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Brian Bankler
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I've written an San Juan Strategy Page at http://www.pyro.net/~bankler/strat_sanjuan.html

I'm really not good enough to be writing this, but nobody else has written it...

I've included the first draft below. Enjoy!

San Juan’s basic strategy is the same as Puerto Rico, St. Petersburg and many other games: Get a good income stream early and use the income stream to get victory points late. That’s the lynch-pin to winning. In my review, I wrote that I wasn’t bothering with a San Juan strategy guide because I wasn’t any good at the game. That hasn’t changed. I’m not bad at San Juan, but I’m not good. I’m winning ~50% of my games on BSW. That is a touch higher than what would be expected by chance, since I play a few 3- and 4-player games. However, it’s not earth-shatteringly good, and who knows, I may just be getting lucky. Also, I’ve only played 80 games, a far cry from some players. But I haven’t seen anything like the Vast Warehouse of Puerto Rico knowledge for San Juan. I’ve seen a few articles and thoughts but nothing piecing things together. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong place. If you have issues or corrections, let me know. Among other reasons for writing this, I’m trying to solidify my instincts about San Juan.
Like its big brother, San Juan strategy is fairly straightforward; the tactics are the heart of the matter. Still, there are some concepts worth looking into. Most of these are the same as Puerto Rico, so I won’t delve too deeply. The concepts Cash Flow and Net Advantage are similar to PR, so I won’t go into them.

The Roles

One stark difference is the role weighting. Unlike Puerto Rico, there are no balancing doubloons to make roles more attractive. The value differences are stark. Builder and Prospector provide a one card advantage. Councilor provides a flexibility advantage. Craftsman then Trader each provide a one-good advantage. Early on, that good is likely to be an indigo, so it can be thought of as a 1 card advantage that requires two role selections to use. [I craft for 2nd good + indigo, I trade for 2nd good value + 1 card]. This tentatively values craftsman and trader at roughly ½ a card. Even that is optimistic, because you may not pick them both in a row. After all, you get a card free and clear from prospector or builder. Or someone may have a better 2nd production building, and negate your advantage by taking a single good and selling it for as much as your two goods.

Two roles dominate the other three at least in the early game. I suspect that the second player has an advantage in the three or four player game, based on the fact that he can be sure of getting builder/prospector in both of the first two turns.

The Stages of the Game

The first few turns are characterized by the initial jockeying for income and the domination of Builder and Prospector. The buildings on the table will determine everyone’s favored 3rd choice. Players may miss a building phase, especially when the start last. Unlike Puerto Rico, where the ‘standard’ opening stays the same in most game, the first two players may go Build/Prospect or Prospect/Build, and the third player’s choice depends on what was built!
The middle game isn’t really marked by number of turns. It starts when players take one of the “other three” roles instead of builder or prospector, without giving up a major advantage. This probably means turn three or four at the earliest, and usually occurs when a player needs extra card(s) to handle the next builder and trades. Often this will be the governor trading for a small stack of cards.
The late game is characterized by the shift to VPs. Despite the name, the late game probably starts about halfway through the game. Monuments appear frequently, big buildings start hitting the table. The prospector may be skipped because crafting and trading may produce 3 or more cards (compared to 2 cards for prospecting twice). Small buildings are usually only built if the player has just dropped a large building, expects to go over 7 cards by a hair. Cards are often built with the foreknowledge of which Hall (City or Guild) you will build. In the final few turn or two, players may give other players net card advantage knowing that it will be useless (as they already have a large building in their hand and the cards to play for it) to ‘fish’ through the deck for a few extra VPs.

Income and the Roles

The focus on revenue also revolves around making one of the remaining three roles an income stream. Prefecture transforms councilor from a flexibility advantage to a one card advantage. While the prefecture is a good building, new players often consider it to be the strongest of the income building. [I certainly did]. However, from a strict “Cards gained versus the opponents” standpoint, it’s merely OK. The power of the Prefecture is that it provides the owner a good choice for 3rd or 4th pick. (Or second pick if builder is unattractive). Good production buildings turn the craftsman/trader into the safe “3rd choice”. [There’s another hidden advantage to the Prefecture that I’ll touch on later.] Compare this to a Quarry or Carpenter. These provide solid income, but don’t expand your role selection.

