profound influence, one that’s difficult to explain. I’ve barely scratched the surface; it’s difficult to define and I don’t know if I have enough experience to speak to it. I find myself having deleted a few hundred words because they meandered. I’ve said all I know how to put into words.

I stare at a simple grid board and my six tiles — none form a company, none merge companies — and I find the decision fascinating and subtle.

Written by taogaming

August 9, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Posted in Specific Games, Strategy

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Jeremy Silman plays Nations

I played my 6th game of Nations last night, and in the ensuing discussion I wound up thinking about Jeremy Silman. Back when I played Chess (semi-exclusively), his book “How to Reassess your Chess” did very well, mainly because it rhymed. But also because he presented things clearly to amateur players. The most interesting idea was on exploiting imbalances.

Nations is a game of exploiting imbalances.

You can have lots of coal, or coins, or wheat. You can have little. You can have great production, or not. Military: Big or Small? Earn VP during the game or via buildings/wonders? Etc. You can’t beat everyone everywhere; you must choose your imbalances.

If you have great coins, that means you can afford the high-ticket items, so you can afford to take a few turns to get architects (for example) and pay a premium for better stuff. Or you can buy the cheap stuff, then snag a few expensive things later on. If you are coin-poor, you need to get the most important thing. If you have lots of coal, you can move people around to optimal places. You can also presumably afford to move to a high military for a turn, planning on abandoning it if necessary. (A coal poor person would be forced to keep it, since he couldn’t afford to move the workers around). A small military person may have to recognize that and boost stability (or preemptively buy a war) to avoid losing to much.

There are lots of specifics (and I’m vaguely tempted to write a few thousand words about them, but perhaps later). But the basic ideas are simple, and apply to many games:

  1. Be Flexible. If you put yourself in a position where you need to grab some card, you can be screwed.
  2. If you are going to be losing one type of fight (and you are), then make sure that isn’t a critical fight for you. If you are going to lose a war, by god, lose it. No point fighting for 6 grain on a crappy building if you need 7. Take the hit and boost your books and VP to compensate.
  3. If everyone is fighting for resource X, then there is some resource Y they are ignoring. If you corner the market in it, they’ll all fell the pinch.
  4. Having a ton of resources and few gained VP by the middle game is often just fine.

 

Written by taogaming

March 25, 2014 at 7:35 pm

Posted in Strategy, Thoughts about Thinking

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Eclipse Aliens Gone Wild

I’ve now played Eclipse 25 times … I played a few teaching games in the last month.

So, a few words about the various Aliens, rated on the Fudge Scale for both Fun and Viability (chance of winning).

Human ( Fair / Fair ) — As the default race, I’m calibrating the ratings to humans. Humans can easily defeat aliens, in particular starbases and 3 movement are not to be sneezed at. The 2:1 trade ratio does allow some aggression, but mainly benefits you when things go bad … which isn’t a great way to win.

Planta (Mediocre / Mediocre) — The Planta’s fungal expansion is a one trick pony. You can do well, especially in a passive environment. But people quickly learn to pound the Planta. Their ship design (lack of initiative, mainly) is crippling. I must admit, though, that I haven’t played them in a 6+ player game recently (since the expansion showed up). In this case, the large number of tiles may help, but the warp tiles probably keep them from being as isolated as they like.

Draco (Fair / Good) — Draco’s early expansion (& Co-existance with ancients) lets them take prime spots, at the cost of early discovery tiles and VPs earned from pounding out on aliens.  (This may be mitigated in the expansion, as they can’t coexist with Alien Cruisers). The Draco can safely explore Sector I and claim it on turn one, then another on turn two, for a nice steady growth. This can force neighbors to explore Sector I/II, lest they get cut off. (Avoiding Sector III isn’t a great strategy, but it does mean if you get poor Sector III tiles early you can still colonize a great system).

Orion (Good / Good) — Let’s admit it, combat is fun. The Orions can snowball. One upgrade (such as Improved Hull) and they can stomp Aliens out of the gate, and their ship design is impressive. To be sure, the Alien Dreadnought from the expansion keeps them from threatening the Galactic Center as early, but they are a force to be reckoned with.

