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The Palaces of Carrara» Forums » Strategy

Subject: An In-Depth Strategic and Tactical Analysis rss

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Andrew Theiss
United States
Texas
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(My apologies for not spicing this up with pictures. This is my first ever post despite my perusing of these boards for several years. This was a purely academic exercise for me, as this strategy guide has been running through my mind for two weeks. This is an exhaustive, long-winded strategic and tactical analysis. There is no TL;DR version)

I learned how to play Palaces of Carrara a month ago, and it has quickly become one of my favorite strategy games. I have logged 41 games both on the table and online, and I have won 34 of those games - and it’s usually not even close. Four of those losses came in my first four games. Two of those losses came against Top 5 opponents (according to boardgamearena.com), and in a particularly embarrassing moment, one of those losses was against a person I had just introduced the game (and I introduced the game by saying “I’m probably going to win, but..”)…(also two of those losses would have been wins if I had opted to score instead of pushing my luck, but that’s 1. sour grapes on my part, 2. Goes to show how important it is to keep in mind that this game is a race).

While I do regard myself as an above average strategy gamer, I am not so good that I should be winning 85% of my games. I think the bigger problem is that many people have trouble figuring out how to do well. The game is very easy to learn, but it is certainly hard to master.

There are many paths to victory, and I have yet to discover one dominant strategy - in fact, I don’t think one exists. The game is remarkably elegant in its design, and the balancing seems mathematically perfect to me - it almost seems like the game designed itself. I can think of many, many approaches to the strategy involved in this game, and most of those strategies are purely situational - it’ll change each time you play the game, depending both on who you are playing against as well as what the objectives are for that game.

I will be focusing on the Advanced version of the game, which for all intents and purposes IS the game. Unless you have never played a euro-style game before, I think the suggestion in the rules that people start with the basic game is a poor suggestion. The basic game is remarkably boring, and the advanced version does not add so much complexity that it would be too hard for people to figure out. If anything, start with the basic game objectives, but also use the 8-cost buildings in addition to the available upgrades.

I will discuss strategy and tactics in two sections:

I) General strategies to keep in mind while playing
II) Situational tactics

I would like to reiterate that I am still exploring strategies, so I intend for this post to spark discussion on viable approaches to the game, as there has yet to be much discussion about it that I can find. Since this game is so rich, I think it is well worth a deeper look.

For the sake of simplicity, I refer to cities by their color, not their name.


I. - GENERAL STRATEGIES

There are five basic elements to the game worth considering individually:

1) Purchasing blocks
2) Purchasing buildings
3) Selecting upgrades
4) When to score
5) How to approach certain objectives


1. PURCHASING BLOCKS

The first quarter of the game usually starts the same way: most people tend to buy blocks until they run out of money or until there are no more blocks available. There is also something to be said for buying buildings early, but I will discuss that in the next section. Since the game is ultimately a race to complete objectives, you want to buy as many blocks as possible on your turn so as to build up a stock of blocks in a minimal number of turns. However, you must be frugal with your block selection. My general rule of thumb is to never spend 3 or more gold for a single block (until the late game or if I have excess gold). In addition to that, I almost never spend 2 gold on a block unless it is red, yellow, or white - even then, very rarely will I spend 2 for a red block unless I can buy several black, blue or green blocks along with it.

A good statistic to consider is the ratio of gold spent to points earned. At the end of the game, you probably want to average 4-5 points per block purchased. But again, as this game is a race, there are exceptions to this. I typically buy somewhere between 30-35 blocks per games. I usually require 25-30 gold over the course of the game in order to purchase that number of blocks. That is to say, that in addition to the 20 gold with which I start, I acquire anywhere between 5-10 more gold through scoring in order to complete my necessary block purchases.