Another aspect of income is trying to get an income stream from the other players’ choices, and the contrary position of trying to minimize the benefit of your role selection to others. One large good (or a Market Hall) will help negate the advantage if others rush the marketing cycle (producing and trading). Gold Mine helps (randomly) when other players prospect. Prefecture and the Archive (to a much lesser extent) help when someone else picks councilor. The Quarry/Carpenter/Smithy helps out when others build. (Of course, they help when you build too. The point is that they help negate the disadvantage of when you miss out on a role.)

Getting income from other player’s selections creates the strongest “second order” effect in San Juan: Bandwagons. Here’s a nightmarish four player opening. First player prospects, I (as lucky second player), build and drop a Tobacco (or Coffee). The other three players build Prefectures. Against competent opponents, I’m in a deep hole and can’t imagine winning this game without obscene good luck. (Even a three player version of this will provide stiff odds). The reason is that my opponents are co-operating in making a specific 3rd role more attractive, and I’m frozen out. Lee Jones (in his book “Winning Low Limit Holdem”) calls this ‘implicit collusion’ and it applies in San Juan, as a much larger factor than in Puerto Rico.
Often, there is nothing you can do about this in the early game. If you only have one building that’s good, you build it. But, notice what the bandwagon is doing and react accordingly. If two other players have prefectures, build the 3rd one if you have a chance. If opponents have a craft/trade cycle going and nobody has a Prefecture, then a big production building (or Market Hall) is preferable. The prefecture will help when you pick late and take it, but the trading bonus pays out every craft/trade cycle. In that case (assuming a 3 player game), the craft/trade cycle may occur two turns out of three (or, more realistically, three out of six). The prefecture helps when you pick last, one turn out of three (two out of six). Call it two or three cards over the course of the game. Even without the prefecture, you can select councilor when you pick third, to minimize the benefit of the opponent’s buildings (and to increase your flexibility).

Thoughts about implicit collusion and bandwagons have made me rethink the standard first player move. In my early games, the first player always took builder (unless he had no good building options). My argument against taking the prospector is that it let the second player build a coffee or quarry (instead of a Tobacco or Carpenter) and get his advantage “on the table” one build phase earlier. However, now I’m a bit wary of the opening builder. The tempo advantage for player two may not be as important as getting to see what everyone else builds. This is particularly true when you have two reasonable choices of builds (usually a production building vs. a specific purple). Of course, if I have a solid selection then I can just take it. I’ll also consider plunking down a good ‘neutral’ building (one that helps during the building or prospector phases, since those will be taken so often). Gold Mine is an especially attractive choice as first player, since it will get selected each round in the early- to mid-game, and building instead of waiting gets me one more shot at the lottery. This type of thinking can extend to later turns. Taking the prospector instead of the builder gives the next player a bit of a tempo advantage, but it lets you spot bandwagons instead of guessing. Note that this doesn’t necessarily apply in the middle game where the next player may not select builder (taking trader). In that case, each everyone may gain two or more cards. If you could have built before they had cards, that’s a critical tempo (a full building slot).

Bandwagons gain importance in the mid-game. For instance, if you have built relatively role neutral buildings (buildings that trigger during builder or prospector phases) while one opponent has built a Prefecture and the other is working on a production strategy, you may be in a position where you have to decide which one to join in. If all other things are equal, join in with the player in the worse position. The two of you will then ‘collude’ against the other player. You don’t want to throw in with the leader (or your nearest opponent). Of course, judging the leader requires a reasonable evaluation of cash flow (and victory points). The same reasoning applies to the order of builds. If you plan on diversifying both ways, join the weaker player first, unless the timing strongly biases you the other way.

The problem? You need the right cards to make the choice. This is the Prefecture’s other “Hidden virtue” mentioned before: If you want to join up with a production player, plenty of cards let you in. Silver Mines and Market Hall are two obvious choices, and if you count Tobacco and Coffee, you’ve got around a quarter of the deck to choose from. If you want to join in with a councilor you really only have a Prefecture as your option.

