Scythe Strategy and Planning (+Scythe-960)

My thoughts on Scythe strategy. Also expanded to include updates on my foray into randomly generating more Scythe content...

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The Tao of Scythe: See the Game from Your Opponent's Point of View

John Martorana
United States
Holbrook
New York
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(Start of Scythe strategy blog Here)
(Previous blog post Here)

It's been a while since I added to this blog. Recently, I've been thinking about thinking. Here's some of my recent thoughts about how to think about your opponents' thoughts....


It's Not a Single-Player Game
Always keep in mind what your opponents are trying to do. And what their goals are. Scythe is not a Solitaire game, but it can be easy to focus too deeply on your own plans to the exclusion of others'. Your opponents are real people who will not just be letting you do whatever you want. And as a corollary, you shouldn't just let them do whatever they want. Ask yourself "What wouldn't they want me to do?", and then consider doing just that.


Attacking Powerful Opponents
Almost paradoxically, opponents who have a lot of Power - more than 13 Power, but less than 16 - can be a source of a cheap Combat Star. This is especially true if they already have the resources necessary to perform their BRA (Bottom-Row-Action) under Bolster. You can often win Combats here with 2 to 5 Power total.

It is important to always keep your opponents' goals and options in mind. A player who can Bolster for a Max Power Star on their next turn, and who has taken the necessary steps to secure resources for their BRA, is almost certainly planning to do so next turn. What they're really looking to do is Bolster for a Star, and then spend all that Power to win two more Stars. If they spend power and win now, they end up delaying their Max Power Star. And if they spend a lot, there's a good chance they only ever earn 2 Stars instead of 3, because they never manage to get their Power up to 16.

So keep an eye out for situations where you can use this to your advantage. Some indicators that increase likelihood of success are:
1. Opponent at exactly the point where they can Bolster to 17 Power. (i.e. Spending exactly 1 Power is very attractive to them)
2. You see that their 6-Star plan almost certainly will require a Max Power Star
3. They can Bolster next turn and perform the BRA.
4. You're attacking a position that has little value to them. Ideally an isolated Mech.
5. They either don't have a lot of other places to defend, or there aren't players who can move and attack them before their next turn. Otherwise they may be afraid of signalling to everyone that they are unwilling to defend.
6. They already have 2 Combat Stars.
7. They have Workers on their home base, and losing a Combat will actually help them get the Workers off more quickly.
8.You have at least 7 Power and Combat Cards.

If you look for opportunities, Combat Stars can be among the cheapest Stars in the game.


Defend your Stuff
You've got stuff. Lots of it. Workers and Mechs. Territories and Resources. And your opponents really, really want to take that stuff away from you. How does one protect one's stuff? Scythe is a game of deterrence, and the best way to protect your stuff is usually to make it too costly to take. Lets look at the main ways you can do this.

#1: Distance
Often not specifically thought of as a deterrence, distance if often the easiest to achieve. If you can't defend territory or some resources, just move your stuff somewhere else. Your starting peninsula, the corners of the board, lakes, or an inactive player's starting area. One territory is worth as many points as another. If your opponent really wants a particular Hex, sometimes it's best just to move off of it.

#2: Mechs
Mechs are an obvious way to protect your stuff. But rember that they can actually make a territory MORE attractive to attack because winning a Combat gives a Star. So for Mechs to be a deterrent, you need to be sure your opponent sees risk and/or cost in attacking. Having two Mechs on the same territory can make Combat more costly. Even better, having your Mechs, or opponent's Mechs in a position to counterattack can be an even better deterrent.

#3: Workers
Popularity has three discreet tiers. Much of the game will often be spent near the border between two tiers, unsure by how much you'll have to spare when you make it to the next levels, or if you'll make it thete at all. Of course this goes for your opponents as well. Usually, terrories with fewer resources than enemy Workers are just not worth the Popularity hit on their own. In a game where players are concerned about their Popularity, Workers protect the Mechs more than the other way around. You are often better off if you place your Mechs on the territories BEHIND your Workers. Now, your opponents may find that attacking your Workers not only costs them Popularity, but also leaves them where you gain the benefits of being the attacker should Combat ensue.

#4 Time
What is your opponent gaining from attacking you? Often, as in the case of Resources they have to calculate whether they'll have time to use what they've gained. This is why you NEED to keep in mind what BRA is below everyone's Move Action. Whenever you leave those resources out there, you're just daring opponents with the appropriate BRA to Move onto your Workers and spend them immediately. Your Workers on the BRA for Produce are somewhat safer because you can usually ensure you spend them immediately. For other resources corresponding to your opponents' Move Actions, it's safest to Produce right after they've Moved. You are more likely to have time to spend those resources.


"What Would I do?" is the Wrong Question
The correct question is: "What might my opponent do?" While it's tempting to always assume that your opponents will take what you see as the "best" actions, they very well might not. It's always good to have an idea how a particular opponent plays. A risk adverse opponent may be much more likely to take the Default Position when attacking and spend a lot of Power. And you should always account for uncertainty in your opponents' actions. They're not robots and they're not perfect. More importantly: they're not you. Even if they were, there's still asymetrical information in Scythe - they may know something you do not.


An Anecdote of Failure
I recently played a 5-Player game as Rusviet. At one point, I really needed to push the Nords off my farms - both for the Food and because I was boxed in my starting area. They had just moved to defend the territory I wanted for myself, and I saw they were at 13 Power with 3 cards. They had the resources to perform their BRA under Bolster. I attacked their 3 Combat units with 3 of my own. In my mind, this was a show of great commitment to win the Combat.

How much power was I going to spend? Well, I didn't have to decide that yet! I waited to see if they were going to use Artillery and spend 1 Power to cost me 2. If they do not, then I know they are planning to earn their Combat Star next turn and so will commit no Power to Combat - probably only a 2-Power Combat Card if they have one.

Well they did use Artillery, putting them out of range for their Combat Star when they Bolster next turn. I now know they aren't going just roll over for this fight. I commit exactly 1 Power. I expect them to use their Cards and possibly spend quite a bit of Power. My Cards are fairly low - I cannot win if they go all out. So I spend 1 Power and no Cards. I will let them Spend all their Cards and then use my Relentless ability to attack again next turn.

As you can probably guess, the Nords refuse to cooperate. They spend 2 Cards and a bit of Power. Not exactly 100% what I was expecting, but a least not too far off. I draw a low Combat Card and then start going over my plan in my head:

... Yes, I can still attack them next turn with the same 3 Mechs and probably win a Combat on the cheap
...Even after they Bolster for Power, and use Artillery, I'm still over 7 Power and they're close to that Combat Star again
... He probably kept a 4-Power or a 5-Power Card, but he's down to 1 Card to my 3, so worst case scenario I can force a win by...
... Did he just say he Bolstered for Cards?
...Crap
...
...
...Crap.

Opponent goes on to win the game never getting their Power Star at all.

The lesson here: Sometimes the reason your opponents don't do what you would do is because they're smarter than you.

Or at least they're smarter than me. Sometimes - despite the amount of time I've spent thinking about Scythe - sometimes none of the stuff I've written about actually works. Always keep that in mind as you read my blog... in all my writings on the game of Scythe, I've never claimed to be actually be all that GOOD at the game.
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Fri Dec 14, 2018 6:02 pm
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Guest Blogger: GFLima's 3-Worker Plan for Engineering Saxony

John Martorana
United States
Holbrook
New York
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(Start of Scythe strategy blog Here)

(Today, we once again have something completely different. GFLima, a BGG Scythe Forum regular and a frequent contributor to the comment section of this blog, has been kind enough to offer a comprehensive write-up on one of his own strategies. All that follows below are 100% his own words and thoughts. Please feel free to comment, as I am sure he is as eager to hear your thoughts as I am.

Thanks GFLima for your continued contribution to this blog!)