Hydran (Good / Fair) — My latest game had the Hydran’s get the sector III tile with a double pink world (one improved). Drawing that is a good strategy. The expansion (with the rare technologies) helps Hydran’s out immensely, as it’s practically impossible to shut them out of finishing a track. And, with some decent early world draws, finishing two or three becomes possible. Without the expansion, I think they are Poor, but I’m not sure. Having lots of cool technologies to research makes (IMO) the Hydran’s fun, because they get to decide which route to follow.

Mechanema (? / ?) — Honestly I’ve only played them once and I don’t have strong feelings about them yet.

Epsilon Eridani (Mediocre – Great / Mediocre) — EE’s rating depends on your point of view. You’ll (effectively) get 1-2 less actions per turn (because of your two disc shortage). That’s a tough disadvantage … warchest or not. But it’s a hell of a challenge. Winning with EE against experienced players requires pressing every advantage and a bit of luck, which IMO makes them a fun race.

The Expansion Races

Magellen (Superb / Great) — My most controversial claim is that the Magellan race(s) are the best across a wide range of setups. They can’t go toe to toe with the combat races, but they’ve got many advantages. Most subtly, their starting technology provides a useful turn 1 upgrade that helps them tactically bankrupt and will almost never need to be undone. Their extra mileage out of discovery tiles (and a free tile) work wonders. On the fun side, they aren’t locked into any one strategy and (more so than most races) roll with what they get.  Flexibility means they are more likely to pleasantly surprise you that most races.

The Exiles (Good / Poor) — I like playing the exiles, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out how to win with them. Orbitals are, for the most part, a trap. And they are a trap the Exiles are forced into. I suspect the best way to use them is just go for an interceptor heavy fleet and take advantage of your other technology, the cloaking device.

The Rho-Indri (Fair* / Great) — As I mentioned, combat is fun. The R-I have great ships, and a massive fleet movement. Their Fair fun rating is actually wildly variable. More so than the Orions, their early snowball determines if you run rampant and get lots to do, or just crawl along. That’s true of every race, to be sure (an early disaster is a challenge) but when your combat victory not only determines your early VPs and fleet strength but Economy, that may be too many eggs in one basket. When they lose, the syndicate is often dead last, and not just by a bit. But they win a large percentage of games.

The Lyrans (Poor / Fair) — I don’t enjoy their turtling, but I’ve seen it work. The Lyrans get a wide variety of special powers from their shrines, from wormhole generators to an extra disc. But they are (IMO) a reactive race, painting a pleasant target and challenge others to come get them. I suppose they could be viewed as a challenge, like Epsilon Eridani. But I don’t enjoy them.

Written by taogaming

February 16, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Posted in Specific Games, Strategy

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The Gravity of Coup

Coup’s depth surprises me. Like Poker, there’s bluffing in Coup; but there’s also a surprising amount of positional play. You can get by with poor ‘people-reading’ skills if you bluff (and challenge) at the right time.

Even great reading won’t win you every game, just more than your fair share. Coup reminds me of a gravitational problem … possible to solve when there are two bodies in space, but no closed-form solution with three or more. In the early game, with lots of players, you can’t calculate where things will wind up. Your goal in the early game is to make sure you don’t get sucked into a deadly position and crash. But if you skirt close to disaster, that gives you momentum.

I’ve tortured this metaphor long enough, so let’s start with the endgame.  First, a note. Many game groups have different culture of what’s acceptable. For this, I’m assuming a fairly neutral culture … you win or lose this game. No grudges between games, although players are free to make close decisions based on how they view the skill of the other players (or who won recently as a tiebreaker). If you play Coup as a popularity contest, that’s fine but then nothing I write matters.

Endgame

Endgames in Coup usually devolve into a lock. Without character powers, one player will win the race to 7 money and coup his opponent out of the game. (Assuming each player has one influence left). Characters complicate things, but some characters dominate another. The important thing to realize is that if you claim a character that locks your opponent, he may as well call and hope you are bluffing.

For example, with a Contessa and no money if your opponent claims Duke and gets three coins, you are boned. He’ll get to 7 money before you can even pretend to have an assassin … even if you assassinated he’d be forced to call your bluff. You may as well call the Duke claim. You’ve probably lost.