Hand Management and Timing

San Juan has the luck of the draw. This is mitigated by the fact that the majority of cards you draw are cogs in the wheel. Barring freaky distribution, you’ll get a good spread of options. Managing income must be balanced against managing your hand. Deciding what to build may not be the biggest decision as deciding whether to build and what to keep.

San Juan, like baseball, is a strange race. Baseball doesn’t have a game clock (like basketball, football, or soccer), but it has outs. Once twelve buildings hit the table, game over, whether you have twelve buildings or not. Now, as each building is at least one victory point, the bias should be towards building. If you can put down a building that will provide good money early (or good victory points late), then by all means plop it down. Even if you have no cards after you build, you sometimes have to trust that you’ll get “something good” back. Another reason to tend to build is that it puts you in the driver’s seat for ending the game. If you have a one building advantage, you control whether to build and end it (presumably when you are winning) or fish for a better option. If you are one building behind and winning, taking the building is no guarantee. Your opponent can decline to build. And if you are one building behind and losing, time is against you.

The decision to build becomes painful if you are paying with a big building (or a small building that could be crucial for you). In that case, missing out on a build phase may be acceptable. You give up some victory points but help ensure that you get the big points at the end. The frustrating problem is that you might get the building back if you pitch it. In general, this is the area I feel least comfortable with. My judgment is based on three main factors: lost (and gained) income, how well I’m doing and how long I’ll have to ‘store’ the card I’m trying to save. But there are other issues: what am I tossing, how many players are there, how many similar buildings have I seen and play style of the group.

Lost income is obvious. How many cards will I lose by not building now, and how long will I lose them. It may be that by forgoing building I gain income. I can build a mediocre building now, or save for the great (income/vp) building later. Those decisions can usually be handled easily, and often revolve around getting an early Library, Silver Mine, etc, and a late game 6-cost building. But if I’m holding off because I don’t want to discard a card, the lost income matters. There is a tempo issue as well. If I go after the builder and can grab another card (prospector, say) so that I’ll be OK during the next builder phase inclines me towards holding back. On the other hand, if I’m not directly after the builder, I may have to skip building next time too (unless you can set up a large trade). Finally, if I hold a big building now, will I be in the same situation a few turns down the road, where I have to skip building another turn? Missing two builds early on seems too painful. On the other hand, if it’s the mid-game, my income should be high enough to make that unlikely.

Game state is the other consideration. If I’m winning, then holding off a turn to ensure I have a large building makes sense. If I’m already losing, then swinging for the fences makes sense. Evaluating winning depends on the income available, VPs played and number of building slots played. If I’ve managed to sneak a building in and made all of the other players fall one slot behind, it’s much easier to give that slot back. How much is a slot worth? People usually call it the face value of the card’s VPs, but I usually consider it “X+1.”

The same applies to cost. A carpenter requires four cards to play: the carpenter and three other cards. Similarly, a building usually provides its value, plus an additional point (for the Guild Hall or City Hall, if it matches). So a building slot is usually 2-4 points, not 1-3. The Palace is weaker on a per-building basis, in that it provides ¼ to ¾ per building slot (not counting the monuments or other large buildings), but provides that for all buildings. Of course, if you get one of the Hall’s early, you can tailor your buildings to include all of the correct types. So, in general I consider missing a building slot to be worth roughly a point more than face value. Note that the “X+1” formulation assumes that you wind up with one of the big three buildings and it really should be “X + some fraction slightly less than 1” because you’ll need a slot for the big building. [The Triumphal Arch doesn’t care about building slots, just monuments.]

Overall, early on I favor releasing a big building to generate income, shifting towards holding it as the game goes on, biased by my thoughts on my current position. I feel casual about discarding and Arch or even a Palace. I’m less sanguine about discarding either Hall.