3-Worker Engineering Saxony

Whenever I played with Saxony I always produced five workers no matter what mat I had. I never questioned if this was the best thing to do. Five always felt safe, whereas 3 felt like too few, and the popularity hit of 8 felt too risky. Recently I realised that I was trying to play Saxony as if it were Rusviet (the faction I am most familiar with) but with a slightly more aggro vein. After all, they have the same initial terrain hexes, so why not just play the same moves in a different order? There are two reasons why this approach is flawed. The first is the fact that Saxony only starts with 1 power, whereas Rusviet starts with 3. Producing 5 workers with Saxony not only leads an extra production turn to go from 3 workers to 5, but also requires bolstering with no bottom row action early in the game. These are two small yet unnecessary expenditures of the commodity all factions want to save: time. Remember, Scythe is a race. The second reason, which is an extension of the first, is that power is one of Saxony's most valuable resources. It's something you do not want to spend needlessly if you want to engage in more than two combats. Three workers looks a lot more optimal for Saxony once you take this into account: you'll avoid the empty bolster action at the beginning, and you won't spend a resource that's highly important to you every time you produce. Besides, Saxony's access to wood isn't too terrible, they are only a riverwalk away, so it won't be too hard to build a mill and improve your production.

But still, can it be done? Can you build a decent engine with only 3 workers? I believe you can. I adapted the 3 worker strategy I had sketched for Engineering Nordic in one of my comments (see Case Study #3: Produce no Workers with Engineering Nords). Your engine will revolve around produce/upgrade and trade/deploy, then eventually bolster/build. This strategy makes a lot more sense for Saxony, which lacks and needs power, than it did for Nordic, which lacks combat cards. There are also other factors, and they would require a deeper analysis of Saxony's strengths and weaknesses, but that would deserve a post of its own.

Now I'll present a guide for the moves. I say 'guide' because there is at least one encounter, and, depending on what you choose, deviating slightly from the exact move order might make more sense. Hence this sequence of moves artificially disregards anything obtained in the encounter.


1. Move: Character to mountain or tundra, worker from mountain to village.
2. Trade: 2 oil.
3. Produce: 1 worker, 1 oil. Upgrade: move / upgrade. (You need this upgrade to get all your workers to the mountain without a mech)
4. Move: Character to village = encounter, 2 workers from village to mountain.
5. Trade: 2 oil.
6. Produce: 2 metal, 1 oil. Upgrade: bolster / deploy.
7. Trade: 1 metal, 1 wood. Deploy: Riverwalk on mountain.
8. Produce: 2 metal, 1 oil. Upgrade: produce, deploy.
9. Trade: 2 wood. Deploy: Speed on mountain.
10. Bolster: + 3 power. Build: Mill on tundra.

This is how your units are positioned:

From gallery of GFLima


Now you're ready to move your workers from the mountain to forest hexes, and take the second encounter at the same time, but exactly how you'll do it and what you'll do with your other move depends on a few factors. Here are a few options.

11A. Move: Character to forest encounter, mech with 2 workers to forest encounter, dropping one worker on the other forest hex, mech to tunnel on farm.

From gallery of GFLima


I usually only do this after checking if anyone can attack the lonesome mech there on the forest. Don't worry about the character and the mech there in the corner of the board, you'll build a tunnel.

11B. Move: Character to forest encounter, 2 mechs, one with 2 workers to forest, dropping one worker on the forest encounter hex.

From gallery of GFLima


This a more defensive move. I used it when the Automaszyna was on the tundra hex adjacent to the farm tunnel. I didn't want to be too close (since I hadn't bolstered enough), yet still within striking range.


Regarding what to take on each encounter, well, pretty much anything works, I would only avoid the third option since popularity can be an uphill struggle. I do recommend taking food whenever you can. It usually doesn't cost popularity and can be used to immediately enlist because it's the bottom row action under the move action. Although it's unlikely that you'll get the enlist star, unlocking the build bonus and gaining another 2 combat cards has worked extremely well for me. If you do this on the first encounter and both of your neighbouring factions are building you have a very good chance of hitting the third tier of popularity. And even if you don't get enough food to enlist straight away, since you're also upgrading, at some point enlisting will only cost 2 food, and you can save that recruit for later, when it will probably become clearer whether you need power, combat cards, or just a popularity bump.

Results:

I tested this strategy 6 times on Scythe Digital against three bots on the hard setting. Here are the results:

18 turns, $50 (popularity tier 1) - I decided to not care about popularity and try to end the game faster.
20 turns, $75 (popularity tier 2)
22 turns, $76 (popularity tier 2) - I suffered a mouse slip which cost me a turn...
21 turns, $78 (popularity tier 2) - lost to Crimea which was on the third tier of popularity and had 7 pairs of resources (???). I didn't really pay much attention to what was going on...
21 turns, $91 (popularity tier 3)
20 turns, $94 (popularity tier 3)

The two cases in which I was on the third popularity tier were due to unlocking the build bonus of the enlist on the first encounter. Now, I probably could have ended the games in fewer turns by taking advantage of the AI's rather predictable combat algorithm: if it deduces that it can't guarantee a win, it throws 1 or 2 power. Instead I played very cautiously, using enough power to make sure I'd win even if the opponent had the best combat cards and threw as much power as it could - and this meant that I had to bolster before engaging in the next combat.

I played two games against a single Rusviet Automaszyna (Automa level hard). On the first I had incredibly bad luck and lost with around $58. Basically, I had to attack it before it got its power track star, and when I did it threw 0 power and lost, only to bolster to 16 power on the next turn and subsequently attack me and win. The probability of something like this happening is very remote, roughly 10%. It is well known that if the Automaszyna reaches max power and wins a combat you can pretty much resign.

On the next game I wasn't so unlucky, and won with the exact same strategy, with $75 and probably around 21 turns. Yet I felt that this strategy wasn't optimal against the Automa. It could possibly be improved by not waiting for the speed mech to get to wood, bolstering sooner, getting your units closer to the centre of the board, since when the Automa is on phase I it will rarely attack, so you can stop it from spreading all over the place and also keep yourself within reach to strike it before it reaches 16 power.

Final thoughts:

I am generally happy with this strategy. It might be a bit slow (in contrast to Manhattan Jack's much faster strategies of case studies #1 and #2) but I feel that it suits my more defensive style of play. If combat isn't available you can just fall back on the bottom row action stars, and maybe a power track star, although it would have to be a very slow game.

Maybe in the future I'll compare this to a 5 worker strategy with the same faction and mat, and then maybe an 8 worker as well...
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Wed Oct 10, 2018 2:42 am
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Scythe, Chess, Openings, and Strategy

John Martorana
United States
Holbrook
New York
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(Start of Scythe strategy blog Here)
(First Case study Here)


We interrupt this irregularly scheduled Scythe strategy blog to bring you a more abstract, philosophical post. A wall of text with no pictures. The kind of thing a more pretentious (or frankly, better) writer might be able to get away with titling "The Tao of Scythe" or something like that...

I've seen a few comparisons of Scythe to chess. That's only natural, I suppose. Chess is the one of the oldest and most studied strategy board game of all time. It has entered our Western society's collective unconscious as THE game intellectual prowess. Chess metaphors can be found throughout our vernacular and our pop culture, often seen in the classic trope of the "Chessmaster" hero or villain who outwits his opponents at every turn. My own random Player Mat generator being called "Scythe 960" is a chess reference. Almost any halfway-decent strategy game will eventually be compared to the chess in one way or another. And Scythe is a very good strategy game.

A mildly disturbing trend, though, comes in the form of posts like this one which seem to be predicated on the belief that you can create an "opening book" of moves for each Faction/Player Mat pairing. More personally troubling is the thought that this blog itself, especially given the last three Case Study posts (#1, #2, #3) might drive people to think that codifying and memorizing openings is a good idea. (This post Here makes me a bit wary that people could come away from this blog with such notions.) Let me be clear: I don't think an opening book of moves is a such a good idea.

