There are 3 strategic paths in Yspahan: building, supplying and caravanning. Having a good knowledge of these paths is essential to elaborate your strategy, but also counter those developed by other players.
The art of building
A strategy concentrated on building will be more and more powerful during the course of the game, and become really efficient during the last week. Expect to be a bit behind in score at the end of the first week, during which you will try to build as many buildings as possible – usually three, including the Paddock (+1 camel) and the Shop (+2 gold), to be built in this order. You will spend your next actions to do the last 3 buildings (and score the total of 25 bonus points) while taking opportunities to score additional points: easy souks, caravan… This will be easier with the powers of your buildings upgrading your actions.
Camels will be key to success since they are needed for buildings and more competed over than gold. Your opponents will try to slow you down as much as possible by taking them: the later a builder finishes his buildings, the less he will come back in score.
When having uninteresting groups of dice for your strategy, draw cards. Keep “build without camels/gold” to build the 3 expensive buildings (caravanserai, bazaar and paddock); “3 camels” will speed the early building of a Paddock or a Shop; “exchange camels against gold” allows you to pass on building the Paddock and use only the Shop (intensively)…
The art of supplying
On the contrary of the 25 fixed bonus points for buildings, the souks in town give you variable points, if you manage to complete the begun souks entirely before the end of the week. Then a strategy concentrated on supplying is naturally based on finishing as many souks as possible, but eventually it will be the timing that will matter: first book, then finish. Example: if you get 3 cubes in the coffer neighbourhood, you can complete of course directly the yellow souk; but it could be better in some cases to complete the blue souk, then book with the third cube the yellow or purple souk. Don’t neglect also the possibility to discard when selecting an action to have an additional cube, especially for the coffer and vase neighbourhood which are more rarely accessible. Last but not least, keep the card “place a cube in town” to take, at the beginning of the following week, the blue souk of the vase neighbourhood (which has only one space).
Think about keeping one or two camels at the end of the week (especially in a 2-players game); otherwise your opponents will be tempted with the supervisor to break one of your nicest souk by sending one of your cubes in the caravan.
This strategy is supported by the bazaar (+2 points) and the hoist (+1 cube). But these 2 buildings are also the most expensive of the game (4 camels and 4 gold). Building one the first week is relatively easy, while building both of them will first require either the Paddock or the Shop.
In this matter, the Shop is often neglected (the Paddock being most of the time preferred). Useful to build the most expensive buildings, the Shop also allows you to invest more in the additional yellow dice. These additional dice are more efficient if they are used as soon as possible in a week, when the town is still empty of cubes. They give a qualitative advantage with a better diversity of values, which allow you to reach the valuable coffer and vase neighbourhoods; but they also give a quantitative advantage with more important groups of dices. If you are a fan of statistics, read the following link on the influence of additional dices in Yspahan: http://www.westpark-gamers.de/Reviews/bericht230ge.html
The art of caravanning
The points given with the caravan are, like for the souks, variable, but have the advantage of being scored multiple times. Knowing how to exploit these multiple scorings is probably the most subtle mechanism of the game and is often underused during the first games (and giving the impression of a “flat” game where you only fill souks). But don’t do the mistake of ignoring it totally; this is where you will get additional points which could make all the difference, especially when all the other sources of points are closed.
Several tips are useful when using the caravan:
• The camels are used not as one of the 2 resources required for buildings but to keep your cubes in town while sending them to the caravan.
• The timing is vital when using the caravan intensively. If a cube scored only one time, its value will be 3 points which is far too low. To be really efficient, a cube must score multiple times and with a good ratio. If you have for example reached the “*2” or “*3” level before the end of first or second week, stop going there and keep taking points elsewhere (especially souks). You have to force the other players to go in the caravan. If they don’t go, you will score at the end of the week, but also during the next when the caravan is finished, and this with the same cubes! If they invest in the caravan, your opponents will have to sacrifice actions, which is also beneficial to you. All this depends on how many players invest in the caravan but keep in mind you don’t want the caravan always filling fast.
• The 2 double spaces on the board, with shops facing each other, are a great help to quickly fill the caravan. Even if you use the supervisor to send an opponent’s cube with your own, you can determine the order in which they are placed in the caravan. You can then use the cube of an opponent to reach the “*2” or “*3” level, and expect that this opponent will also be interested to fill the caravan now (keep in mind that it’s often easier to fill the caravan with the help of another player). If you are alone in these double shops, take the time to get the camels to send cubes several times this way. In this matter, the white souk of the barrel neighbourhood is of strategic importance, both for the caravaner and the ones that want to counter him.
• Keep the “place a cube in the caravan” card to be sure of being at the right level just before a scoring of the caravan.
• You want the completed souks as limited as possible for your opponents. Try to book the maximum number of souks before them: you will limit the souks they can take, but also have a better choice when moving the supervisor: you will use him to take the most precious groups for your opponents. The supervisor will be easier to use (and nastier) if you invested in the Hammam (free movement for 3 steps).
This strategy is mainly supported by the caravanserai (+1 card), hard to use early in the game because you only have 2 gold at the beginning. You will need at least 2 actions to get the additional resources for building (one for camels and one for gold), another one to place some cubes in town, then a last one to send one of your cubes to the caravan. So a minimum of 4 turns is required (often more). This is nonetheless a very strong option (especially in a 2-players game) which will depends a lot on which cards you have drawn, and your ability to optimise them.
Learn to adapt…
To build your strategy, don’t neglect the number of players and your initial position. For example, a 2-players game will give more power to a lonely building and the caravan will become much more tactical (the 2-players rules are available on the publisher website: http://www.ystari.com/yspahan/Ysp2US.pdf). In a 3-players game, the second player will begin and finish the second week, during which he could plan to spare gold for additional dices.
Adapt to the card you have drawn: discard useless cards when filling a souk to place an additional cube (and avoid coming back on this specific souk). If you have done all the buildings, or on the contrary too few, don’t neglect the “convert your camels/gold into points” card. Keep in mind that whatever the groups you get, you will have the decent choice of taking of card, which will limit the unlucky factor.
Considering the opportunism due to the luck in dice and card drawing, you will usually concentrate on 2 of the 3 paths previously described. The interaction between players will consist in taking the groups that will prevent your opponents from completing souks, accessing the right level in the caravan or getting useful camels or gold, while keeping in mind your own strategy. A subtle exercise in dealing with Luck!
This is the rough translation of an article I wrote in French for the magazine “Des Jeux sur un Plateau” (http://www.jsp-mag.com/sommaire_ND.php?id=39).
Having played Yspahan three times against my girlfriend last night and having lost each time, I'll be following the advice in this article from now on.
Thanks for taking the time to write it Thomas.