Let’s look at the endgame matchups —

  • Mirror matchups are straight races, of course.
  • Captain is a great ender. Captain beats Contessa (unless she can coup) and Assassin (unless he can assassinate). Captain often beats Duke, but it depends on the exact money situation. Only the Ambassador fares well; it’s a straight money race with Captain often losing a critical tempo.
  • Duke will usually win the money race against a (non-Captain), as he can tax and block foreign aid. The assassin has some hope, since he only needs three.
  • Assassin fares poorly against Contessa as he wastes a turn (and 3 bucks) trying to assassinate and she wins the money race.
  • Other situations are straight money races.
  • Ambassador fares poorly, but of course the ambassador can sacrifice a tempo and hope to switch into a lock. This is reasonable … if you know your opponent’s character. Still, the tempo is tough to overcome.

As you can see, there are good and bad matchups for every character. Contessa and Ambassador do poorly, but each have one decent (non-mirror) matchup. Captain and Duke do well. Assassin, more than most, depends on the exact money situation.

As stated before, if you get a lock you’ll probably be challenged. But, if your opponent thinks they are winning the endgame, they typically won’t call a bluff. Why risk it? Let’s take a contrived example.

You have an Assassin versus your opponents (strongly suspected) Captain and both players have two dollars. All Dukes are (obviously) dead. Despite your good looking position, things are grim. If you claim foreign aid (or income), he’s going to captain you — he’s losing the money race on foreign aid and taking your money locks the game. If you claim to be immune, he’s lost the money race … he may as well call. Your hands are tied because his situation dictates that he call any bluff and/or steal your money to swing the race. The fact that you are well ahead in the money race (needing only one coin) isn’t helping you.

But suppose you captain him first. He’s going to claim immunity (if he is the captain). Now he wins if you challenge him. If you don’t, he wins the money race (in his mind). So this bluff is likely to get through. Now he takes foreign aid (4), you take foreign aid (4), he takes foreign aid (6) and then you assassinate him to win. You had to bluff to win, but your bluff had to be before things looked hopeless.

The tricky part is if he isn’t the Captain he’ll think he’s in a lock and challenge out of desperation. So this play depends on a good read.

A real ending depends on the actual matchup of characters and money lineup. A two-to-one character advantage is almost always decisive (unless the one character player is about to coup …). For the most part by this point both players should have a fair amount of information.

Stable vs Dynamic / Hill vs Bowl

Backing up to three (plus) characters, your goal is to transition to a winning endgame, a “stable” lock. But the situation is dynamic. You just can’t defend against 2 (or more) people, it’s “dynamic.” But you can put someone in a position where killing (etc) you leads to a stable situation that works against them. In those situations, people tend not to kill you (assuming they look ahead).

Consider four players (without roles), each with two influence and 7 coins. If A coups D, B could finish D, but then C could hit A or B and have a relatively strong position.  Any player could be out if they “pass” a turn by taking an income. If A coups B, who then retaliates … C could coup D and vice versa … but C could also now stall and wait for D’s shot, couping later.

Who is winning? It’s not clear that player order matters. At this point (on a ‘loaded’ table) a player with an Assassin has an advantage since they can kill and kill again (barring a Contessa) while a coup requires a significant reload.  The point is that the when the coups start the situation is a ball on a hill. You nudge it, it rolls and it could wind up anywhere. It won’t be a stable situation when it’s done.

Three players in the same situation is a bowl. There are really just two resolutions … one player out, two unharmed OR three players with one influence each. If you are the first player, you have a decided advantage … you can’t pick which situation occurs, but you can be sure to be playing when the smoke clears. (If you coup B, then B coups you, C will be decisively ahead if he finishes you off…. so if you are out, someone has made a mistake).

Sometimes when the ball is on a hill you nudge it and hope, but in a bowl you should be able to see the outcomes and push only when it’s favorable. (Roles will complicate this, but you get the idea).

Timing, Influence and “Sub-optimal” play

Let’s continue with the middle game.