Before I move on, let me clarify that my lack of faith in an opening book is NOT rooted in the idea that having such an opening book would "ruin" Scythe or make it less fun for me or others. Although I know there are going to be some who oppose an opening book on those grounds, I personally have no such fears. Rather, having read a few generic chess books in my time, I feel that a list of openings for Scythe would be about as useful as the lists of openings often found in the appendix of some of those books. That is, not very useful at all. In this way, at least, the analogies made between Scythe and chess are somewhat apt.

If you've ever listened to almost any successful chess players, most say the same thing: openings are the last thing you should study. Some say that studying Tactics is what you should spend most of your time on. I've also heard it advocated that the best way to study is roughly endgame then midgame then openings. If you don't know what you're looking for at the end of the game, how do you know what moves are better in the middle? If you don't know what you're looking for in the middle, how do you figure out what to do in the beginning?

I can imagine how a collection of openings for Scythe might look. You're Engineering Rusviet? Do these 7 steps in order. But did it take into account your Objectives? Whether you had 2s or 5s for your Combat cards? What you get from your Encounter? Would it even take into account who your opponents are, what they've done, and what they're likely to do? Even the most cursory of chess opening lists give the opponent's moves. And just like an opening book for chess, an action sequence in Scythe can go off the rails when opponents don't cooperate and play exactly how they're "supposed to", such as by not allowing you Combat Stars or by preemptively taking territories you weren't expecting. Once you're off book, then what? And if something beneficial happens, such as a decent Encounter or opponent placing themselves in an exploitable position, you don't want to ignore that. Far better than memorizing a list of moves is learning principles. Mostly, a solid opening in chess can simply be derived from principles and calculation. Even when you remove their opening books, the best chess computer programs in the world are still better than the best humans because all solid opening moves can be derived purely from principles and calculation. And the beginning of Scythe is generally far less calculation-intensive than chess.

"So John," you ask, "don't those Case Studies you just wrote undermine your whole point here?" Aren't they, in many ways, just the first part of an opening book? Not in my mind, no. In fact, from my perspective they strengthen my argument.

I think the first Case Study (Agricultural Polonia) was probably the best received. It certainly engendered the most discussion, at least. The first thing you will notice (hopefully) is that it is not merely a list of moves. It is a discussion. It states a general overarching strategy - quickly Producing 8 Workers and rushing to the Factory - and gives the benefits and disadvantages of 2 different approaches. It's not a rigid plan. I even mention the option of bailing on the general plan as early as turn 3 if the first Encounter doesn't go the right way. In fact, the discussion in the comments is as valuable as the main post itself. GFLima gives yet a third way open to achieve similar goals. After all that discussion, I'm even not 100% under what circumstances each opening is strongest, or even if the whole concept is weaker than doing something more standard, such as only making 5 Workers and doing the Produce/Build Action more.

Now, there are books on Chess Openings. Quite often, an initial series of 3 to 6 moves is given an entire book. Not only are the first few moves given, but a discussion follows. The general future plans and common theme are explored. Weaknesses are mentioned. Examples of possible oppoment mistakes are given, as are the ways to capitalize on these errors. THIS sort of "opening book", I can get behind. In my own way, I hope the Case Studies and the comments they generatr are a sort of condensed version of this.

I'm someone who advocates having a flexible approach to Scythe. You don't know exactly what's going to happen so you want as much exposure to upside variance as you can get. Keep an eye out for where you can get a boost. But that doesn't mean having no plan. Quite the opposite. Much like in chess, you should be looking at where you want to be later, and see what moves are likely to get you there. You can totally "wing it" in that you come into the game with no preconceived plan. But of course you will do better the further you look ahead more you learning from previous experience.

So anyway... that's the thousand-or-so word explanation of why I tend to dismiss the idea of an opening book when it come up. Admittedly, it's an oddly specific topic to write so much about in an already pretty niche blog. I'm not sure this post is of actual use to anyone at all. But hey, it's my blog. It just struck me as something I'd wanted to reply to a few times, while also requiring an inappropriately verbose response for any other forum. If, for some reason, you manged to make it through the whole thing, you have my heartfelt apologies. Feel free to vent about whatever you want in the comments.
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Sat Sep 29, 2018 6:11 am
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Case Study #3: Produce no Workers with Engineering Nords

John Martorana
United States
Holbrook
New York
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(Start of Scythe strategy blog Here)

My first 2 Case Studies (#1 Here, #2 Here) focused on in-depth coverage of how two somewhat similar starting points (Agricultural Polonia and Agriculural Crimea) might enact the same base strategy (a rush up to 8 Workers). I tried to show a complete picture of my game plans for doing this, how those plans differed, and how I would adapt to situations that came up. For this blog post, I'll try to do something as different from those two posts as possible. I'm going to look at how it might be possible to play given the constraint that I will be producing no Workers at all. Furthermore, rather than abstractly look at all the different choices I might face, I will instead post the turn-by-turn action sequences I did for a single game. (Hopefully, my notes are complete and accurate. Let me know if it looks like I missed something)

(NOTE: If you want to skip all my theorizing and jump to the game, it starts below the pictures of the Player and Faction Mats)


The Theory:
Now, most experienced Scythe players know that there are generally 3 "optimal" number of Workers: 3, 5, and 8. 3 Workers is the most you can have without Produce costing you anything. At 4 Workers Produce will cost you a Power, and so 5 is the next optimal point. 5 is also probably the most common number of Workers that I see people stopping on. Anything more than 5 will cost you Popularity, so you might as well have all 8 out at that point. The extra Coin that 8 Workers costs over 7 is almost inconsequential (given that you'll only be producing once or twice after that) and 8 Workers is a Star. 3, 5, and 8 also correspond exactly to the number of Workers that you end up with when you produce 1, 2, or 3 times after moving a single Worker onto that Village, so these numbers are tend to be very Action-efficient as well.

But there is an additional cost associated with getting to a particular number of Workers that some players may not have really considered: the number of Actions it takes to get there. Remember, Scythe is a Race. Usually the first Action you take moving a Worker to your Village comes with no BRA (Bottom-Row-Action). Or even if it does, you probably did some Trade or Produce with no BRA to set that up. Next you have to spend two Actions to Produce up to 5 Workers. That's two Actions you're not making resources and at least one turn - often two - with no BRA again. Finally, you have to move those Workers off of the Village. If you've built a Mech to do so, you probably didn't also have the time to acquire resources to perform a BRA while you Move here.

And it's avoiding all these Dead Actions with no BRAs that I'm going to take advantage of to make a 2-Worker strategy possible. Effectively, instead of Moving onto a Village, Producing Workers, and Moving back, I'll just be Producing and Trading and building my engine. Hopefully, the early engine-building and extra resources gained during the first few turns will make up for all the Resources I won't be Producing on later turns.


Which Faction/Mat?
So if I'm going to go with only 2 Workers, the first thing I'm going to have to do is pick the right Player Mat. I'm going to be Producing a lot - that's the whole point. I'm also probably going to be Trading a lot, too. And, in order to be able to afford everything, I'm going to be Upgrading early and Upgrading a lot; that 's the "engine-building" I alluded to. The BRA for Bolster gives $2 or $3 (I'm only using the base game here) so ultimately I really want the cost for my Trade/Produce/Bolster cycle to cost 5 resources total.

Actually, let's do a little math here and make sure I'll have enough resources to pull this off... Let's say my plans are roughly to Trade 6 times, Produce 6 times, Bolster 4 times, and Move twice. I'm getting 24 Resources in total from Trade and Produce. Assuming everything is fully Upgraded: 6 Upgrades is 12 resources, 4 Resources for 1 BRA and 8 Resources for another comes out to exactly 24 Resources. Because some of my BRAs must come before I'm finished Upgrading, I don't realistically have enough resources. I can effectively get some resources from Encounters or the Factory, but I don't want to Move too much. But there is an out here: A can build a Mill! An early Mill can possibly add 4 to 6 more resources to the equation.

