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Subject: Lets Talk About... Darklings (A Strategy Discussion Series) rss

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Steve Haas
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In this sixth installment of the series, we're discussing Darklings. Some questions to shape the discussion:

* Under what game circumstances are Darklings good/bad? When do you look to play them? When should you avoid them?
* What sorts of strategies/approaches do you find effective when playing Darklings? What problems have you had that you haven't figured out how to solve?
* What things should one be aware of when playing *against* Darklings? How does their presence/absence affect what other decisions you might make?
* What other questions do you have about Darklings? Is there anything you'd like to see more experienced players discuss about them?

Linking to (completed!) games where Darklings did notably well (or poorly) for purposes of discussion is encouraged, as is referring to any existing threads/posts/other strategy resources you may have found useful or interesting with regards to playing Darklings.

Previous Installments:
* Acolytes
* Alchemists
* Auren
* Chaos Magicians
* Cultists
 
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Ryan Feathers
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Re: Re: Lets Talk About... Darklings (A Strategy Discussion Series)
Well I'll take a stab at starting this discussion out.

Broadly Darklings are the most versatile faction in the game. They care least about the round and bonus tiles, and least about the matchup. There is virtually no "bad" Darklings set up. They can adapt and play well in almost any situation.

This is due to several factors, but the major one is that they have both their own inherent faction scoring coupled with their own way of generating digs. The map is also quite friendly to black. There are a couple of 4 hex, 2 dig, no bridge town locations, there are lots of 4 hex, 3 dig, no bridge town locations. Also due to how the map is laid out the blue factions typically don't like to fight over the eastern land mass, so Darklings can typically manage well in a color sandwich still as they'll still find a way to keep their economy going.

Under tournament settings you should essentially expect to see Darklings taken in every game because of this. Even if the first few players find that other factions fit better and take those, by the time it gets to 3rd/4th pick it's almost impossible that the matchup and game set up would have any faction as more favorable as Darklings. Darklings are largely the safest first pick faction as there is almost no situation where they aren't at least competitive for 2nd (and there are relatively few scenarios where they aren't going to be competitive for the win). The "downside" is that there are relatively few situations where Darklings will be the dominant favorites to win like can happen for Engineers.

Darklings will almost always want to open with a TE. Priest production is critical to ensuring early expansion. In general I would argue Priests are the limiting factor on the Darklings early economy and one of their few weaknesses is they often can't fight for many 3 spots on the cults as they need their priests for securing hexes early. For similar reasons to the above, the Darklings SA is powerful due to producing another priest. You should almost always prioritize buildilng the 2 priest producing SA over making a 2nd TE. A 2nd TE costs 4w and 8c but replaces a D, while the SA costs 4w and 10c but leaves that extra D and worker production on the board.

Like many factions Darklings like Fav11 and Fav10 and can play that type of game to just focus on points. They may find themselves fairly coin short if they go for such a strategy so will want to put out some TP's in R3-R4 to help out. They may need to take a TW1 to help afford that if playing that way. Darklings can also do well with economic favors. Fav7 and Fav9 can work well depending on what resource and cult steps seem better for that game. I personally haven't seen Fav8 work out as well for them, and I suspect this is because they don't need power actions for spades. I however also just tend not to be very good with making Fav8 work, so some other experts may have better opinions there.

If I was trying to imagine the "best" Darklings set up I can, it would roughly be TE scoring R1, SA Scoring R2, spades R3, TP round 4, D round 5, TP round 6. Again the thing is the Darklings are so flexible in what they are building so they can live with many round progressions. But in particular Darklings like to open with a TE and get a R2 SA and is my "default" plan when playing them. That usually is followed up with a few D's in R1 and R2 as able along with a few more in R3. Spades can be reasonably good for Darklings for getting extra scoring out of their priests. Given Darklings can fairly easily be at 6+ D's when entering R4 they often want to start upgrading some to TP's, and maybe even consider another TE for 3x priest production (2 from a SA and 1 from the TE). Like most factions, they enjoy rebuilding their D's after a TP round.