The most important thing to consider when buying blocks is whether turning the wheel to make the blocks cheaper will help you more or if it will more help the person whose turn is after yours. I will choose not to turn the wheel and pay a little extra for blocks if it means that I am preventing my opponents from acquiring many blocks cheaply. Another way to approach that is to delay purchasing blocks and to instead purchase a building, hoping that your opponents turn the wheel for you. This can sometimes turn into a cat and mouse game, at which point the cheap buildings become very important as they allow you to delay turning the wheel without sacrificing blocks that will be used to purchase more expensive buildings later on.

2. PURCHASING BUILDINGS

I usually aim to purchase blocks 1) Until I have no money remaining, 2) There are no more blocks available to purchase, or 3) I can afford to purchase an 8-cost building without wasting more expensive blocks on less valuable cities.

Whichever one of those options happens first is the option I choose to take.

It is imperative that you purchase at least one 8-cost building, as the upgrades are essential to victory. Ideally you will purchase two 8-cost buildings.

Which buildings should you select? You should go through several checks when deciding which building to purchase. This is what I choose in rough order of preference (and it can change with different objectives):

1) When selecting building type, choose the type for which there are 2 or 3 buildings available, 2) Purchase a green / “land” building. The benefits of this are two-fold: there are fewer green buildings in the game and so for games in which the objective is to build green buildings, you need to jump on this right away or else risk not having the necessary number of green buildings required to end the game. Also, you can score green buildings for points, so you are both preventing opponents from gaining those points and you are opening yourself up for a potentially huge scoring play, 3) select a building type that your opponents are building towards so as to prevent them from gaining extra points.

In the same way that you want to acquire many blocks in a minimal number of turns, more often than not, you should choose to purchase a small number of expensive buildings over building a lot of cheap buildings. Once again, this game is a race, so every turn you spend purchasing a cheap building decreases your efficiency.

You should focus on building AT LEAST three buildings of two different types. You can sometimes get away with focusing on only one building type, though rarely. You can also sometimes focus on three building types, but you should only do this if you have enough time - that is to say if it is readily apparent that your opponents are not racing towards ending the game.

In which cities should you place your buildings? There are many checks to go through for this. First of all, it is helpful to recognize (the obvious though sometimes overlooked fact) that the color of a block corresponds to the color of the city in which that block is most efficiently placed. That is, red blocks are most efficiently used for the Red city, blue blocks are most efficient for the Blue city, and so forth. The checks I go through are as follows:

1) Which cities are scoring again at the end of the game through the Bonus Scoring Card? Usually the bonus scoring card scores two cities, one that provides gold and one that provides points. Choose the city that provides points, 2) Choose a city for which upgrades are still available, 3) Choose a city that provides points before you choose a city that provides gold, 4) Choose a city in which your opponents have not already built, 5) Choose a city in which you will have the minimum number of buildings required to score that city, 6) Choose a city in which your opponents are invested heavily, either to score that city before your opponent is able to reap huge benefits from it OR to force your opponent to score a city early so as not to grant her the freedom to rack up huge points from a single city.

Ideally, you do not want to purchase a building with blocks that are 3 times more expensive than the city in which you are placing that building. For example, do not use white blocks to place a building in the green city or below. Do not use red blocks to place a building in the black city. There are exceptions to this, especially in the late game when you simply want to use all your available blocks. That said, you should be purchasing blocks efficiently enough so as not to run into the problem of using expensive blocks for inexpensive cities.

My favorite cities in order of preference (and this directly relates to the upgrades available for those cities):

1) Red, 2) Blue, 3) Black, 4) White, 5) Yellow, 6) Green

I pretty much never build in the green city.


3. SELECTING UPGRADES

Remember that I said you should acquire an extra 5-10 gold over the course of a game? If you are building efficiently in the cities that provide points, every upgrade (with the exception of the Blue city) will provide you with the gold you will need. You really don’t need a lot of gold (but there are potential exceptions). However, you will likely need at least one upgrade in order to win - some have argued that this is a flaw in the game to which I wholeheartedly disagree - the upgrades ARE the game.