One thing I glossed over when discussing the disadvantages to strategies involving greater numbers of Workers is that more Workers let's you take over more territories. I showed this in the previous Case Studies. But Buildings can also hold territories. Furthermore, Workers act as a deterrent to your opponents' aggression. I can't really do anything to make up for having more Workers here, so the best I can do is maybe stay out of the fray longer.

OK... So I need Produce or Trade over Upgrade. That means Engineering or Mechanical. I also want Building under anything but Move, so Engineering it is! Also note that the Produce/Trade/Bolster options line up exactly with resources available in the Nords starting Peninsula. So I'll be using the Nords as my Faction. Given that the Nords are also the only Faction that don't have a Village in their starting peninsula, they were really the ones I was probably going to use anyway. And so begins my game without Producing any Workers...
External image

External image


The Actual Game:
I start a 4 Player game against random opponents. Building bonuses are for building on Tundras and Farms. Pretty good for me. I am dealt the following two Objectives:
- Stockpile for the Winter (9 resources on one territory)
- Get Rich or Cry Trying (Get to $20)

Sooooo... stockpiling isn't going to happen. $20 is doable, though. My plans involve generation $12 from Produce/Upgrades and $8 from Bolster/Build. And I start with $5. But I'm Trading a lot. I may or may not hit that Objective; I'll see how it goes. Other than building no Workers, my game will start out fairly normal. I'll get to the first Encounter without missing too many BRAs.

1. Trade - Oil + Oil
2. Produce; Upgrade Move-->Upgrade
3. Trade - Metal + Oil
4. Produce; Upgrade Bolster-->Deploy
5. Trade - Metal + Metal; Deploy Speed
6. Move Character to Encounter, Worker to Mountain. Leave Worker on Tundra.

I'm really glad the Encounter didn't give me the option to place a Worker for free. That would defeat the whole purpose of this game and I'd have to wonder if I should start a new game . Instead, it offers me a reasonable option of +1 Popularity and +2 Oil. I take this. Now, because I have the resources to Produce/Upgrade twice more, I can delay my Mill a little bit while continuing to make Build less expensive.

External image
(The current state after 6 turns)


7. Produce; Upgrade Bolster-->Deploy
8. Trade - Metal + Wood; Deploy Seaworthy
9. Produce; Upgrade Trade-->Build

I've used by my "free" Oil. I'm ready to strike out to the Factory, or perhaps lash out at any weak Faction that puts their Mech too close to my homeland. I'm debating a Mine on my Mountain so that I can effectively hit most of the map in a single turn. I really wish I had a second Combat Card, though. It's hard to complete 2 Combat Stars without one.

External image
(The current state, start of turn 10)

10. Bolster; Build Mill
11. Produce; Upgrade Gain-->Build
12. Bolster; Build Armory
13. Trade - Wood + Wood (+1 Power); Build Armory
14. Move Character to Factory, Mech+Worker to adjacent Oil Mine, Mech to Lake.

Time to start spreading out. At a minimum, I have to move my Workers to new territories or I can't Build. Lets see my Factory Card choices:
External image


At this point I'm eyeing both a Max Power Star and my Objective Star. These are not the best Factory Card choices. My Popularity is so low at this point, I was really hoping for something I could spend Popularity on instead of Coins. I go with the one on the right, figuring I can at least gain 3 Power the first time I use it. I'm setting up to do some attacking soon.



Unfortunately, I don't have a screen shot of everything that happens here. Rusviet kicks my Mech and Worker off of Oil. I Spend 1 Power and gain 1 Card. Then Saxony attacks Rusviet. A lot of Power is spent by my opponents overall. I sense that now is the time to attack Polonia. Rusviet is actually the the easier target, but I've got my eye on Polonia's 3 Food which I can then spend when I use the Move Action to get my next Combat Star (probably against Rusviet).
External image

As shown above, I use my Factory Card to gain 3 Power. I am now a single Bolster away from my Max Power Star. I move and attack Polonia. Now, how much Power do I spend? Polonia has Power and I have 13. They know I can force a win (unless both my cards are 2 Power). If they spend any Power and lose, they're basically not winning any Combats at all this game. And so, I decide to gamble and ensure my Max Power Star on my next Bolster:
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15. Factory: +1 Power, Enlist Deploy-->2 Power, Attack Polonia. *COMBAT STAR*
16. Bolster; Build Monument. *MAX POWER STAR*
17. Move (Spread out); Attack Rusviet ; Enlist Enlist--> $2 *COMBAT STAR;
18. Build Mine; *BUILDING STAR* *OBJECTIVE STAR*

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The current state, start of turn 19)


I'm at a point where I can end it. I incorrectly choose to Trade for Metal and Deploy instead of Produce and Upgrade, which nets me an extra $2. I wasn't paying enough attention and actually didn't finish my Upgrades as planned. Whoops. The game ends:
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Post Mortem:
Not a particularly amazing end game score. 67 points in 19 turns is enough to win against mediocre opponents, but probably isn't winning against solid opposition. And against good players, I'd probably have to throw a little Power into the Polonia attack. They can see me at 13 Power and know there's a chance I'll skimp on spending during that Combat. I'd probably spend an additional 3 Power there.

Looking back, though, I feel I made some major missteps somewhere along the way. The ability to either Upgrade or Deploy for my last star is a red flag. When you end the game one turn away from your 7th Star, chances are you're trying to do too many things. This is the first game I tried this strategy out, and there was probably a way to cut a turn or two off. Or ending the game with a Coin or two more. A $70 turn 17 or 18 finish would be more respectable.

Overall I'm not really displeased with the outcome. Hopefully, what people reading this will take away from the outcome is not so much the specific result. What's important for me is to show exactly how much you're giving up Producing Workers. By comparing this game to some of your own, you can see that while 2 Workers will not usually be enough in most cases, the costs to Produce the additional Workers are not insignificant. And by contrasting this game to the strategies in Case Study #1 and Case Study #2, you can see how having a different number of Workers should effect your mindset both in terms of Production plans as well as how you'll grab and hold territory.
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Tue Sep 4, 2018 6:35 am
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Case Study #2: 8-Worker Agricultural Crimea

John Martorana
United States
Holbrook
New York
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(Start of Scythe strategy blog Here)

For my first of these case study posts, I looked and an 8-Worker strategy for Agricultural Polonia. I thought that for the second case study, it might be useful to look at how a similar strategy might look for the same Player Mat, but for a different Faction. I'm going to be assuming you've read that post as I write this one.

Also, if you're reading any of my blog posts but skipping the comments, then you probably want to go back and check those comments out. I certainly get value out of the responses to what I've written. In some cases, as in the previous post, there's arguably as much value in the discussion going on in the comments as in the original post itself. There might be a question you had already (or hadn't yet thought of) answered in the comments, or even a different take on the concepts I'm writing about. I certainly miss things and make mistakes and those sorts of things tend to get pointed out as well.

OK all that being said lets's get started...
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Overall Strategy in Comparison to Polonia
Many of the advantages that existed for Polonia with the Agricultural Mat exist for Crimea as well. These include:
- Cheap Upgrades (with slightly easier easy Tundras)
- High starting Popularity
- A lot of money that can be spent on Encounters

You also have the following going in our favor:
- Coersion, which allows us a to effectively gain a large number of resources throughout the game.
- Starting on a Village, meaning you save a Move getting there
- Access to easy Metal in our starting peninsula.
- High starting Power
- Faster Enlists

You lose:
- Polonia's Meander ability to use two Encounter options.
- Submerge
- Polonia's first Encounter being very close to the Factory.

The general plan will still be to rush out 8 Workers pretty fast. But instead of:
Move / Trade / Move / Produce / Trade / Produce
We can do:
Produce / Trade / Produce / Trade / Produce / Move

Early on, the net benefit of saving that first Move action is that we will have 3 extra Food which can be spent on Enlist. You pretty much always go for Enlists with Crimea, so this will be the jump-start we get instead of to Polonia's double-Encounter. Access to Metal will make it easier to build Mechs and get out on the board. And the ability to spend Combat Cards as resources will allow us to only produce once after hitting 8-Workers instead of twice as we generally did with Polonia, and we can Move those workers to useful territories much more quickly.

