Sands of Time development history

A blog about the development of The Sands of Time, from Spielworxx
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Sands of Time: Not really a strategy guide

Jeff Warrender
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It’s my earnest hope that players will find the game to be strategically engaging and highly replayable. If the game succeeds in this regard, it will be because the scoring categories can be combo-ed in many different ways and the details of a given combo can be played out in different ways.

Think, by comparison, of the different strategies in Puerto Rico. There are, roughly, three: "shipping", "building", and a hybrid of shipping and building. But within each strategy, there are different approaches based on the crops you grow; the corn shipping strategy is a bit different from the indigo shipping strategy and a lot different from the tobacco shipping strategy. The strategy provides a rough framework for your decision-making, and the details of your approach inform your tactical considerations. And I think Sands is built to permit similarly layered decision-making.

For example – say you want to emphasize scoring for Fountain symbols (which you mostly get from structures) and Trade Good spaces (which you get by building trade routes). You’re a civilization that trades a lot and builds some noteworthy stuff.

The rules state that trade routes must originate at one of your cities or your capital. So, one approach might be to build a couple of cities at the edge of your empire (and cities also provide fountains), jump trade routes off of them, and then connect up to Trade Good spaces and use the resultant Heritage boosts to achieve advances that increase the fountain value of your cities. Another approach might be to keep a small, centralized empire, grow a spider’s-web trade route network out of that, and use the “Taxation” bonus action to produce massive gold to build many structures. Keeping your empire small makes it easy to reduce the Unrest that you incur for those Taxation actions. A third might be to use Migrate to send your population far and wide, taking advantage of the free trade route drops that it can give (when you achieve the corresponding cultural advance), then acquire “outpost” territories, drop Irrigation in each, and keep cranking out population to repeat the effect (also grabbing some fountains from Irrigation coupled with the advance "Engineering" in the process).

In all three of these, and the others that you or I could come up with, you’re pursuing the same overall strategy, in that you’re targeting the same two scoring categories. But your approach to that strategy can vary wildly.

Here’s another quick example. Often you want to tailor your strategy based on the available resources in the area of the board in which you set up. (Although the map is always the same, each territory gets a resource tile that gives its resource (crops or gold) and population capacity. So, every game is a bit different)

So, if you’re in a gold-rich region, an obvious thing to do might be to focus on building (since the build action requires gold), whereas in a crops-rich region you might focus on expansion and conquest (since the conquer action requires crops). But even these guidelines aren’t absolute.

For example, I once ran a militaristic strategy out of an empire whose initial territories produced only gold. You can use gold to muster warriors, use the advance Law and the Colosseum structure (which you can build with all of that gold) to keep your costs to annex new territories low (dramatically reducing your consumption of crops), and Raid for the crops you need to initiate battles. Or you could grab a few empty territories early, drop Victory Arches in them (gold), maybe build a City and jump some trade routes off of it (gold again), and then scream through the political advances so you have a super-charged army that can become a tactical expeditionary force that can move around quickly (maybe you spend, yes, gold, to build a Roads network to enable this), knocking over lightly defended territories with your military superiority.

In other words, for each strategy that you can conceive, there are quite a few different ways to realize it tactically. They don’t all work equally well, but a lot of the fun is experimenting with the many different approaches. Of course you have to match your approach to the board situation, and you must be mindful of what the other players are up to and react accordingly.

I’ve tried to force players to grapple with whether they will specialize or diversify -- and to give pros and cons for either approach. As a player, this specifically seems to be a decision about whether you want to pursue the highest value Chronicle cards – the 6 and 7 cards. Make no mistake – these are all 100% achievable in the time that the game allots; but they are by no means easy, because the game goes by quickly, and they will require a narrow focus, probably scoring a single high valued card in the final scoring round, and sometimes no other cards that round. A strategy aiming at a couple of different cards of lower number can be more forgiving; at the same time, it’s less efficient. Consider that card 6 awards 21 points and requires a heritage of 6 to be able to score. Combining cards 5 and 3 is also worth 21 points, but requires a total heritage of 8 (probably in two different categories, generally). Counterbalancing this, specialization will often require you to take the same action multiple times in a generation, which incurs Unrest; whereas a diversified strategy will let you use any individual action less frequently, thus reducing your frequency of Unrest increases (and corresponding need to “waste” an action governing).

One confession I have to make is that I'm not actually a particularly great player of Sands; I think I've only won once or twice. The good news in this is that the strategies you'll be able to come up with should be much more creative and effective than mine. I'm looking forward to hearing about the interesting approaches that players discover, and I very much hope the game is engaging enough that this process of creativity and discovery will be enjoyable.
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