Much like the round and matchup, Darklings don't care too much about the bons in the game. They have a slight preference for having Bon8 as more Priests are good for them. They don't really care how many scoring bons are in the game--if there are few they can go for more of a Fav11+Fav10 game along with their faction scoring to get their points. In a game with more scoring bons they can play a bit more of an economic game. Darklings often do have some coin issues since they like expensive TE's and SA's, so Bon2 and Bon3 are generally nice for them. It really depends on their plan and their game, but because shipping costs priests and coins which are usually the things Darklings have some shortages of, I tend to prefer not seeing Bon10 as Darklings. (But again, the faction is stupidly flexible and so there are ways to make that work pretty smoothly too).

In high level games opposing factions often will be hitting 15+ structures. Particularly against Engineers without a color neighbor I'm expecting them to hit 15+. Nomads also often will reach 15 or more. Other factions like Cultists and Witches and Mermaids and even some others will sometimes reach 15 or more and often hit 14.

I tend to find it a bit hard for Darklings to reach 15 since they tend to like that expensive SA early. Having a good enough economy to afford say 2 more TE's throughout the game along with all TP's and D's tends not to happen--especially since connecting all that usually involves quite a bit of shipping. As such I often don't worry about competing for network and spread my D's far apart at the start with no intention of connecting. When playing like this I'm just aiming to get a lot of points from favors, round scoring, bons, faction, and towns to end the game with a points total of 120-140 before final scoring. That way even if you get 0 network points and just average cult points (14) you can be competitive for the win.

Again though I just want to reiterate that Darklings are a stupidly flexible faction and can function well in quite a wide variety of set ups and situations.

There are plenty of other things one could say about Darklings and I'm not sure how much I want to go in to some of it. Given they are in almost every competitive game I suspect most players have quite a bit of experience with Darklings and are fairly familiar with playing with or against them.
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Manpanzee
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Re: Re: Lets Talk About... Darklings (A Strategy Discussion Series)
I actually believe that the ideal Darklings setup involves R1 SPADE scoring -- more because of the cult payout than the scoring itself. The Darkling sanctuary is expensive af, and they appreciate every little bit of opening econ they can get. FAV7 + SPADE scoring means an extra 1w+3c going into R2. That's huge for the early snowball.

With R1 SPADE scoring, Darklings can consider also throwing a priest to the earth cult. But even better I think is a quick R1: Build TE+FAV7, get a dwelling down, then pass early for a big coin BON and ACT4 starting R2. This provides more balance to ensure your econ keeps going after you blow 10c in the sanctuary round.

Due to the quick-pass R1, the approach I describe is hard to disrupt. You're going to safely enter R3 with a massive pile of resources and plenty of scoring potential. Easy to see how you win from there. Another example, since I'm fortunate enough to have rolled this near-exact setup more than once.
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Ryan Feathers
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Re: Re: Lets Talk About... Darklings (A Strategy Discussion Series)
Mmm, that is a really good point. As far as an ideal set up that is a bit better because the early coin bonus really helps the snowball out a lot. (As does securing early round Act4's which the Darklings really like and both of your games feature).

 
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Steve Haas
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Re: Re: Lets Talk About... Darklings (A Strategy Discussion Series)
One thing to keep in mind is that how important things like early coin bonuses and act4 are depends somewhat on what bonus tile one gets. If you open with bon5 or bon6 and thus have extra workers, the hard part of finishing an early SA is getting the coins, so those things are critical. But when one picks Darklings in first seat (which is not at all uncommon) it happens quite a bit that you're starting with bon2 or bon3 instead, at which point the impact of early coins is somewhat reduced - its workers that you need to scrounge up to finish an early SA (which is one of the major factors behind R1 fav7 plays).

Hence: I don't think one can say in a vacuum which scoring tile is the best, as it depends on what else in the game. Sometimes you need coins; sometimes you don't. Sometimes you want to dig and build extra Ds; sometimes you'd rather send a P to cults. And so its less "this turn/cult bonus always being the best one" and more about "good alignment between the bonus I expect to have, the timing with which I want to build my SA, and the cult/bonus tiles on the early turns." Sometimes that means dig scoring. Sometimes it means temple scoring. Sometimes it means TP>>3 with the water spade, as the 3vp from the TP is almost as good as the 4 from the TE, and sending a P to water to get a dig via cults instead of directly provides a valuable head start on that cult track. It all depends on what else you're trying to do.
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Steve Haas
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Re: Re: Lets Talk About... Darklings (A Strategy Discussion Series)
Ranior wrote:
Priest production is critical to ensuring early expansion. In general I would argue Priests are the limiting factor on the Darklings early economy and one of their few weaknesses is they often can't fight for many 3 spots on the cults as they need their priests for securing hexes early.


