Have you ever had one of those games where, inexplicably, you just failed to do the things you already knew were the keys to victory?
My last game of China was much like that. I have had exceptionally good fortune playing China with the gang, winning the vast majority of our contests. But for reasons that are quite unexplained (or, perhaps, explained by a high level of distraction), I didn't do in the last game any of the things that had been causing me to win.
My previous success in China was in always positioning myself to play two cards on a turn, with a careful eye towards building up nice housing positions that threatened to create chains. Sometimes, this led to me getting a lot of housing points. At other times, it enabled me to conserve my diplomats that I later used to strong effect in the late-breaking alliances.
This time, for whatever reason, I didn't do it. From the very beginning of the game, all diplomatic postings looked good to me. I kept looking past the "chain potential" of groups of houses, thinking that the diplomats were going to get me big points.
It was all an illusion. First of all, early in the game, you don't want to commit yourself re alliances, because you only have a limited number of diplomats and you don't want to be shy of choices later in critical situations. I committed myself early to certain diplomatic postings, and it turned out later that my fellows were very poorly placed. In some instances, I left others with opportunity to take majorities completely away from me.
Also, everyone is limited in the number of diplomats they can place, so come game's end, it's not as though anyone will have a significantly larger number of diplomats played anyway. There's no real way to "dominate" the sphere of diplomacy in terms of quantity, only in terms of quality. So think hard before committing those few resources.
Perhaps some of my problem was that my beloved and nine-months-pregnant wife (yes, the same person, weisenheimers) came by halfway through the game. Hard to concentrate on a game when you're in the presence of your beloved and the big event could happen at any time! I was so distracted that on one move I paid no attention to what cards I was picking up. I must have drawn them all from the draw pile, and picked up three different ones, when I could easily have created a pair. How silly. . .
Ed also made a few screwups, so really it was Kelly alone who was benefiting from the various foibles. I had a bit of a conflict with Ed late in the game when, on my last move, I used one diplomat to force him out of the majority rather than put down another house for myself. Ed took exception to this, pointing out that it didn't help my point total. But had I placed the house, I would only have added to his own point total as well as my own meager one point. By placing the diplomat I could cost Ed several points. Ed thought I was picking on him when I should have gone after Kelly, but I had no way to hurt Kelly. So, it was either give Ed and myself both one point, or take several points from Ed with none to myself. The latter made perfect sense to me. In any case, I told Ed, I'd apologize if it cost him the game, and it really didn't.
Based on completed regions, the score stood:
Kelly 25, Ed 23, Chuck 12
Adding in the incomplete regions, it was:
Kelly 32, Ed 26, Chuck 24
Then with the alliances, it became:
Kelly 52, Ed 35, Chuck 34
(See -- all of my aggression on the diplomats came to nothing. In China as in life, you have to prepare some strength on the home front before diplomacy will do you any good!)
Throw in the chains and it was:
Kelly 56, Ed 44, Chuck 34
I got thumped. Next time I'll try to keep my wits about me!