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Subject: Opportunity cost, not just pips per meeple rss

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Christopher Rao
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Q:When I say "lawyer" what pops into your head? A:Someone who designs games about penguins." - Dormammu
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Another ramble ... including some concepts I've discussed in other posts.

I think too many players over-emphasize pips per meeple instead of placing it in context of opportunity cost per action. Basically, the more flexibility you have in your style of play, the more you can take advantage of opportunities at the right time (i.e., choosing that perfect card for 3 resources when you have the wood to burn). Being forced to go for resources early in a turn (your second or even third placement) because you really need the resource prevents you from taking advantages of opportunities.

The best example of this is worrying about getting the most efficiency out of a 1-7 hut in the early or middle of the game, leaving you without many resources. The efficiency gain is pretty small (say 1 meeple worth), but the opportunity cost can be huge. This is most obvious when someone is simply blocked in late game from meepling a resource they need for a hut they’ve already committed to, but it has other more subtle inefficiencies as well. The answer?

Don’t just think about pips per meeple – focus on value gained in the first two placement rounds. You first choice per turn – especially if you are early in turn order – is critical. Each round you should be getting something really efficient on this placement. Your second placement often gives you some unexpected opportunities, as can even the third. It’s easy to overlook these if you’re lasering on one thing. As you get to your final placement (or final placement before hunting, if you are actually feeding your people and aren’t all farmed up) there is simply less opportunity cost to be lost.

This even gives you a chance to effectively “waste” a meeple, in certain situations. For example, if I am going second in turn order and I really want a card that costs four resources, I can choose it but not fulfill the action – because I know that next round, when I choose first, it will be just one resource (or sometimes too). If I am resource depleted, and I’m not particularly waiting for other cards, this can be a good move (for example, if I’m heavy in tools, and it’s the last 2x tools card).

I can also use this last placement to block another player – especially if one or more other players have several placements left. Example: I am first in turn order, there are plenty of cards left, and one stack of huts down to 4 huts remaining. That hut requires stone and brick, and another player with placements left seems to be eyeing this hut (based on his resource allocation and placement this turn). If I leave the card and she takes it, chances are the game ends 3 turns later – when I am second player. If I block, then for the cost of just one more meeple, I can prolong the game to try to make sure I go first on the last turn – often a big advantage.

Another way to reduce opportunity cost is to not only choose a strategy (and hence actions) that other players are not choosing, but also to choose specific resources on a turn when other players are not. In the early-mid game, for example, it’s usually fairly easy to get brick, stone and gold – but it’s much harder in the late game. So getting the stone you need in the mid game, for example, will give you the flexibility in a late round to take a hut that is available, then spend your next placement on a card or town spot instead of scrambling to make sure you have the stone you need to build the hut.

My belief is that it’s almost always best to spend only one resource – a brick, preferably – on a 1-7 building early, even if you don’t (yet) have any hut multipliers. Late game, of course, it’s usually best to throw lots more resources at the 1-7 if you can. I also think it’s usually a mistake to spend the last of any resource in the mid game (but not necessarily the early game) without a really compelling reason. If you must, drain your wood or brick, but hold onto your stone or gold.

Try to force your opponents to make inefficient choices.
An underrated play, especially in the early-mid game, is to take a card that meanders from your primary strategy, leaving a moderately good card in a more expensive slot that helps your primary strategy. For example, say you already have a 4x tools multiplier and a 1x multiplier is in the 3 slot but a die roll symbol card is in the one slot and you just have one other symbol so far. And let’s say that you have 5 tools already in mid-game and no one else has more than 2. The tools multiplier may be worth 6 or 8 points at the end of the game and the symbol is only worth 3 now. But taking the symbol may screw up an opponent’s set collection, and if that opponent takes the 1x tool multiplier he’s probably hurting his own game more than he is hurting yours. You may also roll a 5 for a tool, which will help your tool strategy about as much as the single multliplier. Plus you’ll only be spending 3 pips of resources for the symbol instead of 9 for the tool. In this scenario, it’s quite possible that the tool multiplier card may even be available in your 3rd or 4th placement – and then it might be worth it.

I’m conflicted, however, about playing this little mini-game on 2x multipliers that you really want. I played the above scenario tonight about a third of the way through the game, but ignored a 2x tool multiplier instead of the 1x multiplier above. My smart opponent promptly took the 2x multiplier in the 3 slot, and now we were competing for tools (and tool multipliers) the rest of the way. It was a 3-player game, and neither of us won. I’m not saying it was just because of this play, but the play really ended up watering down the strategies of both of us. That’s the thing about the double multis – they draw you into strategies that singles often don’t. It just feels like a waste to not feed your 2x multiplier somehow. It’s really nice in the later game when you have a 6x or 8x of tools or farms (or meeples, if you are lucky enough to get them all) and have effectively driven away your competition for late game actions in tools (or farms).

Thoughts?

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