My favorite upgrades in order of preference:

TIER 1
1) Red city, 2) the upgrade that provides two points per green / “land” building, 3) Blue city 4) Black city,

TIER 2
5) White city, 6) the upgrade that provides gold for brown / “city” buildings

TIER 3
7) Yellow city, 8) Green city

There is a common misconception that the Red city upgrade is overpowered. Yes, I do think it provides the most bang for your buck - it provides you with 3 points AND that little bit of extra gold you will need. However, if your opponent receives that upgrade before you, there are many ways to counteract that. For one, if your opponent selects the Red city upgrade you need to either score the city before they can, or you need to force them to score the city before they can rack up too many buildings in that city.

The upgrade that provides points for green / “land” buildings can potentially score way more points than the Red city upgrade. Of course, the green building upgrade is only as valuable as the number of green buildings that are available to you over the course of the game. That is why I suggested earlier to prioritize choosing green buildings. If you can build both 8-cost green buildings, and you have the green building upgrade, that is probably the highest potential individual scoring play you can make. The green building upgrade could even be considered the best upgrade if one of the objectives requires you to build green buildings (though I guess it could also be argued that that objective limits the number of available green buildings as everyone else will be fighting over building green buildings).

The Blue city upgrade is excellent because it provides you 2 points in addition to the fact that you can build in that city with every block except black blocks. This upgrade is the best one you can acquire if the Bonus Scoring Card scores the Blue city at the end of the game.

The Black city upgrade is amazing. You can build in this city with any color block AND it provides you with both points and (necessary) gold, unlike the Blue city upgrade. If the Bonus Scoring Card scores the Black city, I might still prioritize other upgrades over it. However, I have won games by ignoring most of the objectives and exclusively building in the Black city. In those cases, I usually also have the green building upgrade and I typically buy well over my standard 30-35 blocks.

I pretty much never select the Tier 2 or Tier 3 upgrades. I don’t think I have ever selected the Green city upgrade. However, you might select a Tier 2 or Tier 3 upgrade in certain situations. I don’t think you should ever target them, but again, this is a purely situational choice. I also welcome any arguments about the value of the Green city - I must reiterate that I am still exploring potential strategies.


4. WHEN TO SCORE

You should score a city if someone threatens to score it before you. You should rush to score a city if it means you can prevent someone from scoring it. Further to that point, if it seems like someone might be threatening to score a city before and you have not yet met the minimum number of required buildings to score, always maintain in your hand the blocks needed to place a building in a particular city just in case. So, for example, if I have five red (and/or white and/or yellow) blocks with which I build a 5-cost building in the Red city, I will then no longer have any more available blocks with which to build in the Red city. If someone is threatening to score that city, and you no longer have blocks available to build in that city, you then need to waste another turn buying red blocks and you thus risk losing the opportunity to score that city. However, if you have purchased, say, a 3-cost building instead, you still have another two blocks with which to save your scoring potential in that city. If no one is threatening to score, then simply keep acquiring the necessary blocks to build in that city. You will ideally have as many blocks invested in a city as possible before you score it. But you need to pay attention to your opponents so as not to risk losing the opportunity to score the city.

Unless I am forced to score a city early, I typically score building types that will provide me with gold first. That gold then affords me the opportunity to build more and more buildings in a city until someone forces me to score in that city. I like to diversify my building types amongst multiple cities, but I also like to place them all in a single city. Placing all of a particular building type in a single city allows you to effectively score a city twice. Diversifying your building types across multiple cities allows you to score that type to acquire necessary gold as well as points. I frequently like to build a 2 or 3-cost building in the Yellow city, and then I use the same building type in the Red or Blue cities. That one building in the Yellow city provides me with all the gold I will need to finish the game. (This is also the only instance in which I might choose to build in the Green city instead of the Yellow city.) In theory, you could also build one those types in the Black city for gold instead, but you may as well take advantage of the 2 or 3 gold the Green and Yellow cities provide.

