We got in our third game last night (not counting the evening I introduced it to some friends.) The first game was just working through the rules, the second was to hammer out our understanding of the finer points of the rules… and this third one was very close to being a real contest of wits. We honed our skills a bit more, but we were still surprised as we blundered into mistakes and saw the consequences of our actions way too late.
We played the with “the river” expansion. My opponent played all her pieces, but I was holding mine back. I took such a large lead early on that my opponent was ready to quit– but then midway through the game she scored a HUGE city with a knight for 30 points.
I played rather cunningly in that I posted two farmers around 3 citied that I had completed. My opponent had gotten the bad luck of isolating her three farmers– one was completely hemmed in by a road and the other two seemed impossibly far apart!
The most critical move of the game was when I played a monastary tile to complete a road that I had a thief on. I racked in 8 or 10 points while giving my wife an extra tile around the monastary she was trying to complete. A few turns later, I noticed that I had not only connected my wifes two farmers with that move, but I had also connected her two farmers to my two…! We were suddenly tied for “ownership” of the majority the cities on the board! (If I had continued the road section out, I could have isolated her two farmers permanently. Doh!) During the endgame I tried to figure out a way to get a third farmer into that field… and worried that my opponent might do the same, but it was very difficult to see a way to do this. Neither of us felt it could be done, but I think there might have been a way if we were a bit more creative.
As the game wound down, I still held onto a reserve, but my opponent played everything that she had. I picked up a good string of small scores by playing a tile that could be immediately scored: two points for a quick thief… 4 points for a quick knight. When I completed a couple of cities that were seperated from the main farm, I played a farmer to pick up eight points from them at the end. Both up us scored a few points for unfinished roads, cities, and monastaries.
When the dust had settled and the last city was scored for the farmers… I was ahead by just a single point. It was somewhere in the vicinity of 84 to 83. Wow!
So here’s the basic tensions of the game as we see it now:
Playing farmers early is good because the central farmers will have a good chance of serving a large number of cities. Always keep an eye out for a way to isolate an opponent’s farmers– perhaps you can punish them for deploying them too early in the game.
If an opponent completes a city and then begins trying to score another knight nearby, consider playing a farmer nearby. On the down side, he will want to build out there and so may have more opportunities to play more farmers out there to nullify yours. If he succeeds… you’ve at least tied up two of his men… and if he fails, you’ll pick up 8 or 12 points in the endgame.
Scoring double points for having a pair of knights or thieves on the same road means that each tile you play to complete them counts twice as much. If you connect them into the same city or raod, it will be impossible for your opponent to outnumber your men there… but it may be worth his while to play a tile in such a way as to prevent you from scoring either of those men. (But most people play a friendly game and won’t stoop to such mean tactics.)
So far we tend to build in our own little corner of the board and don’t really mess with each other’s patterns, so the game is more about how well you can manage what you draw. We are completely evil when it comes to scoring the farmers at the end, though– and so far its the farmers that determine the winner at the end. I expect future games to have the players in each others faces a little more– especially if there’s a chance to isolate farmers or connect fields.