Takenoko Strategy Primer

Takenoko is a light strategy game by the amazing Antoine Bauza. It serves as another great gateway game that helps get your softcore gamer friends to play a strategy game with you because who can turn down a game about a fluffy, giant panda who eats bamboo, especially when lightning scares him into eating more as a coping mechanism? This games is fairly luck-based, but there are some important strategies to understand that will help improve your winning percentage. You can view the video version immediately below or keep reading for the text version of this analysis.

Strategies

Plot Rush

The best strategy, if it works for you, is to rush. You ALWAYS want to start by attempting this one. Use the Objective action to draw your second and third Plot objectives right away while performing Plot actions to build the board to meet the patterns you need. There are not that many different patterns in the Plot objectives, so your opponents will help you complete them. If you can complete them quickly, continue drawing more Plot objectives to rush through to the end of the game. If you do not complete the first few right away, you will have to switch to a more balanced strategy of drawing Gardner and Plot objectives, but usually, you will speed your way to the end and win by a landslide. Your objectives will have fewer points, but you will win way before your opponents so you should still easily have more points in total. The only Gardner objective you will have is the one from your starting hand while you should alway have a single Panda objective to which you can apply bamboo you obtain through Lightning weather rolls. This strategy is a little less effective in the Advanced Variant where you discard any already-completed objectives when they are drawn and draw a new one, but even when you play with this rule, you should still attempt this strategy in every game.

Bamboo Pruning

In this strategy, you focus on the Gardner and Panda objectives. You use the Gardner actions to grow the bamboo you need for Gardener Objectives and then Panda actions to prune them to the correct size. Panda objectives can often be very quick to complete and these two both have high point rewards, so overall, you will have a higher average number of points per completed objective than someone going for Plot objectives too. The only Plot objective you should have with this strategy is the one you get in your starting hand. Ideally, you have two Panda objectives and three Gardner objectives in your hand at all times to guide your growing and eating.

General Tactics

When you get a question mark on the weather roll, you almost always want to choose the Sun to get an extra action unless something like a Wind will let you end the game. The Sun will do wonders for your turn efficiency.

Never place irrigation channels on the board unless it will immediately complete an object for you that you need out of your hand and you do not think other players will complete it for you. Hopefully someone will irrigate part of it (or all of it), which will allow you to irrigate something else later. Placing channels before they actually complete something for you is a complete waste and may very likely help an opponent.

No matter which strategy you are using, always keep a Panda objective in your hand because the weather rolls might give you an opportunity to move the panda without using an action and you do not want to waste them.

Once you become familiar with the game, you will know which Panda, Plot, and, albeit less-so, Gardner objectives your opponents have based on the actions they take. Use this information to hinder their progress whenever you can without forfeiting your own, especially when you can target the player(s) in the lead.

Once objectives are completed, they remain face-up, so you always know exactly where you stand compared to others at all times. Once you get within 3 objectives from ending the game or your opponents are within 2 objectives from completing it, count everyone’s points and plan out your final turns so you can maximize your points. I know it is tempting to keep your head down and blindly working through each objective, but you need to do some serious planning in your final turns to give yourself the best chance to win.

Star Trek Catan Strategy Primer

This game is vicious compared to the original Catan as there is way more stealing and everyone is fighting over the use of the same support cards. There is also a steeper learning curve because players must constantly choose from that pile of support cards by reading all of them, understanding them, and then deciding which is best for their current situation. This leads to some longer play times and some newbie frustration. Still, the Star Trek theme adds some spice to the original Catan and the support cards relieve players from some of the reliance on luck since each of them fixes a scenario where a player may have felt like they were “screwed by the game.” Continue reading for the text version, or if you prefer, there is also a video version:

Please see my analysis on the original Catan for more details on each strategy as I will focus more on the differences between Star Trek Catan and the original in this analysis. Even though the resource colors are almost the same, they do not match up exactly to the original. For example, green Dilithium matches up to Brick in the original and white Oxygen matches up to Wheat/Grain. Here is the full mapping:

  • Dilithium (green) = Brick/Clay
  • Food (yellow) = Sheep/Wool
  • Oxygen (white) = Wheat/Grain
  • Tritanium (red) = Lumber
  • Water (blue) = Ore/Rock
  • Asteroid Field = Desert

Strategies

Longest Supply Route

As in the original Catan, this is an acceptable strategy for newbies: Just use Montgomery Scott to build a bunch of starships and solidify the Longest Supply Route bonus while getting outposts and starbases as resources allow. This is not an advisable strategy for moderate to advanced players because it is not flexible and will leave you without a very good resource base to get you from 7 points up to 10. It’s nice for new players because they can focus on a subset of the game and not worry too much about the rest of the complexity. Sulu can also be useful to re-direct misplaced starships every now and then, plus Uhura can force trades for your needed dilithium and tritanium while keeping it out of the hands of any opponents who may be challenging you for the Longest Supply Route.

If you use it, be careful not to become entrenched in a battle for the Longest Supply Route that sucks up all of your resources while your opponents build cheaper, more sustainable sources of victory points. You should only go for this if you are commanding the Dilithium and Tritanium markets and can build roads far easier than others. This strategy also requires that you keep at least a 3 starship advantage over opponents so they cannot use Utopia Planitia to build and an additional starship to steal the bonus out from under you.

Largest Starfleet

Here, you are trying to gain the Largest Starfleet bonus by buying up a bunch of development cards, which help you control the game by playing each one when it will benefit your endeavors. This strategy is a bit easier in this version of Catan because of the almighty Leonard McCoy. Any time he is available, you will want to grab him, which means your alternate support card should be one that allows you to quickly get rid of it when he is available, like Uhura, Chekov, or Janice Rand. This is the most flexible strategy in the game and the one I highly recommend as long as your opponents do not realize the godliness of McCoy and he is frequently available.

Trading Post

In this strategy, you usually commit to it during initial outpost placement. You realize you can gain access to an immense supply of a particular resource while also grabbing its corresponding trading post as your first expansion outpost. This strategy is more advanced because you need to be able to see the opportunity during initial placement, place wisely while hoping others do not interfere with your placement, and then have access to enough dilithium and tritanium (and/or Scott) to make your way over to your resource’s trading post before someone else beats you to it.

Oxygen Monopoly

This is comparable to the Wheat Monopoly strategy in the original Catan. The popular slogan is “No Wheat Means Defeat” since you need it to buy development cards, settlements, and cities. Oxygen is the comparable resource in Catan so if there is very little of it in the game or a single hex that has a high-rolled number, you can cut your opponents off from it as long as you never trade it to them. This strategy is rendered pretty much unusable in Star Trek Catan because most of the support cards provide ways to get resources that you would otherwise be unable to produce. You can still use this strategy secondarily to force your opponents to use support card abilities for Oxygen instead of something else, but you need a primary strategy to get yourself to 10 points.

Support Cards

The support cards offer tools, protection, and weapons to avoid some of the annoyances of original Catan or attack your opponents. I will describe each one in terms of how they protect you against certain random, or self-imposed, hindrances from the original.

Spock

Spock protects from you from being “screwed by the dice rolls” as was common in the original. This is the best (on par with McCoy) support card early in the game to make sure you can get to your first expansion outpost. He gets worse mid-game, pretty much after you build your first expansion outpost, and is unusable in the late game because you will frequently be stuck with him for multiple rounds as the frequency of resource production increases for you. Also, if you fail to put an outpost on every type of resource to start the game, Spock lets you get those resources you otherwise have no chance of producing.

James T. Kirk

Kirk protects you from losing half your resource hand to the robber. He is not very useful early in the game because you only have a 16.66% chance of rolling a 7 on each dice roll, and you won’t have over 7 cards early in the game, so you will likely go around at least once without using him, which means you would be better off with one of the other support cards. His value increases when your chance of losing half your hand to the Klingon Battlecruiser increases, and is a great pick-up whenever you have 8-9 points and are just trying to grab your last point or two because you know your resource hand is safe from the Klingons.