Aside from cities that you are forced to score early, you typically shouldn’t score until the last few turns of the game - that way you can build the maximum number of buildings for scoring purposes. You usually can calculate whether a person will be able to end the game or not. Once a person starts scoring and it is apparent that she will soon be able to end the game, you should follow suit and begin scoring as well.

All that said, I usually don’t begin scoring until I am setup to meet all the objectives and end the game. I consider it a very poor strategy to score in the mid-game and then to continue purchasing blocks and buildings (with the exception of the times I score in order to acquire more gold). You sacrifice points doing that. Avoid scoring for as long as you can.

Now there are some clever scoring tricks you can also do which I will discuss in the final section.


5. HOW TO APPROACH CERTAIN OBJECTIVES

I will spend the least amount of time on this topic, though it could be argued that this is the element of the game most ripe for discussion.

I will decide on which building types and cities I am chasing before I begin focusing on objectives. However, you should always remain aware of where other people stand in relation to the objectives. You don’t want to be caught sleeping and risk not scoring everything you can.

I find the gold objective to be the most tricky to negotiate (it’s the one that requires you to have, say, 25 gold and then you receive 1 point per 2 gold). On the one hand, it makes you think that the Yellow and Green cities are more valuable, and they may very well be. On the other hand, the upgrade that provides 2 gold for brown / “city” buildings also becomes very valuable (but certainly still not more valuable than the green building upgrade). Finally, if there is the gold objective and all the other objectives are relatively easy to meet, you can potentially end the game REALLY fast and catch your opponents off guard. In those cases, you want to consider the 20 gold you begin the game with as part of the gold you will use to end the game. That is to say, you could focus exclusively on black and blue blocks (which are cheap) and thus not spend much of your gold on much of anything else. If you are fast enough, you can end the game before everyone else even realizes the game has begun.

I’ve discussed the Bonus Scoring Card many times above - you simply want to focus on having a lot of buildings in one of those cities, preferably (or rather exclusively) in the city that provides points instead of gold.

There is also the objective that provides points to the person who has the highest building cost in a city. In those cases, you can sometimes get away with building a 1 or 2-cost building in a city and then claim a lot of points at the end of the game if no one else builds in that city. You should exploit this to the best of your ability, but do not do it at the expense of placing buildings in point-rich cities.

As for the Object Card objective, I usually don’t worry too much about it. If you focus on two buildings types, you will usually have all the objects you need. You can then use excess gold to purchase an object for 10 gold to fulfill that objective. I mentioned above that you only need about 25-30 gold for purchasing blocks. You will typically end up with much more gold than that, and that is the gold you will use to purchase objects (which will almost always score more points than the gold you have).


II. SITUATIONAL TACTICS

I already feel like I have written more than anyone will care to read - if only I put this much thought in all my college essays - but there are a few more tactical elements I would like to discuss.

I have specified multiple times that this game is ultimately a race. You should always keep that in the back of your mind. HOWEVER, you do not need to end the game in order to win (as I have seen multiple people on this site suggest). In fact, rushing to end the game by fulfilling objectives could feasibly sacrifice points. More often than not - maybe this is an exaggeration - I do not try to end the game. I simply try to acquire as much points as possible. If scoring a lot of points and ending the game goes hand in hand based on the objectives, then by all means rush to the end of the game. But don’t think that you need to race to the finish in order to win. That is a mistake that I have seen many people make.

Tactically, you want to buy green buildings as soon as they become available so as to prevent other people from acquiring them…You should delay your plans for scoring or buying buildings if there is a particularly juicy set of blocks available for purchase…You should try to spoil your opponents’ scoring plans to the best of your ability (but not at the expense of scoring your own points). This is chiefly done by scoring cities before opponents or by forcing opponents to score cities early. This can also be done by claiming building types on which your opponents are focusing (though to a lesser extent)…Don’t spend too much gold for blocks (you will lose the game), but also don’t avoid buying a ton of blocks for a lot of gold if it helps you meet end-game objectives.

