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Subject: Raj Elementary Strategy Ramblings rss

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Daniel Hurst
United States
Murfreesboro
Tennessee
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One of my favorite games which I thought deserved rough cut at a stategy article. This was inspired by a long series of emails on Raj back-and-forth to a friend of mine. Alas, I couldn't dig 'em out, so I'm reproducing some points from memory.

I've organized this in sort of train-of-thought mode. But at least with numbered sections. I'm sorry I lacked the time to make this entry shorter. Familiarity with the rules is assumed.

1) NOTE THE TOTAL NUMBER OF POINTS AVAILABLE

Every game has ten tiles from 1-10 points and five tiles from -1 through -5. Which makes 40 total points available in each game. Right?

A player's first thought before each game (or round of the game, or game-round - we tend to play many, many of these in a row) would be to realize how many points you'll need to win. In a 2-player game, you'll obviously need one more than half: 21.

Games with more players are less subject to exactness, but there can be some rules of thumb. In a three player game, you'll probably something like 14. With four, you'll need more than 11. With all five, you'll need at least 9.

In reality, with a lot of players, two or maybe three players tend to hog all the points in each game. So those 11 or 9 point estimates may be out-the-window. It's still an excellent starting place to be aware of the total number of points. If you get just 15 in a five-player game, you're probably doing very, very well.

2) DECIDE ON A GAMEPLAN

I ain't talking about 2-player games here, really. It's a whole different spicy enchilada for somebody else's article.

It's notable that with three or more players, you may can win without a whole lot of points. Which makes the big tiles very important. In a five-player game, you might can win with JUST the ten tile and maybe the one and nuthin' else.

Even complete novice Raj players note the importance of the ten tile. But it takes a touch of sophistication to realize that the nine tile (and really the eight tile) are just SLIGHTLY worse than the ten tile, but may have substantially less competition for them. Your first games of Raj will feature wars for the ten, but later games will become more sophisticated, with players instead choosing to bail out on competition for the ten tile and instead focusing on something with slightly lower points.

Which leads to a player's gameplan. A player should probably decide before the game (or full game-round) whether he's interested in the ten. Or whether he's going for the nine. Or the eight. Or maybe just the six AND seven? The six and five together are worth more than the ten, and can often come cheaper. Hmmmmmm.... Lots of choices.

Long story short, a strategy should probably be in place from the beginning as to which tiles you're going to find important for this game-round. Of course, we all realize that no plan survives contact with the enemy. So some improvisation skills are important.

3) VALUING THE TILES

My rule of thumb on a tile is that it's worth spending a card worth the (absolute value) of double it's printed points. In other words, the two tile will be won by about a four card. A six tile should be won by about a twelve card. The negative two tile should be avoided with around a four card. This is, of course, a rough approximation, but it's a convenient way of explaining valuation to newbies. It's also a pretty decent rule of thumb. I already understand, of course, that it makes the 8, 9, & 10 out of the system. That's okay. They can be that important and belong in a different category.

I'd love to hear from anybody else if they have a different system or thoughts on this one. I think the worst part is that my system undervalues the negatives. Because when YOU end up with a negative, you've basically given the same number of positive points to ALL your opponents. Which is worse than a particular opponent getting positive points. Right?

4) BIDDING

There are only a few kinds of possible bids, really.

* Trying to win the tile by ONE more than an opponent
* Bailing on an auction to pitch your lowest card.
* Trying to win the tile for exact value (or less)
* Overpaying to be SURE to win a particular auction
* Attempting to tie on a negative tile
* Attempting to benefit from a tie by playing low-ish

The first is obvious. If the 5 tile comes up, people may bid around ten for it. So you'll want to bid an eleven to try and snatch it, while making people "use up" their tens on something they don't win. This can escalate and cause inflation of course as players are all trying to do the same thing.

For the next type of bid, you ought to be bailing on a whole mess of auctions. It's important to realize that you don't have to win them all. So when that value five tile comes up, just pitch your 1 or your 2 or whatever your lowest card is. That'll improve your hand for later, and you won't waste as much bidding power getting caught in the crossfire for every single tile. Pick your spots. Even if you bail only five times in the course of a game, your hand will be that much stronger.

Speaking of bailing, it can be tempting to try and win tiles for either exact value (hypothetically ten for the five tile) or something lower. If you think everyone will bail, you can sneak in there with something JUST above the bail level. Which is most satisfying....

You can, of course, overpay. For example, if you win a few surprise auctions in the beginning of the game and you've already got a bushel of points, you can use your 14 or 15 on something with mediocre point values, just to shore up your lead. Then just sit back and plan to avoid the negative tiles.

My personal favorite bid play comes from ATTEMPTING to tie on the negative tiles. For example, if the first tile turned over is negative five, then I almost always mention to everyone that I'm GOING to play my 1, hoping to invite any other player to also play the 1 and tie me. With that tie, the negative tile will have to be taken by someone that played more value from his hand. Devious, no? This strategy can be repeated, and is especially valuable early in the game, when you know people still have their 1s and 2s.

The caveat on this is that I've found it only works sometimes. It's a psychology thing. Maybe people just don't trust ME, but I think people think I'm going to bail on them and don't play to tie me. It's hit-or-miss, depending on the group. I'm often stuck explaining every time that if they'd played a 1, we both would have benefited. Eh, whatever. Quick games lend themselves to experimentation.

5) THE TEN TILE

The ten tile is a special case and a good opportunity to discuss the last kind of bid. Many players will save a 15 card for the ten tile. So there are often ties. Much of the fun of this game comes from the inevitable psychological stress that happens when the ten tile hits the table.

The basic thought is to decide whether to BID on it (with a 15, often) or to bail and play as low as possible. Since you know the rules, you know that if you're the only one to play a 15, you'll get it. But if you're tied with someone, you'll get NOTHING (and you'll like it). Fear of ties leads people to play low.

Of course, this leaves all kinds of space in the middle. For example, if you think everyone is planning on bailing low, you could theoretically win it with less than your 15. Why not play the 9? If everyone is lower, you'll grab it for MUCH less than value.

Another benefit of playing something like the 9, is that if TWO other people choose to play the 15, then you're high enough to beat the people that bailed when it tile cascades down past the tie-ers to you. Nice grab, Willie Mays.

This is especially in play on the ten tile, but can be used at other times, too. The nine or the negative five perhaps most often?

6) PLAYER P-SIGH-COLOGY

This game gets better with multiple plays. The first few games, there's no psychology because everyone is fumbling around trying to figure out what tiles are worth and learning how to bail on auctions, etc. But once people start figuring it out, that's where the fun starts. You can start to watch the other players and their tendencies.

Does he tend to bid on the ten tile? Or does he tend to bail out on it? Does he try for the six and seven every time? How strongly does he feel about NOT winning the negative tiles? Are you in sync with someone? Is that good or bad? Who likes the monkey? Does everyone know Daniel's rule of thumb and so they can predict me with great accuracy? Yeah, probably. Yuck.

The psychology and bluffing aspects of this game are tremendous and extremely important. They're also the most fun part of the game. I couldn't do it justice here. Go read a poker book.

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Max Pfennighaus

Millburn
New Jersey
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Great post, thanks! I just won a copy of Raj in an auction. Can't wait to try it at lunch with the coworkers!
 
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