Uhura

Uhura protects you from your opponents refusing to trade resources that you need. She makes the Wheat Monopoly strategy from the original almost unusable in this version. She is very good because, as some cards give you discounts or advantages for yourself, she gives you an advantage and two of your opponents a disadvantage. She is always a support card to have in front of you.

Hikaru Sulu

Sulu protects you from misplacing starships and opponents cutting you off. He is useful for the first round or two, but then is only useful in very specific situations where one of your starships will be unusable in its current location. In general, there are usually better support cards to acquire than poor, Mr. Sulu. The main reason you get him is to explain, “Oh, My!” when you use his ability.

Pavel Chekov

Chekov protects you from the Klingon embargo. If your play steers you away from picking up development cards or you just do not get Starfleet Intervenes, Chekov can be a good play to send the Battlecruiser back to the asteroid field. Not only do you free up your resource location for future dice rolls, but you also get a free resource out of it. He is a particularly good pick if you see that the Klingon is on a resource that you will likely need on your next turn.

Christine Chapel

Chapel protects other players from pulling out to an insurmountable lead and allows everyone to be relevant in the final rounds. She makes having lots of points early worse than in Catan, not that it was very good in that game either, but it’s way worse here if your opponents like using her ability. It helps in mitigation to avoid grabbing the 2 point bonus tiles until you’re about to win. Obviously you should use this support card when someone is getting near winning and you need to stall them. Having someone steal any resource from your hand can make it very difficult to get your final point or two. Also encourage your opponents to team up against the winning player(s) by using Chapel to suck up their valuable resources.

Montgomery Scott

Scott is very useful early in the game, especially if you are having trouble getting Dilithium and Tritanium to expand to new outposts. Later in the game as expansion slows, you will have better options for your support cards unless you find yourself squandering your resources in a battle for the Longest Supply Route for some reason.

Leonard McCoy

This is the overall best support card in the game. The ability to replace 1 resource with another in the cost of a dev card is good enough, but then to look at the top 3 cards and choose the one you want is unbelievably good. If you find a victory point card when using him, you usually want to grab it because having hidden victory points is even more valuable in this game than others because Christine Chapel can really hurt the players in the lead.

Sarek

This support card will not be used by most people, especially newbies. You pretty much need to go for almost strictly development cards using Leonard McCoy to get enough Starfleet Intervenes cards to make use of his 2 resource discount on a starbase or outpost. Even so, you’re trading something that was 3 resources to buy and only gives a 2 resource discount, so you’re really paying for the flexibility he provides. The biggest drawback of Sarek is it’s easy, especially for a new player, to get stuck with him when his owner plays his/her last Starfleet Intervenes to move the Klingon Battlecruiser, leaving a worthless support card taking up space that could be occupied by one that will give you an advantage in the game.

Janice Rand

If you have a lot of similar resource production locations, this card can be a huge benefit by giving you a 2:1 trading ratio and helping get you some resources you would otherwise not be able to produce. Hopefully you do not get yourself into a position where you do not have access to specific resources in the first place and you can ignore her for the entire game.

General Tactics

Keep your cards a secret because there is a lot more stealing.  When someone asks you, “Do you have any tritanium?”  You respond, “I have none for trade,” no matter whether you do or do not have any.  In the same vein, it is MUCH more important to watch which resources each player produces so you can steal what you need.  Also, use social engineering to try to pull information out of you opponents about what they have.  When you ask if they have any tritanium, you are hoping they respond with information such as, “I have 1 but it’s not for trade.”  Of course, you can take your responses to the next level  if you are so inclined and start lying about what you have, so if someone who has Uhura is phishing for information, give them incorrect information like talking about all your water that you don’t possess.  It’s also more important to remember what your opponents have in their hand because you will have opportunities to steal from them.

When choosing your seat at the table, if you know someone is very development card happy, you want them on your right…  not on your left.  You can expect they will frequently play starfleet cards and move the Klingon battle cruiser, which will be annoying if you keep moving it off of your hexes and then they move it right back on there on the following turn.