Another thing to consider: If there are no more blocks available to place on the wheel (because everyone is hoarding blocks), when you buy a building, the blocks you use to buy that building are (obviously) the blocks that will appear on the wheel the next time it is turned. Use this knowledge of available blocks to your advantage.

Finally, that scoring trick I mentioned above:

This is a tactic that I am still exploring, but it can be especially lucrative if done right. Imagine you have the Red city upgrade (3 points + 1 gold). Then imagine that you place 3 or 4 building of one type in that city. You score that building type and suddenly you have a lot of points and some gold. Then - and this is the trick - UPGRADE each of those buildings to all of another type. Then score that building type. If you play your cards right, you could very easily effectively score a city 3 times. You sometimes don’t always have the time to do this. But if you do have enough time, you will likely win the game.


III. FINAL THOUGHTS

Thanks for making it this far. I hope it has been helpful. I think this is an absolutely brilliant game. This is an abstract game (theme? what theme?). It is the most purely strategic euro game I have ever played. Frankly, nothing else comes close in my opinion - though maybe I’m just saying that because I am particularly successful in this game. I come from a wargaming background, and this the first euro game I have played that scratches every strategic itch I have. I believe The Palaces of Carrara is nearly a perfectly balanced / designed game.

I am really surprised at how bad people are at this game. I’m not tooting my own horn by saying that I am hardly ever challenged in this game. I simply believe that people have a hard time grasping the very unique scoring mechanism in this game. It is both a light and heavy game at the same time. I hope people read this strategy guide and then find strategies of their own. I hope people read this and then login to boardgamearena.com to beat me - I have the same username there as here. I welcome the challenge. More than any other game, I hate losing in Palaces of Carrara. But I want to lose - that is, I need more of you to become good at this game in order to sustain my interest in the game.

In Dice Tower’s (very positive) review of the game, they make two claims that I believe are inaccurate. 1) They claim that some objectives are more “swingy” or game changing than others. That’s simply not true because the points granted by objectives are available to everyone, and the points provided for, say, the objective requiring building 4 buildings in the White city vs 4 buildings in the Black city are quite well balanced given the cost to build in the White city. 2) They claim that this is a “fairly tight game points-wise”…I’m going to say yes and no. If there are many good players playing the game, the top two players might be (somewhat) close. More often than not, in my experience, someone overwhelmingly wins the game. In my case, that’s usually me. But also, as this is a hard game to grasp in terms of its scoring mechanics, it is very easy to score hardly any points. That’s how my first couple games went.

I WELCOME ANY AND ALL GAME RECOMMENDATIONS IF YOU KNOW SOMETHING THAT RIVALS CARRARA’S STRATEGIC POTENTIAL. The games I have rated are not all the games I have played, so don’t base your recommendations off that.

Happy Gaming
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Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Don't fall in love with me yet, we only recently met
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Thanks for the interesting article. I have a similar number of plays and win-record but it seems that we have very different strategic approaches! I often finish a game with no 8-buildings/upgrades and very rarely score the green buildings.

Quote:
All that said, I usually don’t begin scoring until I am setup to meet all the objectives and end the game. I consider it a very poor strategy to score in the mid-game and then to continue purchasing blocks and buildings (with the exception of the times I score in order to acquire more gold). You sacrifice points doing that. Avoid scoring for as long as you can.


One problem with this is that your opponents can grab all the objects for your building types before you get to them.
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Andrew Theiss
United States
Texas
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Excellent! I am happy to hear someone has had success by approaching the game in a different manner - that's what makes the game so special.

Good point about the objects. More than anything, I think people should take from this that you should always pay close attention to what your opponents are doing and respond accordingly. It is not an interactive game, per se, but practically everything your opponent does indirectly relates to what you should be doing.

Do you avoid the Green city as I do?
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