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Subject: Starvation ain't all it's cracked up to be? rss

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Christopher Rao
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There is a long thread here about starvation being the supposed dominant strategy (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/308193) ( I read maybe 60-70 of the 91 posts, so forgive me if I’m restating someone else’s point.) The pro-starvation argument is basically that using a pip per meeple analysis, you can simply get more pips (and thus more VPs) letting your meeples starve. The closer you get to 10 meeples, the less the -10VP/turn penalty hurts, and the more efficient starvation becomes. Here are a few counter-points to the “Starvation is so powerful it’s broken” folks:

1. VPs lost are lost forever, but there are a finite number of opportunities that meeples can get VPs, using the only two efficient VP sources – cards and huts. Ending the game with 10 or 20 wood is obviously pretty inefficient (each resource is worth just one 1 vp, but would be worth 3 VPs, for example, in a hut). Excess stone and gold are far worse, inefficiency-wise. What this means is that comparing pips gained through farms with pips gained through resources is more complex than some have argued (of course, it is also true that ending the game with excess farms or food are also very inefficient – this must be factored in as well).

2. Don’t forget about the farm multipliers - they're usually easier to get than the meeple multipliers. If you get to 5 farms by mid game (and, ideally, 6 or maybe 7 meeples) and an opportunity comes up for a 2x farm multiplier, you are looking at a minimum of 10 VPs. Even if it takes 3 wood to get it (or maybe even four), it’s still a good deal. My experience is that meeple multipliers, b/c they are the only multipliers that start off with value (5 or 10 vps), are generally much more sought after than wheat multipliers. Another subtle point is that you get a big farm lead over other players (let’s say, for example, no one else has more than two), it’s less likely that someone will take farm multipliers ahead of you – but someone will almost always take the meeple multiplier before you.

3. A starvation strategy generally makes farms too cheap for the next player, and is vulnerable to love hut choices of the previous player. Letting a player get farm when you go first – and when she goes first, makes it very easy for a player to quickly meet all their food needs. This gives them more meeples to compete for the stuff you want. Also, if the player before is smart, she will simply take the love hut and especially the meeple multipliers before you. Remember that in a 4-player game you are player after someone 75% of the time! Being stuck at 6 or 7 meeples for even a few turns while you get -10/turn is a real death knell to the starvation strategy.

So what’s the answer? Very similar to Puerto Rico. Spend the first few turns of the game discerning what other players are over-valuing and under-valuing – and what strategies they are committing to. Then either choose a strategy that is relatively underrepresented at the table – or is at least similar to the player who player to your right. Never copy the strategy, if you can help it, of the player who sits to her left.

Example of when I’ve successfully chosen the starvation strategy: Usually when I’m going 3rd or 4th, and don’t get a farm before my turn – especially if I have had the chance to get an extra meeple that first turn. Sometimes on my first turn a great card will turn up cheap (say the 3x hut bonus or the 2x tool multiplier with 4 die rolls). For one wood, I may take the card, because I still have about a 51% chance of getting a farm. If I don’t get the farm, however, then it may be another 4 turns before I have a chance at a farm. At this point, there is a big decision to make, because the worst thing is being in between two strategies – like procrastinating in Puerto Rico and not being sure if you’re going for building or shipping.

My experience after about 190 games is that starvation is a viable, but not overpowered strategy. Thoughts?

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J.L. Robert
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topherr wrote:
My experience after about 190 games is that starvation is a viable, but not overpowered strategy. Thoughts?



My only thought is that I do not want to play this game with someone who has played it about 190 times. I've enjoyed the 3 games I've played, but I probably won't enjoy playing with someone who's obsessed with this game, much like how I dislike playing against self-proclaimed "experts" at Puerto Rico.
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Nicholas
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My only thought is that you are beating a dead horse...

I think that post was a knee-jerking early in the strategic thinking of Stone Age and now most players already know that starvation is a viable-but-not-broken strategy.
 