Its certainly true that its generally not worth fighting for the 3-spot on air or fire. Occasionally it can make sense, but more often than not you don't get enough out of it to make it worthwhile. I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss earth and water, though. Since one priest gets you to 4 - enough for a cult spade (or priest, which is a still a spade), if there are early cult bonuses on those tracks they can be worth pursuing - particularly if they also appear later in the game. Basically: you're not losing digs by doing so, just delaying them which - if you're short on workers, or have extra priests, or are getting extra resources from future cult bonuses in addition to the points - can be entirely worth it.

In short: there are absolutely times when its not worth fighting for cults, but if by spending a priest now you can get a dig and either a priest or 3 coins later, plus maybe 2c from the TE scoring tile, plus probably some cult points later in the game... that's worth thinking about. And conveniently, you start with a P, so you often have the ability to secure an important priest track before anyone else can. Its not always the right move, but it can be very powerful in the right circumstances.

Ranior wrote:
For similar reasons to the above, the Darklings SA is powerful due to producing another priest. You should almost always prioritize buildilng the 2 priest producing SA over making a 2nd TE. A 2nd TE costs 4w and 8c but replaces a D, while the SA costs 4w and 10c but leaves that extra D and worker production on the board.


This, I think, is an oft-underestimated aspect of the power of Darklings. The SA is not just a good building - its why Darklings are good. An extra worker income and (maybe) a quicker first town by building a SA instead of a 2nd TE may not seem like a huge benefit... but it really, really is. Lets look at the stats for the 536 clean Darklings games from D1-4 over the last year.

First off: the simple comparison. If we simply look at expected delta relative to average player by turn in which the SA is built, we find that its pretty clear that earlier is better:

SA Turn Delta Games
1 9.84 28
2 5.79 179
3 4.83 98
4 0.86 75
5 -2.67 30
6 0.57 19
None -1.07 107


So at a surface level: if you have not built your SA by R3, you are no longer playing a strong faction: you are playing an average faction.

Now, the obvious objections to this sort of stat are a) Is it really the SA that provides the benefit, or is it having enough resources that you can afford the SA that early?, and b) Is it the SA specifically or just having the early priest production? So lets drill down a bit deeper and compare how the various combinations of SA and TE do in the early rounds.

Round 1

P Buildings Delta Games
None -0.73 13

TE only 2.83 494

SA only 9.84 28
2xTE 1.50 1


Due to the limited sample size, its hard to say much. The SA is certainly way better than just a TE, but then, you need a pretty strong start to have the resources to pull it off. And its hard to draw many conclusions about the strength of 2xTE when there's only one game where someone has pulled it off.

Round 2

P Buildings Delta Games
None 6.25 1

TE only 1.93 271

SA only 6.34 207
2xTE -3.08 57


Much as we dismissed the 1 game where 2 someone built 2 TE in R1, we're going to dismiss the 1 game where someone didn't build a TE in the first two rounds. It went okay, but one can't really draw broad conclusions from just one game.

Comparing TE to SA, there probably is still some element of needing a strong start to get to a SA. The SA is better, but finishing R2 with just a TE isn't that much worse than finishing R1 than just a TE - there's still potential for a game here depending on what comes after.

The interesting part here is that having 2 temples is significantly worse than having 1, with a pretty decent sample size. As important as priests are, giving up a D to produce a second one each turn is just too damaging to your economy.