We don't have Polonia's proximity to the Factory, nor do we benefit as much from Meandering all over the map picking up Encounters. So instead we will not rush the Factory, and we will focus on building on our Power advantage.


The Basic Opening:
1. Produce
2. Trade 2 Metal
3. Produce
4. Trade 2 Metal; Deploy Speed
5. Produce; ** Worker Star **
6. Trade 2 Oil
7. Bolster; Enlist {Enlist --> 2 Cards}
8. Move Workers to [Farm x4, Mountain x4], Character to Encounter; Upgrade.

Here, you're usually going to take the whatever resources and popularity the first option on the Encounter gives. The general exception is that when you can get 1 or more popularity from the second Encounter option, you can consider paying for that. The reason that you want Popularity is simple Math. You're trying to ensure you can get to 7 Popularity. Given that you're not Building anything this game, your only real sources of Popularity are:

+4 that you start with
+2 from one-time Recruit bonus
+2 from (hopefully) at least 2 Encounters
-1 from Producing once at 8 Workers (this is coming)

That makes 7 exactly. If you can get more than 1 Popularity from your first Encounter, take it! It will relieve some of the stress of getting to 7 total, as well as guarantee that you either have a little wiggle room to attack Workers or have a choice at the second Encounter.

After the Encounter, you're going to Upgrade. You're going to want to Upgrade Move-->Deploy, although use your judgement after the Encounter. Unless you've picked up Oil from the Encounter, you're going to want to use 1 Oil and 1 Card. One of the great advantages of Crimea is that you can Trade for 2 Oil and Upgrade twice off of that.



The Midgame Plan:
You're going to be Producing next. Unless something goes horribly wrong, your goal is to avoid Producing again for the rest of the game. Enlists you and other players do, as well as Scout Mech (and any lost Combats) will provide Combat Cards you can use as Resources. You can Trade for non-Metal and then spend the Metal you've already produced, for example. So a turn cycle might go: Trade for Oil; Deploy / Move; Upgrade making Enlist cheaper using Oil and Card / Bolster; Enlist getting more Cards.

Movement-wise, your goal is to star spreading out and taking territory. You've spent a lot of time inside your own home area building your engine, so you really need to get out there. Most games, you can build your Riverwalk Mech and grab that second Encounter before anyone else steals it. Your initial movement path will look something like this:
External image


You're going to grab your Workers with your Mechs and spread out. Your Character will first be moving to the Encounter and then possibly to the Factory. Unless you've already gotten more than one Popularity from your first Encounter, you're probably taking the first option again at your second Encounter. Where exactly you move your units after this is often decided by your Objectives. Here I'm trying to surround a lake:
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Then:
External image


Picking up from the previous set of moves, in this particular game, I think I received 2 Popularity from my first Encounter, and my next few moves were something like:
9. Produce
10. Trade (Oil + Metal); Deploy Riverwalk
11. Move; Upgrade Bolster-->Deploy; Encounter: -$2, +4 Metal.
12. Bolster; Enlist {Upgrade-->2 Power}


Endgame Goals:
So how are you looking to end the game? Ideally, you're taking a ton of territory since you have 8 Workers and probably unlike your opponents you don't care what resources they're on. You'll also have 4 Mechs. So in a best case scenario that's 13 to 15 territories controlled, although 9 to 12 is probably more reasonably likely. Another 24 points for Stars is obviously a goal, as is maybe 10 to 20 points from Coins. No buildings, and probably not many if any points for resources. So you're looking at 65 to 80 points or so on average if things go well. I'll probably reach close to as many territories as you're going to get by turn 16 or so you generally want to see the game end as early as possible - there aren't too many points still available.

Which stars are you trying to get? Obviously the 8-Worker Star. Because you'll have the resources available, the Enlist and Deploy Starts are also a given. That 3 of the 4 Stars from the set of [Max Power, Objective, Combat, Combat]. You really do want to complete an Objective because it will give you a lot more flexibility. You start at 5 Power, get +2 Power as a one-time Recruit Bonus, Bolster at least 4 times, and probably gain a bunch of Power for Upgrades. Given that, you're possibly looking at working with about 25 total Power during the game. So getting 2 Stars from Max Power and Combat or from two Combats is very likely. It can be a bit of a stretch to get three stars that way, though. If your Objectives really aren't achievable at all, you may need to consider staying back a bit until you've Maxed out Power before starting any Combats, or just go for a different strategy altogether.

One thing to note is trying to complete your Upgrades can be a bit of a trap. You're starting on Upgrades kind of late. It can sometimes be possible if you get a Factory Card that gives Upgrades, and also hit an Encounter that grants it. Bit even then, it's more of a fall-back plan if the game doesn't go well. Usually you only want to upgrade enough so that you can afford to play without Producing again.


What can go wrong:
The biggest thing to look out for is what your opponent's can you to you, particularly to attack your Popularity. Anyone who rushes the Factory can steal your second Encounter and is likely to do so because it's the only Encounter within 2 hexes of the Factory - Polonia, Rusviet, and the Nords all have ways of doing this. Saxony can just walk out and take the Encounter, although it's a bit of an investment for them to beat you there, and they have to skip an easier Encounter to do it. If you don't pick up at least 2 Encounters, and your neighbors aren't Building, you may need to waste a turn Trading to hit 7 Popularity.

Your opponents could make sure they keep a Worker or two with each Mech, meaning you'll take Popularity losses gaining the Combat Stars which you almost certainly need to win. Ultimately, you may have to decide whether the combination of earning the Stars and setting your opponents back will be enough to justify only hitting Tier-1 Popularity.

Finally, if you find you need Max Power and 2 Combats to win, your opponents are likely to get annoying as you start getting above 10 Power. They may attack you, knowing that you really don't want to spend a lot of Power here. Getting the Scout Mech out earlier can help discourage your opponents from attacking you here.



My Results with it so far:
Usually, I like to play a strategy against the Medium Bots on Digital Scythe game, just to see how things work out. Overall, I've had pretty good results with this. The few games I've tried, I've gotten my 6th Star around turn 18, which is probably good enough. I've had one game where everything worked out and I finished on turn 15.

One thing I've noticed is that it is MUCH more of a regimented, fixed strategy than what I did with 8-Worker Agricultural Polonia. It plays out more or less the same. I'm not grabbing lots of Encounters or using a Factory Card. Most of my choices seem mapped out. There's a little flexibility from the Encounters, but ultimately it doesn't change the shape of the game - just how I get there.

UPDATE: Here's some results from playing against the Scythe Digital bots. Each game was a 4-Player game with a single Random opponent missing. The results were remarkably consistent.

16 turns, $81, (Max Power, Combat x2, Objective:King of the hill) [Didn't Deploy Scout or Wayfare]
17 turns, $78, (Max Power, Combat, Objective:3 Tundras)
17 turns, $80 (Max Power, Combat x2, Objective:3 Forests) [Didn't Deploy Wayfare]
18 turns, $70, (Max Power, Combat x2) [Bad Objectives - Balanced Workforce and Pacifist)
18 turns, $74, (Max Power, Combat, Objective: 3 Farms)
18 turns, $75 (Combat x2, Objective:Shore up)
18 turns, $77, (Combat x2, Objective:Send One Back)
18 turns, $78 (Max Power, Combat x2) [Bad Objectives - Common Man and Tech Breakthrough]

The game almost plays out formulaically against the bots. 18 turns is pretty much the "standard" length with this strategy. You can save turns if you manage to earn 4 Stars from 2 Combats, Max Power, and your Objective. Especially if you can win 2 Combats in one turn.

