Revolt to Theocracy

A blog dedicated to strategy discussion of Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization.
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Making a greedy play

Elli Amir
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I first played Sid Meier's Civilization (from Fantasy Flight Games) with four friends, all of whom are regular gamers. We were building up our pretty civilizations, getting research and tile improvements, and overall having a jolly good time. Then, somewhere around turn six, one of the players (let's call him Dan) took his units and smashed the city of another player (let's call her Rosa). Rosa was deeply disheartened by this chain of events, as she did not expect that attack at all. When Dan noticed her chagrin, he innocently declared that "This is a Civilization game! We all know the computer game, right? Military is really important!"

Merriam-Webster defines greed as "a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (such as money) than is needed". Hearthstone players and commentators often use the term "greedy play" to refer to a specific type of high-variability play, which provides you with a lot of value but opens you up to a range of powerful counter-plays which are referred to as "the punish". One Hearthstone example is filling your board with minions when the opponent is likely to have a board clear. When a player is too greedy, she or he is going for a move that is risky given the current game state.

Through the Ages has a clear punish mechanic. To quote, eh, “Dan”, "This is a Civilization game!". Military is really important. If you tunnel vision on infrastructure and points without building up your strength, you could fall behind, at which point strength-based events could accumulate to a thousand cuts or another player could declare an Aggression or War -- enter the punish. When looking at high-level players, strength is often close across all players, with possible fluctuations due to Napoleon, a new Tactic, or similar moves. It is relatively rare to see more than a handful of Aggression cards or one War in such games, cause everyone is making sure to factor military into their build.

Of course, there are situations where you might end up going for a greedy play after all. On one side of the equation you are trying to balance are the potential gains from that move. On the other is the agony caused by various punish cards (events, Aggression cards, Wars) times the probability that these cards exist -- that is, the events are in the deck or an opponent drew the Aggression.

For example, in a recent game I was riding on Despotism all the way to Age II. I missed on Constitutional Monarchy and Republic but still picked Robespierre. I made sure to float nine Science, so that once Democracy shows up I can immediately grab it and revolt. Thankfully, it showed up early in Age III, but the player right after me built her or his military to a dangerous level the turn before. I decided to still go for the Democracy play even though it meant I do not have military actions to buff my units. I knew that the worst-case scenario is an Aggression, and out of the available options only Armed Intervention was significant. Since it was early in Age III, I took that gamble. I got hit by a Plunder III (which hurt!) but in my opinion it was worth five turns of Democracy.

In another game, I was heavily invested in territories, including seeding a Historical Territory II. When it eventually showed up I had numerous bonuses for getting it. I was thinking of going all-in on it, but after doing some math decided that one of the other players might bid 7 or higher, in which case she will not be able to recover her military. I bid 7, lost the territory -- however, as I suspected, said player got it, sacrificed too many units, and that left her exposed for the rest of the game. I gained more than my share of points through a War on Culture.

I've been reviewing some of my games from the International League and one of my insights is that I'm overly greedy. Greedy plays (and high-variability plays in general) should be kept for when you are behind. If you're going to end up third or fourth, then it might be time to go for something risky, so if you don't get punished it might give you the boost you need to jump one or two spots. On the other hand, if the game is still balanced (especially early on!) or if you're ahead, a more conservative line of play will often be better.
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