The Gathering Place for BGG Strategy Discussions
Chuck Uherske
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I have for a bit of time now maintained an idle fantasy about compiling a paperback volume of strategy analysis of the more interesting games profiled on BGG.

I suspect this fantasy to be the legacy of a couple of influences. One is that I was once a chess player, and greatly enjoyed my chess books, reviewing the fruits of empirical knowledge that had evolved about the game over the centuries.

I was also a lover of game theory articles adapted for the layman, spending a fair number of hours in my youth dissecting the game theory problems that I would find in the columns and books of Martin Gardner.

There is a lot of interesting discussion on BGG, but one of the areas I have felt is underexplored includes the strategic challenges posed by the various games that we love. This is a game site after all, and at some level it's all about figuring out these games and how to play them well.

There are a few popular games here on BGG that have fostered little to no strategic discussion at all. El Grande, for example, has very little, even though there is a lot to discuss. I'm hoping that this list might inspire a reader or two to address this for similarly neglected games.

Every now and then I will jot down on a piece of paper some strategic thoughts I have about various games -- I've done it with San Marco (now, unfortunately lost, leaving me utterly befuddled again, trying to remember what I once concluded), El Grande, Santiago, Pizarro and Company, Traumfabrik, Evo (worthless), Lost Cities (also lost), even Medici (illegible.) To do myself any good, I would need to get more systematic about it, and possibly store in a computer file. Ideally, I'd sit down some day, gather my thoughts more coherently, and post an article on BGG.

Someday, someday. . . it's fun to think about a strategy compilation volume, to which the better players of these games (preferably the best writers as well) would contribute.

But in the meantime, I thought it might be worthwhile to go through some of the games on BGG that have inspired some of the more interesting strategic discussions, and to offer this list as a clearinghouse for the better ones.

What I'm really hoping to do, in the near term, is to provoke some discussion here of the merits of the strategic arguments offered in these articles, and to inspire further strategic rumination at the central location of this list.

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1. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.06 Overall Rank:16]
Chuck Uherske
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http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/18215

It should come as no surprise that perhaps the most in-depth strategy discussions appear on the Puerto Rico page. This one is rightly a BGG "spotlight" article, and provides a comprehensive review of the game's strategies.

I am not in any way a PR expert (a near-novice, actually) so my perspective is probably unrepresentative. But of the games listed here, this is one that has actually inspired in me perhaps the least away-from-the-board strategizing. To me, it seems that a lot of the strategy just boils down to: a) generate supplies of cash early, b) generate victory points late, and c) pick the role that has the greater relative (not absolute) value for you in comparison with your opponents, with a careful eye on what the next person can pick, but without needing to see too far ahead. Even when I read the lengthy PR strategy discussions, this predisposition of mine doesn't seem to change much.
 
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2. Board Game: Tigris & Euphrates [Average Rating:7.71 Overall Rank:70]
Chuck Uherske
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http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/21173

E&T, by contrast, inspires very little in terms of strategy writing. I haven't learned to love the game yet, and I wonder whether there is a correlation between the lack of overall strategic inquiry about this game and the fact that it doesn't occupy my mind away from the board. This particular article gives a few strategic tips but they are really quite general and tactical, and about as much as tends to appear on the T&E page. It all gives me a sense that T&E is not going to be a candidate for my hypothetical "strategy guide" book; perhaps it's all about learning by experience the feel of the game, and how to capitalize on the tactical opportunities that the game provides.
 
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3. Board Game: The Princes of Florence [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:116]
Chuck Uherske
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http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/36487

Swinging back the other way, Princes of Florence is very much about learned strategies, and Fawkes's terrific PofF strategy guide is great evidence of that. There must be "absolute truth" at the core of this game, because this article duplicates a lot of my own thought processes about PofF. So much so that I readily locate the small areas where Fawkes and I differ (and there aren't many.) For example, I choose for the "common freedom" instead of the "common landscape" because I value my Action choices more than my Auction choices (even though I have 14 of the former, and 7 of the latter, I feel the former to be more scarce in practice relative to the things I feel I need to do.)
 
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4. Board Game: Power Grid [Average Rating:7.92 Overall Rank:28]
Chuck Uherske
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http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/40389

Power Grid, despite being a newer game, has already inspired a fair amount of strategic discussion. I chose this one by Alexfrog because it deals in overarching strategic principles. Others on the Power Grid page focus on particular tactical trends and the relative values of the various plants.

Also, although it's not so heavy on actual strategy, the strategy guide in the voice of Charles Montgomery Burns is worth reading for comic value alone:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/59088
 
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5. Board Game: Age of Steam [Average Rating:7.69 Overall Rank:114]
Chuck Uherske
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http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/66563

Age of Steam has been the subject of a whole series of strategic articles by krainer. Not having played AoS, I'm not really in a position to evaluate the pieces. This is the second in the series, one that is highly rated and has also provoked a lengthy thread of responses. Players interested in BGG may want to check out the whole series.
 
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6. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:279] [Average Rating:7.23 Unranked]
Chuck Uherske
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http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/3996

Even Settlers has provoked a strategy article or two. This one discusses opening theory which, in Settlers, is a goodly part of winning the game.
 