As in the original Catan, Tritanium (red) and Dilithium (green) are the most important resources early in the game to build on space routes and claim territory before opponents move in on it.  Oxygen (white) and Water (blue) become more valuable later in the game to upgrade outposts to starbases.

Also as in the original, if you have 9 points, do NOT draw dev cards to get your final victory point. This is even more important in this version because those using McCoy throughout the game probably sucked the development deck dry of victory points.

Christine Chapel makes being in the lead early even worse than in the original so it is very important to stay under the radar in this version.

As in the original, and more importantly in this one, just be nice. Your opponents will have many opportunities to hurt you or help you, so make sure your meta game actions do not make you a target. Maybe compliment them on their shoes or their haircut. Give them a hug…. or a hamburger. You know what they would like more so than me.

Ticket to Ride Strategy Primer

Ticket to Ride is a simple, but very fun gateway game to get some new gamers into some more complex euro games if they are more used to party games. You can teach it in a few minutes so new players can jump right in, but veteran players can also devise some complex strategies throughout the game to keep it interesting for them as well. Fortunately, there is a enough luck in the game that new players can compete with veterans, although there are plenty of tactics you can use to give yourself a significant edge. Check out the video version immediately following this paragraph or skip it to continue reading the text version.

To put it simply, you want to be efficient with your plays in Ticket to Ride. You want to maximize the points you get while minimizing the actions it takes to get there. For example, taking a wild instead of two non-wilds slows you down. I’m not saying don’t do it, because sometimes you really need a single color car card. Keep reading for more exmaples of increasing your efficiency.

Choosing Destination Tickets

This is the most important decision you will make in the game, so take your time. When choosing your destination tickets, use these three strategies:

  • Overlapping Routes – Overlap on the routes you will use to complete your tickets because there is no better way to get extra points than doing this. The hotspots for overlapping are down the center of the US map or on the east coast.
  • Longest Continuous Path – Go for tickets that you can combine to get the longest continuous path card for 10 points. For example, one that goes along the top of the Canadian border and then one down the West Coast.
  • Long Routes – You also want destination tickets that will make use of very long routes because those will earn you so many more points every time you place them. Also, every route, no matter the length, takes a turn to build, so you might as well spend these turns to get as many points as possible with fewer, long routes.

If you drew some overlapping, low-point, shorter route tickets, you’ll probably need more midway through the game, so go ahead and draw more as soon as you are very confident you will complete your existing ones and no one has less than 17 or so trains in their inventory. It is very risky to draw new destination tickets late in the game. Only do this if you expect you have no chance of winning the game in hopes of drawing a ticket that is already completed. Otherwise you should just save up for longer routes and get some extra points while eliminating the risk of drawing a ticket you cannot complete. I draw new destination tickets in fewer than 50% of my games, choosing to focus on getting longer for big points and to hopefully block my opponents.

Choosing Car Cards

Always keep in mind the primary car card colors you need. If you see them face up, take them. If not, draw from the face down deck. Early in the game, just grab cards left and right, usually face down from the deck in hopes of getting some wild cards. You will be able to find a use for anything later in the game so just stockpile as many as you can.

Never take face up wild cards. Pretty much. Once in awhile, and only late in the game, you urgently need a single car card before someone steals a route from you or you know most of that color are not in the deck anymore. So in an emergency, go ahead and take a face up wild. If you take a single card instead of two, you are losing card advantage to your opponents, so do this only very rarely. If there are no face up cards you need, draw two face down cards from the deck and you have a decent chance of drawing a wild anyway. You have a 20% chance of drawing any particular color card in a full deck. You have a slightly better chance of drawing a wild.

Completing Routes

If you can complete a route on your turn, but there are also face up cards that you need for other routes, take the face up cards instead of claiming your route. The exception to this is when you think someone will steal your route if you do not put it down immediately.

Clearly, you want to complete routes that are the shortest distance between points A and B so you can complete more destination tickets throughout the game. An exception to this rule is that longer routes get you more points right when you place them, so if you are not worried about completing a destination ticket, you may want to choose routes that are longer to get more instant points. Also, if you know an opponent is going for a specific route and you can use it in the path to your destination, do it!