Also, minor strategy changes have been made to this post. Where I wrote "You're usually going to want to Upgrade Move-->Deploy or Bolster-->Deploy" when you move to the Encounter has been changed to always be Move-->Deploy. Spreading out Workers faster is better.

Also, The first trade after your last Produce (turn 10) is going to be Oil + Metal by default. If your encounters don't give you any Food, Oil, or Metal, that's what you'll need to complete all your Enlist and Deploy Stars. (4 Food is enough if you Upgrade once before Enlisting the first time, and again before your next two Enlists)


(For my next post Here I'll be looking at a strategy as different from the last two as possible)
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Fri Aug 31, 2018 5:19 pm
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Case Study #1: 8-Worker Agricultural Polonia

John Martorana
United States
Holbrook
New York
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(Start of Scythe strategy blog Here)
(Part 7 of Scythe strategy blog Here)


Hello there. Been a while since my last post. If you're a follower of my on-again-off-again Scythe blog, then all I can say is... Well let's put it in the best possible light: you're a member of an elite group. Both of you. Anyway, there's been some talk on the BGG Scythe forum about a Scythe "Opening Book". I'm not really a fan of that per se, but certainly a discussion about the way in which certain Factions and Player Mats can play out, and the advantages/disadvantages of certain choices is something I'm interested in. And so, I though I'd start the ball rolling with a look at an 8-Worker opening using Agricultural Polonia. (The thread that started me studying this particular Faction/Mat combination is Here). Also, someone recently asked a quick question about it in a thread on the Scythe forum, and that's pretty much all the prompting I need to write a couple thousand words or so...

External image

External image



Overall Strategy
For any successful strategy you need to look at what advantages you've got at your disposal, and then find a way to leverage those advantages further. Here's some of the advantages we have with this Faction/Mat which we intend to lean on:
- Cheap Upgrades (although no easy Tundras)
- Polonia's Meander ability to use two Encounter options.
- Submerge
- Polonia's first Encounter is very close to the Factory.
- High starting Popularity
- A lot of money that can be spent on Encounters

The general plan is to rush out 8 Workers, along with the Submerge and Speed Mechs. We get to the Factory reasonably fast and aim to gather up Encounters all around the map. We probably will only be Producing once or twice after getting up to 8 Workers. You will very possibly never produce any Wood nor build any Buildings.

Overall, many of our choices and even which Stars we choose to go for will be based on our Factory card and our Encounters. Although the first half of the game may seem very pre-planned, this is ultimately a very reactive Strategy.

There are two main ways to begin, the "Consistent" Trade-first opening, and the "Aggressive", stronger but higher variance opening. We'll start with the "Consistent" version:

Consistent Phase 1:
1. Trade 2 Oil.
2. Move Worker to Village and Character; UPGRADE Move-->Deploy
3. Trade 2 Oil.
4. Move Character and other Worker to Village. ENCOUNTER(*); UPGRADE Bolster-->Deploy
5. Produce
6.Trade 2 Metal; Deploy Speed
7. Produce
8. Trade 2 Metal; Deploy Submerge
9. Move All 8 Workers to Oil. Move Character to Factory. Leave one Mech on the Village - you may need him in a bit.

(*)It's hard to describe what you choices you're going to make at the first Encounter without seeing how the game can go from here. We'll return back to the first Encounter later, but for now, assume we get 1 Popularity and that's it. Note that this is an overly conservative assumption - extremely so given Polonia's Faction ability to choose two options.

At the end of Phase 1, you now have all your Workers, 2 Mechs, and 2 Upgrades plus whatever comes from your Encounter.

Consistent Phase 2 (Example):
10. Produce (**)
11. Move Character to Encounter. Use two Mechs to move all Oil back to your starting peninsula and 6 of your Workers to Food; Upgrade Bolster-->Enlist (***)


(**) It should be noted that you now have exactly enough Oil to complete your Upgrades.

(***) This is possible because you left one of your Mechs on your starting Village. Should you choose to Produce now, you should be able to Enlist all Recruits off of 6 Food, assuming you get another Upgrade eventually.

I can't give hard and fast rules about what to do from here. Mostly, you need to recognize that Submerge + Speed + Factory means you can gobble up Encounters all over the map. Hopefully you picked a Factory card that is useful to use a few times. Because you have enough Oil to Upgrade whenever you Move, you can alternate between Move and the Factory not only without waste, but possibly hitting an Encounter every time with a path like this:

External image

(Red is a Move Action, Blue is a Factory Action)

Also to remember is that you're not going to be Producing much, probably only one more time. Once you've Produced some Food, you can start spreading those Workers all over the board, especially tunnels. Territories give almost as many points as Stars. And Encounters will fuel your Popularity. You can always Trade twice for the Deploy Star if you need it. Riverwalk can often help you get even more Encounters - especially at lower player counts - and Camaraderie can obviously allow you to save on Popularity.



The Aggressive Version
Getting to the Factory on turn 9 in the Consistent version is nice. But the nature of this opening is that it gets stronger the earlier you get out on the middle of the map. The longer you have the middle to yourself, the more Encounters you steal. Also, as stated I've stated before, Encounters and the Factory go down in value as the game goes on. This goes double for Polonia as you may start to find no good second option when Meandering to Encounters.

So what we're going to do is cut the first Trade out of our opening. We're going to rush out the 8 Workers literally as quickly as possible.

Aggressive Phase 1a:
1. Move Worker to Village.
2. Trade 2 Steel.
3. Move Character and other Worker to Village. ENCOUNTER; ???

OK, so a few things to note here. First, no guaranteed Upgrades. In fact, assuming we get nothing from the Encounter, we're going to be almost strictly worse off than the Consistent opening. To make matters worse without the Upgrades, the next Produce/Trade/Produce/Trade cycle will not be enough Metal to get the 2 Mechs out, so I don't get to the Factory any sooner. So why would I even consider this??

Well, the main reason is that I will NOT get "nothing" from the Encounter. If I get Oil or an Upgrade, then Deploy will cost 3 Metal, and I get the Mechs out. If I get a Metal or a Mech, I can similarly stay on target. There's also the possibility of getting resources of my choice. So what's the chances I get one of these? It's going to depend on exactly what promos and expansions you're using, but with the base game the answer is slightly better than two-thirds of the time. Two-thirds of the time you come out (in my opinion) significantly stronger, and one-third of the time you're set back a turn. Only, the truth is you aren't set all that far back at all, because you're only 3 turns into the game. You're not married to an 8-Worker opening. Maybe a free Mine or other Encounter bonus pushes you another way. Maybe you DON'T rush the Factory, but instead focus on a 5-Worker Build/Enlist Strategy. Honestly, most people would look at Agricultural Polonia and immediately think that Building and Enlisting looks like a pretty good idea.

There are always inherent advantages to hitting that Encounter early and building around what you get rather than hitting it later and hoping it fits your needs. (As I explained in this post Here, Encounters and the Factory lose value over time, so there's a benefit to hitting the first Encounter as early as possible)

Aggressive Phase 1b (Example):
Let's say we got 4 Oil from the Encounter. We Upgrade Move-->Deploy at the end of turn 3. The next few moves could go:

4. Produce
5. Trade 2 Metal; Deploy Speed Mech
6. Produce
7. Trade 2 Metal; Deploy Submerge
8. Move 6 Workers to Oil. Move Character to Factory. Move 1 Worker to Farm.

Phase 2 of the Aggressive version follows more or less the same as in the Consistent version, but one move ahead.


Whether you prefer the Consistent or Aggressive version of this strategy, this will be a very reactive game. You'll be trying to cobble together 6 Stars while racing around the board gobbling up Encounters. I find that by virtue of being out on the board early and having lots of options, most games I can complete at least one of my Objectives with relative ease. One or two Combats is likewise also common. But sometimes I get a Max Power Star and occasionally I get one for Max Popularity. I want to stress again that there's no set plan. If you're going to play this way, you have to be comfortable with improvising and playing much more tactically than you may be used to.