You can’t defend against a coup. If you are perceived as winning, you  get hit. But if someone else is “winning” they’ll get couped most of the time. How to change perception? Well, have less money/influence. If you have a few coins and someone else has 7, the player with seven is dangerous. In fact, I’ve seen a player get their seventh coin and not survive to get another turn (via a coup + assassination).

[This goes back to hills and bowls. Often you can spot when the game is about to enter one of those, and by arranging your money you may be able to put things where you get to time the first push … either by making a decisive first push, or delaying an indecisive nudge.]

Consider — you are ‘winning’ It’s Anne’s turn, but Barry goes next and can coup. No matter what Anne does, you can reasonably challenge Anne’s claim. If you are correct, you’ve hurt another player … but if you are wrong Barry’s coup is likely redirected and you’ve gained some information (to be sure, the table gains it with you). In that case you are still down to one influence, but someone else lost one as well. Likely you are no worse off for challenging and being wrong.

Alternately, you could Assassinate someone the turn before Anne. If you get called, you weaken your position. If you get a Contessa claim you can call or not, but spending your money may be enough to move the target to someone else’s back. If you succeed, you’ve stripped out an enemy influence and also planted a false belief. Just as in poker, the best bluffs are followed by a raise and pretend to the have the same cards consistently.

You can also slow your rise to the top of the hill by taking a single coin instead of foreign aid (or extortion or taxes). Or taking a turn to Captain someone you expect will claim immunity. More boldly, consider assassinating someone, hoping to get a Contessa call (which you will graciously accede to). That drains some money out.

If it gives people the wrong read on your cards, so much the better.

Bluffing and The Opening, and “sub-optimal” play

Like most games, the opening and the endgame are the easiest to analyze.

What do you do? Should you bluff wily-nily? As we’ve seen, if your bluff puts you into a lock then expect to get challenged. An opening bluff won’t lock anyone, but it may put someone at a disadvantage, at which point they’ll be tempted to call.

For example, if Doug claims Duke and then gets Extorted and he has no defence, he’s in a bad spot. If he accedes to the Captain, everyone is going to steal his money. He’s going to have to make a stand sooner or later. One way (the better) is to claim immunity, but the other is to challenge.

So I don’t bluff extravagantly … I do bluff, but under half the time. There’s a sound reason for this — bluffing risks two valuable commodities … one influence and an action. Any challenger risks one influence. So, if I only bluff less than half the time, my expected value of getting challenged is positive, and any challenger is losing (long-term) if they routinely challenge my claims.

Note how this differs from poker … any bluff I make adds to the pot and increases the rewards for a caller, and any caller gains the reward. But here anyone who calls has to share most of the reward (my loss of influence and an action) with the table.

Always telling the truth can win by getting called, but you become easy to read. Even the best opening hand can be beaten if people suspect what you hold. As the game goes towards the endgame, bluffs get riskier because there is more information and the game is moving more towards a zero sum game  … claiming a role when none are visible is a different bluff then when one or two are revealed. An opponent may know you are bluffing. Not to mention the fact that an opponent may feel cornered and call out of desperation.

So, a common move is to bluff on your first play, carry the bluff out for as long as you dare (“Turn 1 — Duke, Turn 2 — Duke, Turn 3 — Switch to your true role.”) Of course, if you do that too often, you’ll get called early. Sometimes you have to mix it up and start true, switch to a bluff, and switch back.

Let’s look at each role, its bluffing calculation and value in the opening.