A minor issue depends on what I’ve seen go past (with the Gold Mine or through discards) and what’s on the table. If I know that the other card of that type is in the discard pile (it flipped up in the gold mine), then I bias towards building. If I know that other player are holding it, keep. Also, who has the prefectures? If I have one, I’m more likely to be taking councilor, so I can risk pitching. If other players have it, then they’ll fish it out first.

Overall, the handling the big buildings is the toughest aspect for me, and I don’t think there are hard and fast rules. At least, none I’ve discovered.

Other Tempo Aspects

In the early game, your next build should affect your current build. Of course, if the clear best option is to build and wind up with no cards, do it. In particular, when I am the governor and build (or prospect, expecting the next player to build), I either build something with a guaranteed follow-up (a build I can make even if I get no income before the next builder) or just resign myself to getting lucky or missing one build. In the opening set of rounds, it’s not uncommon for each player to miss one build, and that is the time you are most vulnerable. But planning for the next build whenever possible should be done. Smithies, Quarries and Black Markets help out on this, as you can keep a single card and know it’s your next build. As the game goes on, you are able to plot out your builds further ahead, or at least the next build at minimum. As you get towards the endgame, you’ll be looking towards building your large buildings.

When to switch from income to VPs is an issue. Originally I had thought that the first 7 slots should all be income, with little regard to VPs, but that may be waiting too long. Partially that depends on how many VPs your ‘income’ slots got you. If you have mainly 1 point buildings, you’ll need to convert to VPs earlier. If you are loaded with 2 VP buildings, you’ve got a buffer and can wait an extra turn or two. But remember that, income generation is worth less as the game goes on. Sometimes you will have a ‘windfall’ turn (after a large trade). In that case, dropping an early 6-cost building (or monument) makes sense, as long as you know what your next building will be.

Number of Players

San Juan feels different based on the number of players. Buildings do not have the same value in a 2, 3 or 4 player game. Some of them vary wildly. That’s because of how the roles act. In the two player game, builder and prospector will usually get picked, and then one “other” role. Often one player will have a minor production advantage, so the other player will want to make sure that the marketing cycle does not happen, so turns will have (along with prospector and builder): Craft, Council, Trade, Council, Repeat. Of course, buildings built during these turns could (radically) shift the balance. As the game progresses, one player could have such a large production advantage that they can produce/trade while governor (or vice versa) at no cost, since the opponent will always be able to get one card form the builder/prospector (this assumes that the producing governor is ready to build). Giving up the extra card from prospector will be paid back by a 4+ card advantage per marketing cycle. There are no bandwagon effects. Simply maximize your net advantage. You will also likely see 3-5 large buildings the first time through the deck, and should be able to plan for them early.

The four player game will see most roles taken each turn. This means that the marketing cycle occurs every turn or two. This means that jumping up to a better production building will pay off fairly consistently. However, you’ll only see a quarter of the deck and are at the luck of the draw for which building you’ll get. Even without the prefecture, selecting councilor to get a large building towards the ends of the first deck may be necessary. You’ll have to choose between two evils fairly often, and give one player an extra card.

Most unpredictable is the three player game. Here the bandwagon dominates, as the player has the most latitude (and diversity). The marketing cycle may occur between two and three turns, slower than the 2- or 4-player game. This makes purple buildings more valuable.

The Buildings

The Production Buildings are similar and constant. Getting a ‘leg up’ on the large production building can be advantageous, and getting a single large building reduces the loss to hardcore traders. Indigo, Tobacco and Silver provide the best VP “Bang for the Buck”, assuming no guild hall. However, if you do have a guild hall, then indigo plants become a huge value, 2 cards for 3 VP. The only other cards that efficient are the monuments, if you have an arch or significant discounts). Sugar and Coffee are less efficient from a VP standpoint, but provide are reasonable income generators.

Determining Income Values

Gauging the income (in cards) a building will be worth can be difficult. Some buildings are easy. Consider a first turn build of Carpenter or Quarry. You expect to build 10 more buildings, but assume that one is a silver mine. So each one will provide 10 cards. The quarry will provide them as discounts, the carpenter as rebates. The last rebate will only be a tiebreaker, so the quarry costs more. Now consider the Market Hall It will provide an extra card each time you trade. How often will that be? Probably less than 10 times (and varies based on the number of players), even if it’s your first building. Of course, as mentioned before the Market Hall gives you a ‘safer’ 3rd option, which is worth something.