Round 3

P Buildings Delta Games
TE only 0.57 110

SA only 5.59 267
2xTE -1.65 114

SA+TE 7.72 38
3xTE 0.86 7


By this point, the pattern is pretty clear. It is almost always possible to build a 2nd P-production building by R3, and those that don't no longer see above-average results. Nor do the people who build a 2nd TE. Nor, even, do the rare people who build 3 TEs. It is, uniquely, the people who build an SA (and if they have the extra resources, an extra TE as well) that succeed with Darklings. The difference between SA+TE and SA only might be down to how strong your econ is at that point, but the fact that a bare SA beats any number of TEs speaks to the strength of the SA building specifically.
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Hubert
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Re: Re: Lets Talk About... Darklings (A Strategy Discussion Series)
Another positive point for SA openings is the presence of BON6- there are no bonus tiles for scoring temples.
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Robert
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Re: Re: Lets Talk About... Darklings (A Strategy Discussion Series)
Steve496 wrote:
But when one picks Darklings in first seat (which is not at all uncommon)


Btw., is there a reason why this installment has its subject start with "Re: "?
 
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Re: Re: Lets Talk About... Darklings (A Strategy Discussion Series)
Steve496 wrote:

Its certainly true that its generally not worth fighting for the 3-spot on air or fire. Occasionally it can make sense, but more often than not you don't get enough out of it to make it worthwhile. I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss earth and water, though. Since one priest gets you to 4 - enough for a cult spade (or priest, which is a still a spade), if there are early cult bonuses on those tracks they can be worth pursuing - particularly if they also appear later in the game. Basically: you're not losing digs by doing so, just delaying them which - if you're short on workers, or have extra priests, or are getting extra resources from future cult bonuses in addition to the points - can be entirely worth it.

In short: there are absolutely times when its not worth fighting for cults, but if by spending a priest now you can get a dig and either a priest or 3 coins later, plus maybe 2c from the TE scoring tile, plus probably some cult points later in the game... that's worth thinking about. And conveniently, you start with a P, so you often have the ability to secure an important priest track before anyone else can. Its not always the right move, but it can be very powerful in the right circumstances.


Oh completely agreed. I tried to pick my words carefully in that post, so I said they can't fight for many. I totally agree that Darklings can and perhaps should consider fighting for Earth and or Water in the right situations. As stated in that post, there are of course so many little nuances that we could discuss (and hopefully will over time!) with all these factions. I am glad someone expanded on the cult thoughts for Darklings though and how it can be played.


Ranior wrote:
For similar reasons to the above, the Darklings SA is powerful due to producing another priest. You should almost always prioritize buildilng the 2 priest producing SA over making a 2nd TE. A 2nd TE costs 4w and 8c but replaces a D, while the SA costs 4w and 10c but leaves that extra D and worker production on the board.


This, I think, is an oft-underestimated aspect of the power of Darklings. The SA is not just a good building - its why Darklings are good. An extra worker income and (maybe) a quicker first town by building a SA instead of a 2nd TE may not seem like a huge benefit... but it really, really is. [/q]

As always thanks for pulling the stats. That is really interesting to me. While I obviously pointed out the importance of the Darklings SA, I'm not sure I realized it was THAT important.
 
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Steve Haas
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DocCool wrote:
Btw., is there a reason why this installment has its subject start with "Re: "?

General incompetence. I fixed it.

Ranior wrote:
As always thanks for pulling the stats. That is really interesting to me. While I obviously pointed out the importance of the Darklings SA, I'm not sure I realized it was THAT important.

I suppose I should note at this point that just because building TEs instead of your SA is inferior doesn't mean you should never do it. Rules are made to be broken, and all of that. Its just that you need to be confident that the superior fit with the game is worth surrendering most of the abstract strength of the faction, so unless you have a very specific reason to do otherwise, an early SA should be in your plans.

The obvious corollary of this is: S scoring in R2 or R3 is usually a positive sign for picking Darklings. And, conveniently, an early S bonus of that sort is usually a negative sign for Cultists. So one of the things I look at when deciding what to pick in first seat is what S? scoring exists. An early S turn and/or the presence of bon6 is better for Darklings; later (or absent) S turns and no bon6 is better for Cultists. Obviously this is only one factor amongst many, but its significant enough to warrant mention.

(And at the risk of digressing into the speculative: I'd argue that these stats imply a pretty obvious candidate for a Darklings nerf if one were inclined to experiment with rule tweaks to improve faction balance.)
 