  • The Ambassador improves my position, both by letting me swap out characters and by providing information. If I see 2 of a kind I can challenge efficiently (or perfectly, if I’ve seen all three of a character). But it doesn’t hurt any specific player, and so people don’t have too much incentive to call it. Also, it doesn’t move me towards Couping someone. In our first games, a first turn ambassador almost never got challenged, although it gets called every now and then because we realize that the information is often just as valuable as a coin or two. A middle game ambassador is a precursor toward grabbing a locking character, and will get called. (I find that most people are reluctant to sit on an ambassador, preferring to swap it out ASAP. I think this is a mistake).
  • The Duke’s taxation is a powerful move, but not a directed move. It hurts all your opponents. It’s not infrequent to see the first 3+ players all claim Duke and to be looking down at one. Sure, someone’s bluffing, but who?
  • In contrast, a Captain’s extortion targets and  the victim will have a strong incentive to challenge. But they can just claim immunity. If they do, the ‘Captain’ has incentive to challenge, but the fact that your victim has two potential claims means their claim is likely true. (I’ve used this fact to my advantage by claiming immunity from the role I don’t have as my immunity. Sometimes).
  • The Assassin is exclusively a directed role. However, like Captain it’s mitigated by having a counteraction. And often an assassin will get through if a victim has two influence because they are unwilling to stake their game on a successful challenge. This is particularly true if they’d be winning, because their reward for challenge will be a quick coup. Until you assassinate, then you are essentially passive.
  • The Contessa feels directed role, because it counteracts. However, just being immune to assassination doesn’t hurt the assassin any more than it hurts the rest of the players. Facts aside, most players consider it an insult to have their Assassin deflected. The Contessa is the ultimate passive role. You win as contessa by having someone challenge you, so the real point is to make the Contessa seem unbelievable.

Tips and Tricks

A brief pause for a random assortment of ideas that I’ve seen used, to various effects.

  • I’ve already mentioned taking income when you could do more, but there are variants.
  • Giving into extortion from player A and then claiming immunity later (without having switched roles). This enrages Player B, so I’d do it rarely as a bluff. I mainly do it when I want to drain off a bit of money, and perhaps adjust the dynamic of the table. I’ve never seen anyone do this with a Contessa (eat an assassination, then claim it later) but well timed it could be devastating.
  • A similar ruse is allowing a taxation (etc) and then piping up the 2nd time it happens. Again, I usually do this when I think the timing of losing an influence will be OK.
  • Sometimes call (with two influence left) a character you want your opponent to not have. Even if they have it, they’ll have to shuffle it again. Particularly if you were about to get Couped anyway.
  • The game changes immensely when all Dukes are visible (“DukeDeath”). Now everyone can take foreign aid. It simplifies calculations immensely.
  • If you are dealt a pair on the opening, don’t automatically call the first time someone else claims that. Even if you know they are bluffing. That usually reveals your pair.
  • If, in the endgame, you can’t imagine how you could possibly win, try considering what role(s) you’d give your opponents and assume that they have them. If that doesn’t work, assume the roles and then imagine what misplay they could make with that. If that doesn’t work, lie wildly and pray.

Finally, a point that deserves discussion. When someone assassinates your final character, you have two choices — bluff the Contessa or challenge the assassin. Challenging the assassin is a final play. You survive or die right then. Bluffing the Contessa puts the onus back on your challenger … he may allow you to live even if he suspects/believes its a bluff.

However, if your opponent has an assassin (a good endgame role, to be sure) then they may have a problem if you call them on it. Now they have the luck of the draw for their final role (assuming by this point everyone has one). The problem is — you are dead. The solution — simply state that you will challenge your assassin’s role before they decide and stick to it … sometimes. [As always, the lesson is, never pay attention to what people say. Actions speak louder than words.]

Opening Combinations

An opening hand isn’t a template. You can play each one a few ways. I personally treat it as three cards (the two I’m dealt and one I mentally assign myself) and go from there. At some point I’ll bluff the third card (or mentally play as if I had the third card instead of what I have). As I mentioned before, you can’t bluff all the time, and sometimes I bluff both cards (for a while). Often when you lose that way you lose spectacularly, but you can’t win every pot/game and it plants seeds of doubt in your opponents. So, this is an incredibly wishy-washy assessment.

(If you do ‘mentally deal yourself a third role’ consider dealing it before you look at your cards. If you duplicate, then you don’t bluff).