Cards provide three ways methods of income: Rebates provide cards after you build; Discounts reduce building costs, and extra cards that go into your hand. There are differences between them. Rebates occur after building, so effectively only count as a tiebreak after the last build. Rebates also don't let you plan as well as discounts. For example, if you build a 3 cost violet building and have three cards, if you have a Carpenter, you pay everything and get the luck of the draw. With a Quarry, you can keep your favorite card. The luck of the draw may have been better, but you can't plan ahead. Discounts are also better in that you don't need as many cards. Consider if you only had two cards, then you could have built with the Quarry, but not if you had a Carpenter. Extra cards help you build (equal to a discount) or may give you a better card to build! Rebates do count as extra cards, but I draw the distinction because of timing. Anything that gets you extra cards outside of the builder phase uses a different clockwork mechanism. You are limited on the Carpenter by the number of builders, but you could use a Well an unlimited number of times, assuming nobody takes builder. Usually extra cards will not happen as often as the builder.

Archive – The worst building in the game. I build this when I have discounts (Quarry/Carpenter) and/or a City Hall and nothing better. No income generation, and a weak ability.

Indigo – An early indigo build may be better than saving. The threat is to produce trade and trade again, for a one card advantage. Very efficient VP with a Guild Hall, and with the Black Market you’ll want an extra indigo.

Smithy – A great purchase if you have a guild hall, or are saving up to build a large production building, or two. This will probably be worth at least 2-3 discounts over the course of the game, and could be 5-6, but even a hardcore producer will need some purple buildings.

Gold Mine – A very powerful building, the Gold mine will probably be worth an extra card or three over the course of the game, and that card will almost certainly be good. When the gold mine does ‘score’, the odds of snagging having a 5 or 6 cost building to choose from is very high. Note that the gold mine typically decreases in value after the first time through the deck. Not only are there fewer opportunities to use it (which is typical for all income buildings), the deck will have been stripped of a number of big buildings. Sometimes people will ignore prospecting to ‘keep you from getting a card’, which means that they’ve given up a one card advantage to do something that is roughly equal for all players. That’s a feature of the gold mine, not a bug. [Even better is when they let you have prospector].

Black Market – The black market escaped my notice for a few games, but it’s a good building. It can provide a discount of up to 2 cards. This requires having spare production buildings available, typically small ones (indigo or sugar). You’ll probably also want a large production building to trade with. One notable aspect of the black market is that you can disrupt the marketing style, especially when the player before you takes builder. Normally, with production buildings, you craft and trade. But here you can just craft and craft again, slowing the traders down. This also combines with the Well, as you clear your plants before crafting.

Crane – A cousin to the black market, the crane provides fearsome flexibility. Once your carpenter (etc) has given you eight or nine cards, you can ‘cash it out’ and build a big building for three. The crane also lets a player who built a one slot lead temporize during a building phase if closing out is a guaranteed losing play. Using the crane does cost the VPs of the spent building, as well as losing out the extra VP per building slot, but trading often makes up for that. Assuming a reasonable income, a Crane can also let you build before others are ready, either jumping out a slot (planning on banking the card back later), or upgrading a building while nobody else builds.

Market Stand – A relatively weak card, problematic because you have to have two goods and take the trader. It will probably provide 3-4 extra cards over the course of the game, which isn’t shabby but is a far cry from the black market or even the poor house. It does combine with the Trading Post, but neither building is efficient, costing an extra card each beyond the 1 card for the victory point. I prefer the Black Market/Well cycle for timing reasons.
Poor House – I rather like the poor house. It can provide up to 10 rebates a game, at the cost of forward planning. However, it has an anti-combo with the Carpenter.

Sugar – While not to be preferred to indigo, sugar is still a reasonable good, providing two cards half of the time tobacco does. If those two times hit early enough, those extra cards compound nicely.