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James Ataei
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Steve496 wrote:
[q="DocCool"](And at the risk of digressing into the speculative: I'd argue that these stats imply a pretty obvious candidate for a Darklings nerf if one were inclined to experiment with rule tweaks to improve faction balance.)


So reduce the SA to 4w8c and 1 priest income?
 
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Ryan Feathers
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JamesWolfpacker wrote:


So reduce the SA to 4w8c and 1 priest income?


Indeed, I believe that is exactly what steve has argued for before. I think it's certainly worth exploring if we ever were going to truly attempt serious efforts at balancing factions.

 
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Lots of suggestions have been made before to fix the SA, but I do not like most of them.

As a side note I believe Darklings without a strong SA are probably slightly above average still - I am thankful for Steve's stats but I do not fully trust them, partly for the reasons he mentioned, though he goes some way to disprove them. Anyhow, weakening the SA will weaken Darklings for sure.

But I feel the 2P with a special usage is positively a nice special characteristics which I would really miss.
If the SA was fixed I'd be in favor of something else.
 
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Wild idea, actually too intrusive to my own taste and awkward as well:
4w9c and 2 priests, but -1 coin income (no penalty if coin income is zero)

My first guess what this would cause:
Clearly worse if played in round 1+2, slightly worse round 3, about even round 4-5, slightly better round 6.
Which is all good imho.
People might try to avoid coin income altogether in early turns, but including BONs this should rarely be a viable "workaround".
 
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It depends on the game of course, but my Darkling games started going way better when

A.) I started building the SA early (round 2 is reasonable in most cases) and

B.) I stopped starting on G5 + E10 in every game

I'm not a fan of E5, you'll never get it connected to the east or if you do it's too much investment. Also that area tends to be too cramped for my liking with blue, brown, and sometimes yellow in the game.

One starting place I'm liking more and more is B5, with the caveat of yellow/Nomads not being in the game. A7-B5 is a solid 3 dig base for a town, and it is very likely SOMEBODY wants C4/D6 so you can upgrade to TPs eventually. B5 + G5/E10 also lets you swing around the loop G6 + F7 and gives you an extra hex without digging that you wouldn't have if you started G5/E10.

It's true B5 is a bit out of the way but I'm not getting a ton of leech as Darklings anyways.

I've found FAV9 can be quite useful as the SA favor if you're planning on a temple R4/5 and can get your hands on FAV10 then.

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Jeroen Tiggelman
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Bellmaker wrote:
One starting place I'm liking more and more is B5, with the caveat of yellow/Nomads not being in the game. A7-B5 is a solid 3 dig base for a town, and it is very likely SOMEBODY wants C4/D6 so you can upgrade to TPs eventually. B5 + G5/E10 also lets you swing around the loop G6 + F7 and gives you an extra hex without digging that you wouldn't have if you started G5/E10.
I also like B5 in many games; usually combined with E10. (And clearly that is a risky/bad idea against Nomads that could put their third dwelling on B4.)

Bellmaker wrote:
I've found FAV9 can be quite useful as the SA favor if you're planning on a temple R4/5 and can get your hands on FAV10 then.
Depending on the general availability of coins I regularly take FAV9 as the first favor with darklings. If FAV11 then runs out, then FAV10 is usually the SA favor. Of course, this line assumes that there is no worker shortage (esp. early on) and that there is no pressure to build so many temples until (much) later. Starting FAV7 can also work fine; I have never tried combining that with FAV9 yet. I have also never built the SA in round 1 yet. My gut feeling is that two economic favors is probably hardly ever needed.
 
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Jeroen Tiggelman
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Manpanzee wrote:
I actually believe that the ideal Darklings setup involves R1 SPADE scoring -- more because of the cult payout than the scoring itself. The Darkling sanctuary is expensive af, and they appreciate every little bit of opening econ they can get. FAV7 + SPADE scoring means an extra 1w+3c going into R2. That's huge for the early snowball. / With R1 SPADE scoring, Darklings can consider also throwing a priest to the earth cult.
I like R1 TOWN scoring with SPADE in R3, assuming you get enough workers (and coins) for your R2 SA that you can take the 3 spot on Earth.
 
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