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Subject: Strategy Guide: Comprehensive rss

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M Dornbrook
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Scrolling through the well nigh 200 posts, I noticed that there is a dearth of strategy discussions. Being ranked 24th, I was surprised. In this post I hope to bring to light some aspects of the game that you may have not seen. On a note, I’ve tried to avoid using bits or pieces. Rather, I describe the statues (Buddhas, High Helmets, and Rice Patties) as “tokens” and the tiles as, well, tiles. If I’ve mistaken one for the other, drop me a note and I’ll edit it.

The Lay of the Land
Obviously, because there are a finite number of plays that each player will be able to make, it is every player's goal to reduce their average number of tiles played per token collected. On the map below, I've circled the richest regions of the game. The Akita Peninsula and Kyushu have the smallest tiles played to tokens captured ratio at 7:5. The next two richest regions of the board are the areas around Edo and Sapporo at 8:5. As these spaces account for over 50% of the game board, I'll discuss them, primarily.

While all tiles are not equal, on average, players with more tiles in these regions will win more tokens in these regions (if players were playing randomly). By concentrating your play on these areas, you may be able to gain an upper hand by decreasing your tiles played to tokens collected ratio, especially if other players invested early and are, presently, preoccupied battling one another in other regions.

Tactics
While concentrating your play in a specific region may be beneficial, time and again, investing your tiles in a specific region is generally not. Players who are playing tiless in an effort to build up a bulwark of easily collectable tokens later in the game tend to suffer from two nasty side effects of their "delayed gratification" strategy.

1. Other players drop in with boats and high level tiles and steal their tokens with relatively few tiles. When this happens the tiles are effectively dead.

2. The game ends before the player can capture her or his tokens. I've seen this happen in Edo, someone put down three samurai, 3, 2, and 1 (half their samurai!). Everyone else decided it wasn't worth it to compete for the tokens and spent their tiles elsewhere, forcing the player to finish off Edo on her own. The game ended on ties before she could surround Edo.

These two aspects of game play, coupled with 1 in 5 tokens having a kanji on them, make for a game strategy that is best based on opportunism. Looking for plays where you can use just one tile to take a token or where one tile and one kanji tile let you take a token is a strong approach. On this note, I suggest that you hold on to the horseman (Ronin) until you can use him to take more than one token (or take one token and cause one to tie). In some cases, I've been able to use the Horseman to take three tokens!

Strong Moves
In some cases, investing may be temporarily in a players favor. On the first turn, a player may wish to make a risky move in an effort to ensure capture of a token or as an attempt to entice other players to waste powerful tokens early in the game. This is where a certain amount of calculated risk is worth considering. Here risk levels are,
Red = High
Yellow = Moderate
Blue = Low/None


When considering the riskiness of your play, also consider the strength of your tile. If you place a 4 in a high risk area, you will be able to capture that token on your next turn unless another player forces a tie (a waste!) or uses at least one additional token. As opening moves go, placing a 4 in a high risk area next to a big city with a corresponding token, especially Edo, can be a powerful opening move, setting you up to take one token and potentially another with the same tile. If your opponent decides its worth it to beat you, then he or she is down useful tiles, if not, you're ahead on the second turn. If you place a 1, 2 or 3 in a high risk area, make sure that other players have played all of the relevant high tiles so that you don’t give them a cheap token. My preferred opening move is a 4 tile just North of Akita because it can be used to influence a token in Akita (which requires 4 tiles to surround) and if another player steals the token above yours, they’ve gained relatively little footing in the area, while you are invested in Akita, still.

Another good opening move could be the blue space immediately south of the city of Akita. In this way, you are playing in one of the seven spaces of the Akita Peninsula but are giving your opponents no footing on which they can take advantage of you, it can be thought of as a free move, especially if you’re going first. Still, this falls into the same problem as playing in all of the low risk territories, a high probability of low return.

A less bold opening move can be to play in one of the yellow risk areas. If you're playing against one other player, they have to use the Horseman/Ronin tile to steal the token from you. That would be an expensive play. The problem with this is that, on your next turn, what do you do? Do you play a samurai or invest another like tile at the site? If you don't boost your strength, but play an irrelevant tile to influence something else, then you're opening that city up to theft. If you invest another tile in the city, sure, it's yours, but three tiles is a lot to pay for one token. The fundamental problem that I see with opening a yellow region is that, in a two player game, it turns into investment and could easily be taken advantage of. On the other hand, it is a moderately safe move if you are unable to decisively play in red areas.