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Chris Bailey
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I've never understood people that want to get online and read "how to play" a game rather then discover the game through play themselves.
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Ian MacInnes
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I think that these negative responses are missing the point of strategy discussions. They are not here for people who prefer to play a game a couple of times then move on to something else, eventually coming back a few months later. They are for people who have played the game ten or more times who want to understand it and debate what it is about. They are not writing or reading these articles so they can beat all of their friends. It is part of the learning process after you have played the game a bunch of times and are beyond the initial discovery phase. You can learn something new from thinking about a game in a systematic way and then writing up an analysis that other experienced players can consider and respond to.
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J.L. Robert
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jvalj wrote:
I think that these negative responses are missing the point of strategy discussions. They are not here for people who prefer to play a game a couple of times then move on to something else, eventually coming back a few months later. They are for people who have played the game ten or more times who want to understand it and debate what it is about. They are not writing or reading these articles so they can beat all of their friends. It is part of the learning process after you have played the game a bunch of times and are beyond the initial discovery phase. You can learn something new from thinking about a game in a systematic way and then writing up an analysis that other experienced players can consider and respond to.


I understand strategy discussions. And I do plan on having this game in my regular rotation for the immediate future.

But remember, this game has been on the shelves a scant 6 weeks. 5+ games a day? That's more obsession than hobby, IMO.
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Ian MacInnes
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Thanks for your response.

I understand your point and it is generally a good one. That said I think it is unnecessary to call out a specific person on the time they spend on a particular hobby. He probably doesn't spend much more time on games than some spend on TV.

Many people have addictive tendencies that are hard to control. We should all want them to choose Stone Age (or World of Warcraft etc.) rather than one of the many more dangerous and socially destructive addictions out there.
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Werner Bär
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J.L.Robert wrote:
But remember, this game has been on the shelves a scant 6 weeks. 5+ games a day? That's more obsession than hobby, IMO.

It is available for online play against human oppponents on BSW (Brettspielwelt) since 9 weeks, and was available in stores before that point (amazon.de lists it as feb 23th, but that mightt have been for preoder). topherr wrote in another thread that most of his games were online. That's still 3 games per day, but "only" 1.5 -2 hours; less if he played many 2 player games.
There are currently 67 people with 150+ plays on BSW; one of them with 612 plays
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Paul Harrington
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Werbaer wrote:

There are currently 67 people with 150+ plays on BSW; one of them with 612 plays


Yes, that would be Diane

Actually, I have to weigh in on starvation. I thought about appending to that really long thread but since this one is more recent, I'll write here. Definitely being an anti-starvation player, because I think it's a bad strategy (many reasons have been given already), I had an unusual situation come up in my 177th game where I was "backed into" the starvation strategy. (I guess that makes me one of the 67 people)

I went fourth. Round 1, not in the village. Round 2, meeples (farm and tool were gone; I would have preferred these.) Round 3: double shamen came up in the '2' spot (costing 2 resources); the player before me took a farm, a close decision in my opinion, and I took the double shamen. In Round 4, where I went first, I had no farms (couldn't pick one up via dice civilizations either) and another double shamen came up in the '2' spot. Now it didn't seem close anymore. Already being way behind in the farm race, it seemed like it was high time to take two more shamen, plop on the love shack every turn, and starve. I did end up winning a very close game. Maybe in another 170 games, I'll try it again if backed into it.

There are players that strive to starve every game and they win a fair amount. I think their winning is due to their experience and superior gameplay and not due to starving; i.e. they would win MORE often if they didn't starve. I believe that the conditions required to try for starvation are rare indeed; you are fourth in a four-player game and cannot score a farm in the first three turns; and you have a good alternative first pick when you finally get to go first.
 
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Mark Biggar
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The problem I have with starving is that it seams a real "Red Queen's Race".
 
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Paul Harrington
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mark_biggar wrote:
The problem I have with starving is that it seams a real "Red Queen's Race".


The implication is that you think you're taking ten steps forward and ten steps back (-10 each turn.)

OK, even though I hate the starvation strategy, I know what's its devotees are trying to accomplish. So let me play devil's advocate and pretend I'm defending it.