Thoughts on specific openings:

  • Duke/Captain — I’ve heard several people call this the best opening hand. It is … when you don’t get assassinated. Playing it straight (taking duke and then using captain to defend and pick on the weak) leads to the assassin’s knife. However, I may slowplay this by taking income, acting as if I had Something/Contessa and aiming the assassins elsewhere while avoiding a coup. And if this is the best opening hand, you should mentally pretend you’ve been dealt it with any excuse.
  • Duke/Assassin — While not bad, I find this combination putters out. I’m tempted to ambassador right away and see what I find. Or I’ll just Duke and claim immunity until I decide who to assassinate.
  • Duke/Ambassador — You can play this relatively straight, gain up money then dig for the combo you want. As I mentioned before, I think it’s a mistake to dig early.
  • Duke/Contessa — If you want to slowplay, fine. If not, treat this as Duke/Captain … when the (inevitable, IMO) assassination hits, you’ll be well off.
  • Ambassador/Anything — If nothing else, you can just start digging for roles. Feel free to keep the Ambassador for a few turns (perhaps with a Contessa until you decide what you want). You’ll be building up information while not making yourself a target (in some people’s eyes). This is much better in a six player game, when you may be able to discern exactly what cards are out, and possibly even know that one role is off the table.
  • Ambassador/Captain — Consider extorting early, as you’ve got 1/3rd of the defence. Particularly extort those who’ve claimed Duke. Again, this is likely to wind up as a delaying play to gather information.
  • Ambassador/Assassin — This can also be played straight … income and assassinate. An early assassin often hopes to get called to reshuffle for a character who builds up income, but the ambassador means a) you don’t lose money and b) you can always reshuffle manually. Of course, an early Duke bluff (or two) builds your warchest, but then after you assassinate you’ll have a bullseye on your chest.
  • Ambassador/Contessa — Incredibly slow/passive cards … solid defense. The straight play (apart from a Duke bluff) is to just build up coin, coin, coin and hope the fireworks start before you look threatening. That works well.
  • Captain/Assassin — The urge to come out firing is high. This will turn the game into a dynamic hill, which will be fun and not help your chances of winning.
  • Captain/Contessa — As always, this is a decent Duke/Captain bluff (probably better than Duke/Contessa, if your group tends to let Duke calls through).
  • Assassin/Contessa — If you build up an early warchest, this is a great set. If you survive the first round of coups with both cards, this is a great set. If people figure out you have this, you’ll lose all your money and die. So you can’t play this straight forward. You want to get your first assassin/contessa claim called, so that you can switch to a rebuilding money role (or have it be late enough to not matter).

Getting a pair of identical roles is painful, to be sure. You lack flexibility. There’s always the urge to quickly claim ambassador. If you think you’ll get away with it, it’s a reasonable play. Otherwise, the default advice of “Mentally play as if you had a 3rd card” still applies.

  • Double Assassin — Good news … you probably won’t be assassinated. Bad news, you lose to most combinations. Apart from switching, you’ll need to claim immunity to Captain or you’ll get nowhere. Consider just building up and claiming Ambassador whenever a captain strikes. Then, when you assassinate and (hopefully) get called, you can ambassador “again” if you need to. People will assuming you are hunting for your assassin role back. I’d tend to aim my assassination at someone with just one role, hoping to get called (a person with two roles will just claim contessa or let it go).
  • Double Captain — Not bad, since at least you’ve scooped up one of the defensive cards.
  • Double Contessa — The seven-duece offsuit of Coup. Either ambassador or pretend you have a good/great hand and come out firing. No half measures.
  • Double Duke — I’ve had real trouble with this. This isn’t quite an ‘auto ambassador’ but it’s the closest.
  • Double Ambassador — Quite playable, since you get to refresh. On this one, I’d be tempted to call any other early ambassador (or perhaps the second) since even if people know your hand, you’ll be switching it soon.

Closing Thoughts

Coup shouldn’t be a fast game, and I want to make clear that I don’t think this  would be fun if people took too long. But often, during opponent’s turns I’m trying to decide if I’d like the endgame we can transition to, or if I’m on a hill or in a bowl. That’s difficult, but it’s surprisingly easy to play “Who has a good position” and to make sure it isn’t you at the beginning of the dynastic toppling. A good position only matters in the end.

Notes on recent published articles

While I was writing this “A blog post on Coup Strategy” appeared. To say I disagree with the article is an understatement. Even as a discussion of 2 player opening strategy (and who plays Coup 2 player?) I think that the player doesn’t bluff nearly enough.  But it’s worth checking out, and reminded me that when I “mentally deal myself a card” I almost invariably deal myself a good card, and don’t deal them with even frequency.

Written by taogaming

February 10, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Posted in Specific Games, Strategy

Tagged with ,

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