Finally, I caution players away from fighting in blue areas. The Southern half of Honshu is often a dead zone or frenzied with theft (though, the islands are a good place to play). Your tiles go there to sit, often unresolved at the end of the game. In the case that there is heavy competition in this area, two or three tiles is a very expensive way to not win any tokens.

Tokens
There are 10.5, 10, and 9.75 tokens available per player, respectively, in 2, 3, and 4 player games. If you ever count up your tokens and have 8-10, you are probably winning and you should move to end the game as quickly as possible without giving anyone else tokens unless they are clearly losing (assuming you’ve a diverse group of tokens). Prior to this, you can gauge your progress by counting up the number of tokens that have been captured or tied and dividing that total by the number of players. If you are above the average, you are probably winning and should seek solidify your lead through stealing and tying with your opponents.

Because players have an inclination to evenly distribute tokens at the beginning of the game, rather than distribute them randomly, one rarely has to worry about clustering. If you play towards your greatest opportunities, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to worry about the distribution among tokens that you’ve captured. I usually aim to have ten tokens, four of one type and three of the other two. If I manage to achieve this and the game is still being played (i.e. I’ve been playing a better game than my opponents) I count up what’s remaining on the board (if I haven’t been keeping track of what others have in my head) and see if any one else could have me tied or beaten for that most. The next step to playing is to tie as many of my most tokens as possible. While a capture would be nice, a tie may require less tiles, leaving me able to end the game decisively later on.

If you know that you’re behind, it’s a good idea to make an effort to wrap up the tokens that you have invested in before moving on. Other players are likely to pick up your abandoned tokens cheaply if you don’t. Another method of playing catch-up is to play a tactical game that forces other players to respond by playing in blue areas. This can be done around Sapporo and Kyoto to a limited extent. I wish that I could offer more strategies to catch up; by the time that I figure out that I’m losing, it’s usually too late.

Choosing an Opening hand
Choosing your opening hand can cause Thinkers Elbow. Because those first five tiles often shape the way that you play the rest of the game, it is important that you are equipped with the right tiles. There are no right answers to the best opening hand, only guidelines.

Late Game Hammer
In this strategy, the player wants to save many of their most powerful tiless for the end of the game. Rather than rely on boats and “dirty tricks” this player plays some of their kanji tiles early in the game in order to ensure that they will see much of their hand. An opening hand for this strategy might include:
One or two boats
No tile greater than a 3
One low level Samurai

The strength of this strategy lies in capitalizing on the tension created during the middle of the game when some tiles have been played but the “Risk” map has been redrawn (two or three wayward tiles due South of Edo makes this a rich region of high risk plays, benefiting the opportunist). The weakness of this strategy is revealed when the game ends suddenly as a result of ties and this player has collected the fewest tokens.

Juggernaut
In this strategy, the player wants to make a bold opening statement about being dominant on the board. This involves deliberately stealing a token from an opponent on the first or second turn or playing a large tile in a valuable position. This player might play a 4 above Akita or place her or his 3 Samurai tile next to Edo. The goal is to start the game with a lot of influence on as many tokens as possible and maintain that while picking up tokens.
An opening hand for this player might include:
The 2 and 3 Samurai
One or two 4’s and a 3
Perhaps, one tile with a kanji on it

The weakness of this strategy is that a player can be thought of as having blown their lead by overplaying it. If this player is doing a good job of outmaneuvering opponents, this is a difficult strategy to catch up with, though.

Blitzkrieger
In this strategy, the player is driven solely by opportunism and direct confrontation. This player rarely lays the first tile by a city because, each move is an attempt to steal another’s city or force that player to spend more than they want to capture a token. An opening hand for this strategy might include:
the Ronin/Horseman
One or two boats
A couple of 3’s
While this player has tiles with a kanji on them readily available, they are meant to be used only in situations where they assist in winning a token. They are used when tokens become vulnerable to opportunism rather than saved or used immediately. The downside to this may be that, at the end of the game, the player has no more surprises in his or her hand and succumbs to other players wreaking vengeance.

While there are more opening strategies, their differences are subtle and a few draws can change game play and strategy completely. I have two recommendations for the opening hand:
1. There are five kanji tiles in your deck, never start with four and play them on your first turn. You will, almost assuredly, regret it. Other players can easily play around you

2. Never put the tile swap tile in your opening hand, play this later in the game. It will just get in the way and annoy you (or you’ll use it and lose its value).