You do want to be somewhat mindful of your Objectives when playing this way. Obviously, if you've only got ones that are going to be difficult or impossible to complete with this strategy, then maybe you should try something more standard. There's nothing wrong with looking at Agricultural Polonia and saying that you're going to Build a lot and Produce a lot. Some of these "bad" Objectives which might indicate using another strategy are:

- Have 1 Factory card and 0 upgrades
- Build at least 3 structures, have 7 Popularity, and 0 Mechs
- Have the same number of workers and recruits
- Have at least $20 at the end of your turn
- Have 1 Factory card, at least 1 mech, and no more than 3 Workers

These are mostly obvious. You're likely going to be spending money on Encounters, and several of these are explicitly impossible given our opening. If you had two of these Objects, I'd consider going a different direction. On the other hand any objectives that only involve holding certain territories are pretty good. You're moving a lot and don;t need workers on any particular resources, so you should be able to do one of these. There's even one Objective to "Have at least 6 of your tokens on 1 territory", which you accomplish for free.


Summary:
So that's pretty much it. Rush to 8 Workers, rush out to the Factory and run around the board. Is this the strongest way to play Agricultural Polonia? Not always. Maybe even not in general. If your opponents are prone to playing a lot of "Solitaire Scythe" early on, where they stay in their own territory, this may be a way to punish that by taking over the board and stealing all the Encounters. If they tend to play long games going many turns, then this could punish that as well. My games on the Scythe Digital version (currently in early access on steam) against the AI suggests that I typically finish games with 6 Stars around the 17 to 19 turn mark.

But for me however, this strategy is generally the "best" way to play this Faction/Mat combo simply because I find it the most fun. Having to figure out what I'm doing on the fly, and having that change two turns later after two more Encounters is part of the charm. From the moment I start looking over the Factory cards I'm in uncharted waters. It works for me.


(For a follow-up comparison of trying to do something similar with a different faction, see my next post Here)
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Sun Aug 19, 2018 4:58 am
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Scythe-960: The first updates

John Martorana
United States
Holbrook
New York
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(Original Scythe-960 blog post Here)

So the Scythe-960 web app seems to be fairly stable. It went a week or so with a few hits here and there and no errors being generated. It is now an official a project for me though, and that means some administrivia and boring work was now warranted...

First and foremost, I need to back up my software and start putting some version control on it. I've lost code to computer crashes before, and I never want to end up there again. It feels awful when it happens because I know it's completely avoidable. Because a big part of my goal here is to learn some new things, I've decided to use Git and Github since they seem to be one of the standards I have zero experience with.

Secondarily, I've create a new app server at: https://test-scythe-960.appspot.com . This will allow me deploy and test changes in a production environment without affecting the main server which is still at https://scythe-960.appspot.com . Going forward I hope for the main server to be very stable, with the test server being my playground, which I'll feel more willing to break.

Currently the main server is still up and running.

Recently, I realized that it might be useful to be able to allow people to create their own Player Mats. You might have a particular arrangement of Top and Bottom Row Actions you'd like to see, or have an image you'd like to see on a Scythe Player Mat. So I'm in the middle of working on a bare-bones web app for that:

https://test-scythe-960.appspot.com/create-your-own.jsp

It's VERY finicky right now. A malformed URL or a mis-configuration such as having two Bolsters, and it just generates a random Player Mat. It most likely won't even inform the user what he did wrong. But if everything is entered correctly, it should let people create their own view.


(FYI, When I do get around to updating this blog, I think I'll be posting more about my new Scythe-related software development efforts here. The project currently grabs my interest more than simply writing about Scythe strategy. There may be a few more strategy thoughts in the future, but I expect they'll be even more sparse)
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Wed May 16, 2018 6:05 am
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A New Project - random Player Mats

John Martorana
United States
Holbrook
New York
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(Start of the Scythe blog Here)

Over in this thread, where there was some discussion on whether the game of Scythe could be solved, GFLima suggested that it would be nice if there existed a version of Scythe with random Player Mats. This would be analogous to how there exists the game chess960, which is basically chess with a somewhat random set up.

So I've embarked on a pet project to randomly generate Scythe Player Mats while learning some new software development skills in the process. This will be my first time exploring the Google App Engine platform for deploying Web Apps, which caught my interest some time ago.

Here's a sample generated Player Mat:
External image



If anyone is interested, you can feel free to check out the website here:
https://scythe-960.appspot.com/


I originally wanted to add more images and Mat names, as well as some options to create non-Random Mats in case people wanted to see a particular configuration, or just work with their own pictures. Maybe that'll come in the future - this has been a lot more work intensive than I originally expected it to be.


It's a bit slow. I can't guarantee it'll have 100% up-time. I may break it at some point while experimenting with the Google framework. But consider it "Beta" or whatever and have a look if you're interested.

(Minor updates in the next blog post Here)
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Sat May 5, 2018 10:43 pm
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Part 7: Combat - How much Power to Spend

John Martorana
United States
Holbrook
New York
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(Start Here)
(Part 6 Here)

[Note: I've been away from this blog a long time. Mostly, my gaming group stopped playing Scythe and I lost a bit of interest in writing about it. But since starting to play the Beta of the new digital version of Scythe (soon to be available via Steam), I find myself wanting to write again... Here we go...]

Winning your first Combat to earn a Star is almost always at least as efficient as earning one of your BRA stars. Even an spending 7 power and 2 cards would likely have cost you no more than 3 Bolsters. And on almost all Player Mats, the BRA below Bolster is earning you 2 or 3 coins, so it's likely one of the BRAs you'll be working towards in any event. (Note: The only exception is the oddly named "Militant" Mat from the Invaders expansion). So it's an unusual game where you're not looking to position yourself to earn at least one Star this way.

As mentioned in Part 6, it's almost always a mistake to attack if your opponent knows they can win the Combat. So, given that your opponent believes you can force a win by spending enough Power and Cards, exactly how much should you be actually spending? The best way to answer this is by considering what I refer to as the "Default Position"

The Default Position
What I mean by the Default Position is where the Attacker spends exactly enough Power and Cards to guarantee victory. The Defender, knowing they can lose no matter how much they spend, spends exactly 1 power and no cards, or 0 Power and a low-value Combat Card so that they at least receive the 1 Card consolation prize. A lot of Combats go this way. For the Attacker, spending both an entire turn and some Power/Cards only to lose territory is an unacceptable waste. For the Defender, assuming that the Attacker does take the Default Position, anything spent on the Combat beyond the minimum is pure waste as well.

In many ways, it is much easier for the Attacker to stray from this Default Position. If the Attacker adopts the Default, the Defender cannot take any particular advantage of his opponent's strategy; all the Defender can do is gain a Card. From the Attacker's perspective, the Default is low-risk and low-variance.

On the other hand, the Attacker CAN take great advantage of a Defender spending only 1 Power. If you KNEW your opponent was going to roll over, you'd only spend a fraction of the Power. Pay attention to how much your opponents are spending when defending. Often if you see an opponent spend the minimum, they're looking to let everyone else waste power so they can attack themselves. They may be waiting to get a Max Power Star. This is the kind of player you can abuse and attack, spending little to gain a Combat Star. (Just DO make sure it looks like you can guarantee a win as outlined in Part 6. Otherwise, they may just take their free off-turn Star)


So the Attacker needs only suspect that his opponent will play reasonably safe to eek out a little extra value. The Defender on the other hand needs to suspect his opponent will veer from a safe, low-variance strategy to put up more than token resistance. In short, you often either need to know your opponent well enough to suspect they'll vary from the Default or have some (usually Faction specific) plan in mind to be spending significant resources while defending.

Seeking Variance
There is a principle in games that the player in the lead should tend to eschew variance, while the players who trail should look for opportunities to ramp the variance up. The idea is that the further behind you are, the more you should be willing to take risks.