Trading Post – Like the market stand, this requires the production cycle, although this is the more defensive card. You craft, and then get the extra purchase no matter who trades. This allows you to generate a few extra cards above the market stand, but only by cashing out early, which may mean you have nothing to sell during the next trader (unless someone crafts).

Well – Provides bonus income when crafting. In order to take advantage of this, you will need a way to get rid of the extra cards (Black Market or Trading Post) or constantly build new production buildings (implying that you have a Guild Hall). You’ll probably gain 3-4 cards over the course of the game with this. An additional bonus is that the cards are timed during craftsman, not trading. So you get cards when other players don’t.

Aqueduct – Not a great card unless you have a Black Market, Well or Trading Post. However, if you do have one, this card helps your income stream, probably to the tune of 3-5 cards. A Carpenter purchased at the same time would be similar, but those cards would be rebates. If you get three of these cards together with three production buildings, that is a full blown revenue engine.
Carpenter – Provides rebates for any purple building. As discussed above, you can get up to 10 rebates, which isn’t as good as discounts or extra cards, but is tremendous card flow.

Chapel – The Chapel’s siren song has lured many a player to destruction. The chapel provides VP at a great ratio (1 card : 1VP). You can’t get a better deal unless you buy a monument and have something (City Hall, etc) to back it up. However, those cards could be used to buy buildings that generate VP and income. The Chapel is really best around the 4th to 7th building, which provides it enough time to build up a reserve, but not early enough to impede cash flow. The Chapel deserves a few notes: It changes the timing dynamics of the game. If, it’s towards the end of the turn and nobody has taken the builder, consider passing it by. That gives you another turn for the Chapel to work. The Chapel also serves as a mini-Tower, letting you turn a card you had to discard into a point. The Chapel combines well with the Palace, but can serve as an anti-combo with the City Hall. If you miss one building slot to Chapel, you lose that building’s VPs plus the VP for the City/Guild Hall. I’ve seen many players lose because they thought the Chapel was mandatory. It isn’t. Sometimes you have to hold onto all your cards. The Chapel does combine well with the Poor House; sometimes the card you tuck underneath will be paid back in a rebate. Finally, apart from tossing large buildings that are worthless to you, consider whether you want to toss a building you’ve already built underneath it carefully. It’s a good idea, since you don’t want to draw that building again, but if you want someone to bandwagon with you then they need the correct cards.

Prefecture – The prefecture, discussed throughout the article, varies depending on the number of players. In a two player game it’s a card every other turn (unless the other player gets one). Call it 6 cards if built first. In a four player game it is probably going to hit most of the turns, making this a very strong, although in some of those turns, the councilor will be selected by a player who knows you’ll have to discard down. In the three player game, this could be as few as four cards if no other play joins up with you.

Statue (Victory Column, Hero) – Victory point engines without a revenue stream, the monuments are good late-game default plays, assuming you don’t have a Guild Hall. If you do, you’ll still want to hold onto these to keep others from building them.

Tobacco – A good early production building.

Tower – A building that provides flexibility and extra cards by saving you from discarding. The value depends on how often you’ll be forced to discard. In a four player game, that may be quite often. Honestly, I rarely build the tower, preferring the Chapel at all costs.

Coffee – Because of VP efficiency, not a favorite production building, but a reasonable opening play (especially in 2- or 4- ) player game.

Market Hall – If you only have an indigo, this is not as good as a coffee plant, which will provide an average of 1.2 more gold/trader (as compared to 1) and also provides the ability to use an extra good when crafting. However, the Market Hall discounts and rebates with the quarry and carpenter, which may make it less expensive. Also, this will work before the next production cycle. Given that the marketing cycle occurs less often than building, this will give you less income than the quarry, but the income will be extra cards, not discounts.

Quarry – Discounting all non-production buildings mean that you’ll probably only build one more (unless you stumble on a Guild Hall).

Library – The Library increases the difference between the good and the bad roles. How often it will be used depends on the number of players. In a two player game, once a turn (split evenly between extra cards and extra discounts). This is powerful, usually a card or two better than the Quarry, and it doesn't lock you into a strategy. In a four player game, though, this is only useful roughly half of the time. (I am not assigning much use to the councilor, trader and craft extra privilege, although sometimes they are very nice). In a three player game this is borderline unless you build it vey early. Sometimes this is played late as a 3 VP card that helps out with revenue.