Concluding Thoughts
I’m sure that much of this is common sense. However, until recently, I never had considered playing a 4 in a high risk area on my first move. When I saw that done, I realized how powerful a move it can be to get a player to play two tiles to take one token where I would have been happy to play two tiles to get it. While I hope that you have found this discussion enlightening, I also hope that you’ll think I have not written a comprehensive strategy guide and will want to make better diagrams of your own. If this is the case, I designed and uploaded the following image in a few hours and modified it for the purposes of this strategy guide. You may use (and I encourage you to) and modify this however you see fit.


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Matt Walker
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What's your take on the distal Kyoto peninsula (that runs toward Kyushu), where the play:capture ratio is 6:3? Do you avoid it due to the two low-risk locations that run through its center?

Also, how do you evaluate the locations where placing a ship can influence two tokens simultaneously?
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M Dornbrook
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mwalker wrote:
What's your take on the distal Kyoto peninsula (that runs toward Kyushu), where the play:capture ratio is 6:3?


If you play one more tile, it becomes 7:4. For whatever reason, I don't like this area very much. I'm certain that someone can make a case for playing here, especially because it has so many harbors (where a boat can influence two tokens). I don't feel that it is rich enough to merit thinking about very intensely in the early game. When resources become scarce, this peninsula can be very combative. I think because it appears so small, that many players are drawn into the idea of easy tokens(rather than competing in more expansive areas) but end up playing tile after tile when they could have been making better moves. If you equate the play:capture ratio to that of Edo alone (also 6:3), at least when you've captured Edo you potentially have influence on five other tokens. At the end of that bottom peninsula, you've played seven tiles to have influence on just the two in the city of kyoto (or if you played six tiles, influence on one token) that's not the best outcome I can think of.

mwalker wrote:
Also, how do you evaluate the locations where placing a ship can influence two tokens simultaneously?


Thanks for pointing this out. I had intended to comment on harbors in the post but forgot for whatever reason (I was too busy drawing maps). Harbors are hard to pin down because they appear and disappear very quickly based on the number of players. My personal experience is that harbors are often detrimental to the mindset of a player. It's nice to maximize the effect of your boats, but after playing a boat in a harbor, I see many players start thinking about the token across the water. For this reason, I've moved away from playing boats that influence across islands (though this can be quite beneficial) and I like to play my boats in the area around akita and kyoto because the tokens that they influence are consolidated into one area. It's worth noting that the peninsula you referenced earlier become subject to serious piracy when a third player is added to the game (making it even riskier to play there). On that note, my favorite area, the Akita Peninsula, also becomes subject to harbors when a fourth player is added. My advice for using boats comes down to this: Use your boats to win tokens when you need that extra one or two (or helps you to win/tie a piece with your Horseman across the water). If they have influence elsewhere, later in the game, that benefits you, great. If not, don't worry about it.
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William Boso
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Awesome guide (although I'm a late reader). This really pins down on what's effective use of the number of tiles you have to play. I enjoyed the touch on your starting hand and the mention on how important of a role it plays later on. Certainly one of the most in-depth strategic games I've had my hands on.

Gah ... makes me want to play!
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Igor Mascarenhas
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Could you upload the first picture again. I mean, I tried to read this thread a few times and every try the first picture is offline.
By the way its a well done thread. Thanks for that bro
 
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M Dornbrook
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These are the two images that I uploaded for the game. Shoot me a PM if you can't see either of them and I'll send you the file, directly.

 
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Igor Mascarenhas
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Now it works on. Thanks again
 
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Steven Senger
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First off, I must say that this is quite well done!

I have been unable to find an appropriate response to a 3 Samurai placed southeast of Edo. It was getting to the point where, basically, whoever went first would win in my circle of players. This guide offers hope and breathes new life into a fantastic game.

Thanks again!
 
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Justin
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ldsdbomber wrote:
the game is so fragile even though you're randomly selecting tiles from your set, that in multiplayer games, the first player wins always by just putting a 3 samurai tile in one specific position?

I'm struggling to believe that's true, do you have any good numbers to back this up, do any other experienced players have a similar opinion?

Thread: "First player advantage" (mostly RE: 2P games)
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Justin
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ldsdbomber wrote:
interesting, but are you randomly picking pieces to start with? How do you know you will get a 3 piece to start

Or, can you not select some opening hands that are better for P2? Or what if P1 can't open with a 3 tile?

I don't know, even 60-40 doesnt seem too bad to me, maybe if I was super good at the game I suppose, but Im not

There is a marked statistical 2P advantage for P1 in random hand games as well.

Even if you start by play a 2-buddha or a 1-samurai into Edo, you still have an influence and tempo advantage on it.
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