General Tactics

Watch what people are drawing so you can figure out which routes they want to claim and what their destination tickets may be. This allows you to hate draft colors they need. You can also get a heads up when someone might be trying to claim a route that you need so you can get their first.

Preventing someone from completing a ticket near the end of the game will probably make them lose the game, so if you think someone is beating you, don’t be afraid to play aggressively and block them from completing tickets. If you see an obvious 2-3 route hole in a long path, you can really take them down by filling it up with your trains. On the flip side, do not leave obvious gaps in your paths to destinations.

Once you get down to 10-12 trains left, carefully plan out your final few turns. Going out first is a huge advantage because other players are scrambling to complete their tickets and going out a turn early may prevent that. Try to claim routes that will get you down to 2 or less and then place a final train or two. Even if you don’t absolutely need to complete some routes, just do it to go out sooner to leave your opponents short of finishing that last ticket.

Settlers of Catan – Strategy Primer

This is a primer for The Settlers of Catan that will cover the high-level strategies and specific tactics you can use to improve your play.  I am assuming you know the rules and will just jump into the strategy.  Check out the video version above or the text version below.

4 Primary Strategies:

  • Longest Road

  • Largest Army

  • 2:1 Port

  • Wheat Monopoly

Longest Road

Here you just want as much brick and wood as possible, so you can expand and build settlements.  This is the easiest strategy for a newbie to use, but the more I have played Catan, the less I like this one. It works great in the early game because you can expand quickly and cut off your opponents from the spots they want but the challenge is staying relevant as the game gets into the later stages. You can usually get to 7 points fairly quickly with your 5 settlements and your longest road, but you need a plan to get those last 3 points.  The keys to succeeding with this one is getting tons brick and lumber early, but then expanding to places where you can get wool, grain, and ore for the late game.  Also, make sure you have at least two road segments of a lead over everyone else to make it hard for them to steal it from you and build a settlement for every two or three road segments so no one can build a settlement on your road to break it.

Largest Army

The idea here is to get as much ore, wheat, and sheep as possible, but an equal-ish share of each so that you can buy tons of development cards. You’ll also want some brick and wood to build your first two roads and third settlement. This is the best general strategy in the game, but can be defeated by the port or wheat monopoly strategy if the board greatly favors them.  With this strategy, you control the game by directing the robber around the board with your soldiers and surprise everyone with victory points, monopoly cards, and road building.  Overall, this allows you to control the game and keep your plan a secret since your development cards are hidden.  You appear to be less of a threat when you have less points showing, but hidden victory points from development cards.

2:1 Port

This involves gathering lots of a single type of resource and then get its corresponding 2:1 port.  During initial placement, do not forget to carefully consider how rich the board is with a resource and whether you think you can settle those areas while also getting to its 2:1 port.  In a 4 player game, it’s possible to put a second settlement on a 2:1 port if the board is laid out to greatly support it, but you’re usually just positioning your initial settlements so that you can expand to a 2:1 port for your third settlement.  This strategy is risky – if everything goes right for you, you can run away with the game, but if it does not, you will be destroyed by your opponents.  On the flip side, if someone else is going for this strategy, do everything you can do to keep the robber on their primary resource’s production settlements because they will be completely hand-cuffed and will not be able to win – they are relying entirely upon that one resource.

You will need to get some development cards with this strategy because if the robber stays on your main producer of your 2:1 port resource, you are guaranteed to lose. The nice thing about the port strategy is that you are not confined to any one particular strategy so you can roll with the punches. If the longest road is open, go for it. If the largest army is open, go for it. If you see a nice settlement spot a couple segments away, go for it.   Very flexible.

Wheat Monopoly

Here, you want to get all the major wheat producing settlement locations before your opponents so you can deprive them of wheat throughout the game. If they have no wheat, they cannot build settlements or cities or development cards. They simply won’t be able to get any points.  Most board layouts do not support this strategy, but when there is a lack of wheat on the board and you can settle the primary wheat-producing spots on the board, you can dominate with this strategy.