Silver Mine – The king of production buildings, worth an extra card over tobacco on four out of five trading chits.

City Hall -- The City Hall realistically caps at 11 bonus VPs, which requires forgoing another production building. Building a mid game silver is still worth it (assuming that you were going to build a Market Hall instead).

Guild Hall – The Guild Hall’s charm is that it can dwarf the other big buildings, providing 10 VPs without breaking stride and 16 on a good day. That being said, the Guild Hall is weakest in a 3-player game, where production is likely to be slowest. Once you see a Guild Hall, the ‘production cycle’ buildings go up in value, with every Indigo being worth a one-cost statue!

Palace – Even with another big building, the Palace is probably only going to offer no more than seven or eight victory points. However, the Palace provides flexibility in that it doesn’t care one tad about how you got them, or building slots. The Palace and all three monuments will probably only a point or two less than the Arch plus all three monuments (assuming you have a reasonable mix of other buildings).

Triumphal Arch – The red-headed step child of big buildings. The Arch only triggers off of monuments, and getting all three will require a solid income stream and a touch of luck (especially with more players), and then you’ll still get less VPs than the City Hall or Guild Hall player, in all likelihood. [I am willing to increase the Triumphal Arch’s points in face to face games]. However, note that the Arch combines reasonably well with the City Hall or Palace, either of which plus all three monuments are worth 25 points in five slots. Five slots mean that you have to start building your monuments as the 7th building.
 
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Seth Ben-Ezra
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Re:Strategy Article
Bankler (#61037),

Thank you very much for this article. Certainly lots of food for thought on a game that I enjoy.

However, I have a question. You say:

A minor issue depends on what I’ve seen go past (with the Gold Mine or through discards) and what’s on the table.

If I recall my rules correctly, discards are face-down. If that's so, how can you be watching discards?

Seth Ben-Ezra
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Brian Bankler
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Re:Strategy Article
GreatWolf (#61137),

If I recall my rules correctly, discards are face-down. If that's so, how can you be watching discards?


When I wrote, "What I've seen discarded" I meant "What I've discarded".
 
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Re:Strategy Article
Bankler (#61037) wrote: Sugar – While not to be preferred to indigo, sugar is still a reasonable good, providing two cards half of the time tobacco does. If those two times hit early enough, those extra cards compound nicely.

I disagree that Sugar is a reasonable good, esp. when compared to other goods. I am convinced that it is the worst production building in the game. I believe that there is almost always a better choice than building Sugar--and if not, it's probably best to save it and use it to buy something decent later.

Sugar provides 1.4 cards/trade. It's neighbors, Indigo and Tobacco, give 1 and 1.8 cards/trade respectively. Sugar gives the same VP as Indigo, and one fewer than Tobacco. Sugar costs 2(+1). Indigo's cost is 1(+1); Tobacco is 3(+1). Additionally, you start the game with an Iindigo.

Looking at this information, what's to be gained by putting down Sugar in most situations? It isn't going to help in VP (unless you are Guild Hall-ing), and it takes up space that could be used for a greater number of VP. Only turning over one extra card in trade 40% of the time isn't anything to write home about. Over the course of the game (assuming you don't build another, better producer), this amounts to about four cards of income.

The worst part is this--by paying for Sugar, you spend three cards. At the beginning of the game, these three could be used for something more valuable. (If it's the middle/late game, you'd only be putting down Sugar for VPs, since you'd hopefully have some production building that would grant you better income.)

[There's a 10% chance you'll get those two "extra" cards (over Indigo) in the first two trades, a 60% you'll get just one, and a 30% of no gain over Indigo. However, it might be awhile before the produce/trade cycle is taken twice, and by then, someone may've build something better than Sugar or Indigo.]
 