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7. Board Game: Goa [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:107]
Chuck Uherske
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http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/41801

This is an unusual article because the first post to it has very little content, and the lion's share of the strategy discussion occurs further down, with Sailsa's post. Sailsa also authored a separate strategy discussion after his first few plays of the game.

I haven't played Goa and cannot comment on how well it inspires strategy discussion. At this glance, however, it seems to be the opposite prototype of a game like Memoir '44. M44 draws tons of players who collectively and almost osmotically become familiar with what experience teaches, and thus swap hints about the various scenarios more than engaging in game theory analysis; Goa appears to have, like Pizarro and Company, induced a small number of devotees to reflect more deeply and privately on it.
 
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8. Board Game: Modern Art [Average Rating:7.34 Overall Rank:226]
Chuck Uherske
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http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/39573

The above article on Modern Art is precisely the sort of exchange I'd hoped to find for other games when making this list (and indeed, this MA discussion was one that inspired it.) It involves one poster posting a lengthy and detailed analysis of game strategy, and several people weighing in in response and debate.

It's striking to me that MA provokes this kind of in-depth analysis, whereas Ra, its comparably-ranked Knizia counterpart, evinces almost nothing along these lines.

Having said all this, I don't believe that MA is in practice as calculational a game as this discussion would make it appear. A group can have a long discussion about the true expected value of a painting, but during a game, a player is likely to guesstimate it, and then it comes down to bluffing, and manipulating your opponents with your choices of auction. I throw in a good dose of card-counting for good measure. MA is thus a nice mix of analytical problems and seat-of-the-pants instinctive play.
 
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9. Board Game: Hammer of the Scots [Average Rating:7.56 Overall Rank:300]
Chuck Uherske
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http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/6683

The strategy discussions I found on Hammer of the Scots were more informal than some of the others here. A few general conceptual tips posted by one player, followed by similar comments by others.
 
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10. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:125] [Average Rating:7.46 Unranked]
Chuck Uherske
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http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/39072

This article on Ticket to Ride is a classic BGG contribution and is another of the inspirations for this list. The discussions about TtR aren't usually strategy arguments so much as discussions about how balanced is the game, how big is the role of luck, and so forth. This particular article advances the theory that one is best served by playing 5-6 car links without regard to completing routes. The essence of the discussion is people arguing the question from one side or the other, with no clear victor.

I myself remain stubbornly interested in this theory, because I independently adduced it on my first play. I haven't done that well with it lately, but continue to ply forward doggedly with it, in the manner of someone repeatedly shooting arrows at a target in a vain attempt to prove Zeno's theories correct regarding the impossibility of motion.
 
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11. Board Game: Pizarro & Co. [Average Rating:6.56 Overall Rank:1793]
Chuck Uherske
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http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/75479

Although "young" in terms of the total number of threads, Pizarro has already produced some interesting theoretical discussion; I'm well aware of this because I've been a participant.
 
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12. Board Game: Dream Factory [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:575]
Chuck Uherske
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Alas, Traumfabrik still awaits is strategic analyst. I probably have more theories about how to play Traumfabrik well than any other game. I haven't done that well with it lately, largely because they have been a) rather poorly developed theories, and b) I have repeatedly chosen to test ideas during game play at the expense of playing to win by instinct. My basic problem with this game was that first I developed a theory as to generally determine the right size of bids each round, based on the number of contracts I was holding at the time, without taking the next step and actually doing the work of figuring out how to value lots properly, with due attention to the number of tiles in the lot, the number of stars, the likelihood of a group contributing to a first or best picture, and the number of actors. Now I'm starting to do that a bit more carefully, and if I ever get around to it will share my bounty of knowledge with the world. Of course, actually winning this game a few more times might help provide a greater justification for this.
 
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13. Board Game: Attila [Average Rating:6.51 Overall Rank:1835]
Paul Boos
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I agree Chuckles, more on this subject matter woudl be excellent!

I did a basic strategy article on my observations after 2-3 plays on Attila. Go to this article:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/39533

Cheers!
Paul
 
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14. Board Game: Sumo! [Average Rating:5.81 Overall Rank:7164]
Paul Boos
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I also did a little strategy revealing on Sumo! in a Session Report I did for it... This may be why there is less seemingly discussion on this as perhaps it is buried in session reports?

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/67760
 
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15. Board Game: TransAmerica [Average Rating:6.66 Overall Rank:897]
Richard Dore
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I wrote a strategy article on TransAmerica a while back, and while I'll admit it's not the *deepest* game ever, I think it deserves a lot more credit than people give it.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/61395
 
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16. Board Game: Venture [Average Rating:6.51 Overall Rank:2707]
Chuck Uherske
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http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/470771

I just added the above article to help the few Venture players out there, who ask for strategy hints with notable frequency. This deep and subtle game is susceptible to fascinating theorizing. As with Traumfabrik, I'm far from an expert, and offer this with a ready recognition of my fallibility. I hope that it inspires some added interest in the game.
 
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