This gives us some insight as to when it pays to diverge from the Default Position. If, when attacking, you feel you are comfortably in the lead then you should tend toward spending enough Power to guarantee you win the fight. Similarly, if your opponent has a comfortable lead as they attack, you're best play is usually to spend the minimum.

When the Attacker is behind in the game is when you should most consider veering from the Default Position. If you are the leader and are defending, you may now also have the option of spending some Power. You don't have to spend any; the low-variance option is usually still completely viable. But you can consider the Attacker and the situation:

1. Is the Attacker far behind?
2. Are you far ahead of all the other players?
3. Will guaranteeing a win leave the Attacker unable to make further attacks or defend themselves?
4. Are they the kind of gamer who favors a small chance of winning even if it mean moving them from second place to dead last? (Alternatively, is this a tournament where only winning matters?)

The more "Yes" answers to the above, the more Power you can lean toward spending.

If you are the attacking the leader, you need to consider what to spend. Are you so far behind that you need to gamble? Exactly how much Power and Cards do you need to deter opponents from attacking you? Power's value is discreet and does not scale linearly... If everyone is at Max Power, for example, you might as well guarantee a win because everyone is going to looking to use up their power anyway. If the leader is rather comfortably ahead and everyone is at 5 Power, spending enough to leave you at 7 Power and a couple Cards is a MUCH better result than ending on 4 Power.

Finally, when two players who are both behind in the game are in Combat... now there's a real poker match going on. Both players should often consider taking some risks. Someone who takes a large risk will either come out ahead or even further behind. The best advice is just to know your opponents and try not to be too predictable yourself.

And if you play with the same people over and over, then you really, really do have to try and avoid being too predictable. If I see that a particular player never takes risks in Combat, I will abuse that. On occasion it gives me near complete information about their Combat Cards (e.g. "He must have a 5 and he's going to use it). Don't be that guy.

(Jump to next Scythe Strategy post Here for a different take on Agricultural Polonia.)
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Tue Apr 24, 2018 5:46 am
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Part 6: Combat - Why and When

John Martorana
United States
Holbrook
New York
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(Start Here)
(Part 5 Here)

Despite Scythe having a bit of a reputation of "not being a wargame", combat is a significant part of the game. And while it's true that most turns will go by without and battles taking place, the threat of combat looms over you the entire game. It can helpful to maintain a healthy Cold War mentality. You and your opponents will spend most of the game waiting, poised to strike when it most benefits you. So let's start the discussion by trying to answer a few basic questions about combat.

Why to Attack
The most obvious reason to attack an opponent's units is to gain a Star. You can earn up to 2 Stars for Combat (more if you're Saxony) and in some way they can be the "cheapest" Stars you can earn. While BRA (bottom row action) Stars take a minimum of 4 Actions and a good number of Resources to earn, Combat Stars take as little as 1 Action and a little bit of Power under ideal circumstances. In almost any game, you'll be planning on earning at least one Combat Star simply because if you don't then someone who did will likely be ending the game on their turn.

Winning a Combat for your 6th Star also tends to be am incredibly efficient way to score a few more points. You end the game with at least 1 more Star than your opponents, usually spread out to a few more territories (while costing one opponent a territory of his own), and deny your opponents another turn in which they could have scored more points themselves.

The other main reason to attack is usually to steal some Resources (Wood, Oil, etc). If one of the other Players has left a large pile of Resources where you can attack (whether or not they have a Mech there), you need to consider whether it's worth attacking. You're almost certainly going to incur a Popularity loss. And because there will rarely be more than one production cycle of resources on a Hex, the amount of Popularity you lose is usually going to be proportional to how many Resources you can steal. So just attacking unprotected Workers for Resources is often a mistake unless your late in the game and you've calculated that you're sure to end the game in the same Popularity Tier. Also, you must be able to spend those Resources fast: either the Resources you're stealing are needed for the BRA of your Move action, or you need to be very sure no other Player can get there with their next Move and just steal the Resources from you. Unless you've done the Popularity calculation and can guarantee you'll be able to spend the Resources, it's often the case that it wasn't worth stealing them in the first place.

Another obvious, reason to attack someone it that you need that specific Hex. It could be the Factory, some place you really want to put a Building, or you need it to satisfy an Objective.

A final reason to attack is to cripple an opponent. As in any multiplayer game, when one player spends resources to hurt anorher, it's everyone else who benefits. But, you do need to consider exactly how bad being attacked will be for your opponent. Completely removing them from the game (for example, sending 2 Mechs and their Character back home) is usually worth a little extra investment.

Overall, remember this: you don't have to have only one reason to attack an opponent. Sending 4 of your opponent's Workers home probably isn't worth the hit to your Popularity even if it does set one opponent back. But if you're also sending his Character home, earning a Combat Star, and stealing a bunch of Wood that you use to Build a Monument this turn, now that may very well be worth the Popularity it will cost you.


Why you'll get attacked
A quick corollary to all this is that your opponents will be looking to attack you for exactly the same reasons. It's very important to try and not to paint a target on your back and to try and appear to be a costly target. You want your opponents to think you're not worth attacking.

Don't pile all your resources in one place within striking distance of your opponents. Be very aware that when you choose to take Resources from an Encounter that they go on the Hex of the Encounter itself. If you can't spend them immediately, you've created a situation where winning Combat against you sends your Character back home, grants your opponent a Star, gives them Resources, and doesn't cost them the popularity that Worker-Produced Resources usually do. So don't chose to take any Resources from Encounters that you can't guarantee you can spend before being attacked.

Don't spend all your power and Combat Cards in one attack that will just leave you vulnerable to having everything you own sent back to your Home Base - your opponents will gang up on you for cheap Stars if they smell blood. You can end up seeing yourself attacked multiple times in a single turn.

Be wary of opponents who are very low on Popularity. Popularity can't go negative, so your Workers really aren't a deterrent to them. They're now targets and a liability. At some point in the game, an opponent can come to the decision that they're just not going to hit Tier 2 Popularity, and it can be costly not to realize the new threat they now pose.

When to Attack
With the reasons to attack now laid out, let's consider the idea of WHEN it's a good time to attack.

Usually, you need to be in a position to guarantee a win in order to make an attack. Note: I am NOT saying that you necessarily will be choosing to spend enough Power and Cards to guarantee a win - only that you should avoid Combat if that is not an option. (More on how much to spend later.) At a minimum, your opponent should be unlikely to be able to guarantee a win himself. Otherwise, there is a good chance he will choose to win; earning a Star on your opponent's turn is pretty much the most action-efficient way to earn one.

Next, you have to look at the board and see if other Players can counterattack you on the next turn, and if so how much you care about being forced to retreat. Being forced to retreat a single Mech isn't that costly, for example. It's not a bad idea to ensure that after your combat you'll still be a costly target - have some Power and Combat Cards left over.

What frequently happens in Scythe is that one Player will attack to earn a Combat Star. Now that he's weaker, another Player will attack him. Of course, now THAT Player is weaker... It is usually most advantageous to be on the tail end of one of these chain of attacks. Just because you can earn a Combat Star now doesn't mean you can't also wait for a better opportunity that will cost you less Power.

Finally, if you're over 11 or 12 Power, you want to consider delaying your attack. Especially do so if it is relatively early in the game because there will likely be numerous opportunities for Combat later. The "free" Star you earn at 16 Power also puts you in excellent position to quickly earn 2 more Stars for Combat, even if you have to overspend Power on them. On the other hand, if it's late in the game and you can't guarantee time to both max out power and also win two Combats. You probably don't want to give up an easy Combat Star now for a max Power Star several turns later. Even assuming you earn the Power Star you're unlikely to end up with more total Stars by the games end. And always remember that games of Scythe can end rather suddenly. So the later in the game it it, the more you lean toward earning Stars NOW.

... looks like Combat's going to require at least another post or so. In Part 7 will look at some thoughts on how much Power to spend on Combat, and possibly some useful combat-related tactics.
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Tue Feb 20, 2018 2:30 am
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