The idea is that you keep feeding your people until you get enough of them that it's profitable to starve them. Once you start to starve them, you are getting tons of materials each turn, and are going to build many huts, and acquire many meeples. All these materials you get every turn are going to let you light on every x2 shamen and x3 builders card that comes up, without regard to its cost, while more food-minded opponents may take lower costing civs which are more beneficial to them. So, in addition to building lots of huts, each hut will be worth probably an extra five VP due to the builder bonus. If the opponents let you (and they might since their agenda is different than yours), you will be able to build a couple huts per turn. With your ten meeples, you should easily be able to build two huts per turn plus generate the materials to build them. You also can make life quite difficult for your opponents by placing seven meeples on a resource which is common to all the currently available huts; or failing that, placing 7 meeples on wood at a time when players are low on resources to buy civilizations because a bunch of good ones just came up on the prior turn.

OK, done with devil's advocate. I can make a good case for the strategy despite the fact that I think that I can usually beat an opponent playing it. It's successful because players aren't defending against it well. On the other hand, if a halfway decent player is playing against three opponents who don't defend against the starvation strategy well, shouldn't he win playing the same game that they do? (The implication being that if they can't defend against the strategy, they're probably also don't play as well as the starver.)

To beat the starver, you can't ignore him. He will beat you by stealing all of a resource. Don't let that happen; build up a stockpile and make sure you keep it unless you use it for something totally awesome. Also, he's going to win by quickly getting to ten meeples, while all the players getting free farms are going to find out quickly that they have more than enough farms and the all the civs with food on them are worthless. If somebody is starving, farms are going to be plentiful and aren't worth as much as they normally would be. On the other hand, the farms will be better if you have meeples to use the food on. The sooner the other players realize somebody is starving their people, the more quickly they will value meeples themselves and darned if the guy trying to get 10 meeples to starve can't get them anymore because his opponents are going to the love shack!

It's not hard to spot usually; if somebody is avoiding taking farms early, usually a strong move, they might be planning to starve. This might be an indication that farms will be plentiful this game and you want more meeples.

The third defense against starvation: don't let him have all those double shamen and triple builder civs! Those are valuable cards for anybody, and if you have a close decision between taking one of those and taking something else, by all means take the card that's going to be worth 20 VP to him.
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Ian MacInnes
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Paul provides a good analysis that is consistent with my experience. Another way of defending against starvation is focusing on finishing the stack with the least remaining huts. Of course that assumes you can keep ahead of your other rival(s). In such a game the discovery cards, hut, and tribe multipliers are valued higher because to beat the starver you usually want to end the game early. The tool multipliers in particular will be worth much less. I also agree that blocking the starver from the love shack 1-2 times per player is effective. If s/he is stuck at 7 people in the second half of the game you probably don't need to worry about ending it quickly.

Thankfully Stone Age is so well balanced that all or nothing strategies are not particularly effective (another is all tools + tool multipliers). They are very fragile. If it weren't this way we would all get bored of the game very quickly as there would be few interesting decisions to make. This is an excellent tactical game of timing and valuation which gives strategic players something to try out (e.g. starvation), even though such approaches are unlikely to succeed against experienced opponents.
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Just bought the game this week and played it for the first time. First time I play it with my wife and she asked "When someone starves why don't they just die?" Seems like a reasonable question. Wouldn't something like that take care of the Starvation Strategy?

ROb
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Rob in Richmond wrote:
Just bought the game this week and played it for the first time. First time I play it with my wife and she asked "When someone starves why don't they just die?" Seems like a reasonable question. Wouldn't something like that take care of the Starvation Strategy?

ROb

Feel free to bring that game over to our house for some gaming, Rob!
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Rob White
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Would love to Tim. Have you not played it. Also grabbed Galaxy Trucker this past week.
Rob
 
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Rob in Richmond wrote:
Just bought the game this week and played it for the first time. First time I play it with my wife and she asked "When someone starves why don't they just die?" Seems like a reasonable question. Wouldn't something like that take care of the Starvation Strategy?

ROb

Whenever I try the "get lots of people and don't hunt or farm" strategy, my people have never starved. They eat yummy nutritious victory points.




(I've said this before. I totally expect to be ignored again.)
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Everett Scheer
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kusinohki wrote:

Whenever I try the "get lots of people and don't hunt or farm" strategy, my people have never starved. They eat yummy nutritious victory points.




(I've said this before. I totally expect to be ignored again.)


"Victory Points, It's what's for dinner."(TM)
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