Settlement Placement

Each number token has dots on them, which represent the likelihood that its number will be rolled.  At a very basic level, your goal is to maximize the number of dots you have , which is the most important concept in placing your settlement.

A secondary goal is getting access to all resources.  If you have a settlement on Lumber/Brick/Ore, you would want another settlement on Grain/Wool so that you have access to all types, even if one has a low probability of occurring.  Another way to get access to a resource where you do not have a physical presence is to get a 2:1 or 3:1 port.  That counts too, but trading 4:1 is just so wasteful that I don’t count that one.

A tertiary goal is to avoid overlapping resource numbers.  For example, if you already have a settlement on 4/9/10, you do not want to overlap by putting another settlement on 3/9/10 because you will be relying too heavily on rolling 9 and 10, which will make your resources come inconsistently.  You will go through full rounds without any and then get a flood in other rounds, which puts you at greater risk for losing resources to the robber.

General Strategies

Initial placement is the most important decision you will make, so take your time!

Make sure you have a good supply of Lumber and Brick between your initial settlements because you will be building some roads right away.  It’s even better if it can be under your second settlement so you can get a Brick and Lumber in your starting hand.

When you have 8-9 points and just need one or two more, do not try to draw development cards to get them unless you have absolutely no other options.  Just save up for a city or expand to a settlement spot because those will be guaranteed while you could be going round after round without getting a victory point.

Fish for hand information when you get a monopoly card by asking everyone, “does anyone have resource X?” to help you decide if you can expect a good supply of that resource before burning a monopoly card.  You can even trade a bunch of that resource to people for other resources before using monopoly so that you can get it right back.  However, if you do that, everyone will absolutely hate you for it.

Overall, just be nice and unassuming.  Your opponents will constantly be faced with opportunities to help you by trading you needed resources or hurting you by placing the robber on your hexes and you do not want to give them any reason to dislike you.

Magic Drafting Primer

Today I am going over a Magic drafting primer so new drafters can have a foundation on which to build and veterans can compare their drafting technique to mine.  Lately, the most popular technique is B.R.E.A.D., so I will use that as a basis, while discussing when to stick to it and when to stray from it.  Magic is huge, so I will be talking about this in terms of the core set, but I am staying fairly general so that this will be applicable to other sets too.  Check out the full analysis and video here!

The Resistance Avalon Strategic Analysis

There are good and bad qualities in every tabletop game, every beer, every woman, and every piece of pizza. For each of them, I am likely to lean towards celebrating the good and passing over most of the bad, which is one reason I stay away from the tabletop game review arena and focus on strategy. But with Avalon, even if I was a slandering, pessimistic cynic, I could not help but shower it in praise, because it is FANTASTIC! This has become my unquestionable favorite game to play at any game night, no matter how well I know the group.

Check out the video above or read the full text analysis here.

7 Wonders Strategic Analysis

And here we have 7 Wonders, designed by Antoine Bauza and published by Repos Production, which is a keystone title for most of us hardcore gamers. Although I have a lot of respect for it now, I admit I was not a fan of this game when I first played it a couple years ago because you constantly have to be making decisions about which cards to take, and it’s very frustrating not having any idea about which cards to pick when you are unfamiliar with the game. This frustration is present over and over throughout your first few hands, and probably your first few ages. Heck, probably your first few games. What makes it difficult is that it’s fairly hard to explain how to play because there are so many very different ways to score points. When you get down to it, there are 2 primary strategies (science or community) that you can use as the foundation for your game, so just pick one of them based on the wonder you are building and the cards you get in Age 1, and do the best you can with it by supplementing it with military, treasury, and guilds. Of course I have plenty of other tips to scrape away a few extra points as well, so gather ‘round and let me tell you how to build the greatest wonders the world has ever seen.

Check out the video above or the text analysis here.

Smash Up Strategic Analysis

Smash Up is one of the best games of 2012, designed by Paul Peterson and published by AEG, and I just did a complete strategic analysis on it for your reading/viewing pleasure.  In it, I go through every faction, their main strategies, their favorite bases, card combos, faction combos, and much more!  Check out the YouTube video above or the text analysis here.