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Jim Campbell
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Re:Strategy Article
Geniesse (#61366),

Hi Geniesse...i've played quite a few games of SJ against you on BSW. :-)

It's important to remember that one can only play what one actually draws. Knowing that sugar is not likely to be the best available building is useful; assuming it's never a good build is not. This is different from Puerto Rico, where one can strongly condemn building the hospice and the hospice is always offered.

There are a few small mitigating factors that help the sugar mill:

1. Unlike the indigo plant, it can be built using the bonus from the builder role without wasting the bonus from the smithy.

2. It stores more energy for later use with the crane than the indigo plant does. This is featured when I open with the smithy, then draw the crane and city hall in the middle game. Every time I don't have an interesting violet building I use the table as a battery, storing cards at 100% efficiency by building production buildings, especially sugar mills.

3. Provides a different price level for use with the poorhouse.

4. Having both tobacco and sugar during trader phases offers some interesting flexibility some of the time. This is generally true of any two adjacent types on the scale; try building coffee and sugar and note the amusing parity situations you get on some of the trade cards.

Overall, I agree that it's better to draw and build tobacco and silver rather than sugar and coffee. But the simple truth about the card and point payoffs belies a somewhat more complex picture that isn't quite as disadvantageous.


 
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Brian Bankler
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Re:Strategy Article
I think Jim dealt with these issues better than I could. Sugar is certainly not a preferred build, I'd much rather have an early Tobacco. However, if I had a Sugar on the first build, or could build Indigo, I'd certainly be tempted to build a sugar. For an extra card (3 instead of 2), I get roughly 4 cards over the course of the game. The real issue is: am I costing myself a build by upgarding?

It is certainly not a great opening, if my first build is sugar, you can bet your sweat bippy that I didn't have a great card, or that I did have a 3 cost building buy decided to open sugar to hold a card (probably a Guild Hall).

I'd never build the sugar if the Tobacco was an option, and if I can be sure that I can build something really good next turn, then waiting becomes an option, but sometimes it's the best of a bad situation.
 
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Re:Strategy Article
Hello.

First, I think most of us agree that we'd rather have other goods or cards to start out with than Sugar. I apologize if it had gotten lost, but my initial response was meant to say that I don't believe that Sugar is a reasonable good (generally), esp. in comparison to others.

It does beg the question of when Sugar actually IS good to build. We all agree that it isn't bad with Guild Hall available, since it becomes worth three points.

I'm not convinced about other Smith situations, unless I'm desperate. I still think that I can put the two cards towards something else I might like better down the line (regardless of whether I've drawn such a card or not). I think building Sugar without Smith is almost always awful, with a possible exception of the first build in the fourth seat. (Here you're likely to get 1 card for 2 role choices, and with luck, a 2nd. This gives a 40% chance of being even on cards with player #2, assuming they didn't build a production building or Prefect+Mayor.)

In the more rare case of Smith+Poorhouse, Sugar suffers from being a 4th filled building slot, each worth one VP. With a Crane, something IS lost--time and flexibility. (You can crane over Market Stall, too, but I don't think it's a good choice most of the time, even if you have a Quarry.)

I do think it's a tribute to SJ that this a point on which people can reasonably disagree--do we gamble looking for another card or not? (There's a reason it's one of my favorite games!)
 
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Jim Campbell
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Re:Strategy Article
Geniesse wrote:
With a Crane, something IS lost--time and flexibility.


I only build crane when I have more buildings than everyone else, thus my "clock" is different from theirs. Actually, I will sometimes build it if I am holding two 6-cost buildings late in the game and it's hard to imagine a normal sequence that causes enough card income to arrive at the right times to allow both to be built. In these cases, the crane takes better advantage of time and/or increase flexibility.
 
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Werner Bär
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Re:Strategy Article
crane - if you manage to have quarry and carpenter, using the crane actually gives you extra cards.

sugar - i like to build sugar in the first building round, especially if in seat 3 or 4 and nobody before builds a production building. That early, the extra card gives some return over the game, and you still can hold on a good card.
 
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Brian Bankler
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I've added more thoughts on my website.

http://gaming.powerblogs.com/posts/1124758830.shtml
 
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