Tim, Quyen and I had another Elasund rematch, with me pretty much steam-rolling to the win. Now that we have enough games under our belts (and no rules errors), we had a very different game.
First off, no one really made any clear errors in their play. Tim was boxed into some less-than-optimal strategy by going last (more on that later), and Quyen could have helped Tim be more than a speedbump on my way to victory, but decided to persue his own strategy (Maximizing Gold for the Church).
The turn order was Me, Quyen, then Tim. This really dictated a lot of our game. My first turn saw a 6, allowing me to get a choice Gold building on 6-8. Quyen got an early gold on 8-9, while Tim floundered with some off rolls for the first turn or two, not giving him worthwhile Permit placement.
I was able to follow up in the next few turns with a big Gold building on 5-6, while Quyen was also getting established. We both avoided the Church quadrant. Tim was somewhat lagging (he had okay gold, but poor placement rolls and insufficient Influence), and took the risky play of building a Gold building on 6-8, but in Church danger.
Throughout the game, I focused on Gold, which I turned into Influce via the Wall. I was able to capitalize this by monopolizing 5-6, eventually winding up with three large Gold buildings on those rows. In the process of doing this, I smashed several of Tims building's, forcing him into worse and worse position. Quyen was holding his own on the bottom of the board, and Tim could not break out of the Church quadrant, where he was forced to build.
With the income rolling in, I was able to stave off Tim's eventual Permit war once he had gotten some cards. Yes, he positioned to build over me, but he didn't have the gold to buy off my permits and buy a building (he was also lacking in Influence towards the end, having had to use them to place Permits). If Quyen had also interfered, they would have delayed me, but Quyen was gold hungry for the Church and opted out of interference. The Church tiles also game up extremely unlucky for Tim, and got 3 of his buildings eventually (he lost essentially three 50/50 coin flips on what came up).
I basically became unstoppable, winning with 2 Wall VPs, 3 Large buildings\ VPs, 2 Trade VPs and 3 Well VPs (with 3 VPs coming on my last turn from 2 Wells and 2 Windmills).
We had played Puerto Rico earlier in the day, and we couldn't help but compare and contrast them. We have more PR experience, and while the two games seem somewhat similar at first glance, we are really questioning if Elasund really has longer term strategy and multiple-paths to victory. In PR, we've found that there are generally three possible stratregies (ship, build, and build+ship), and you wind up making some strategic decisions early game that move your towards one of the paths (often based on your seating order and what the player to your left is doing).
What we are starting to see in Elasund is that the Church, Walls, VP Buildings and Trade Spots are ancillary to victory. The winning strategy is to control the center of town and maximize the production of Gold while maintaining enough Influence to effectively use that Gold.
Tim was really down on this session because it's the first time that luck has really played deterministic role in the outcome of the game. While the game eliminates the "Settlers problem" really cleverly (by having the Pirate be minimally harmful only for 1 turn and by usually more helpful for placement to the player rolling, as well as the move 2 on duplicate numbers to spread out the curve), we are wondering if there isn't a big luck hurdle at the beginning of the game.
So, I have a question for you Elasund vets -- at the very beginning of the game (first 3 turns), how important are:
A. Going First
B. Hitting good numbers to build on
C. Hitting your Production
A. It seems that going first is an advantage, as it allows you to give you the first chance to place if you hit (C) -- yes, going last means that you have the most potential Gold/Influence on your first turn, but there's nothing really to do with it, and after the first round, player 1 is in the lead again, and will have probably built, giving them more chances to hit production.
B. This seemed crucial. Without permits at the beginning of the game, whoever hits is going to get best position. Sure, it's not always the first player, but they do have an advantage.
C. While good, this seems to be less important than B, which makes A more important. You can try and convert that gold into Influence on the Wall, and then try to overbuild the established players, but it just seems that playing catchup like this is not where you want to be.
What really bummed me out was that going first seemed to be such a big advantage.
Being first means that you can place permits before everyone else, therefore building new production buildings before everyone else. Assuming a fair distribution of rolls, this means they have a proportionally larger chance of hitting, and therefore getting more money and influence cards. More cards means better placements, and more money.
This becomes a bit of a spiral, where the person ahead steamrolls more and more. Something to track would be the frequency of winner position. I did very well in Elasund since the get go, but then again, I was the youngest player, and therefore went first for most of our beginning games. This is the first time we've deviated from that pattern, and it seems that whomever goes first starts with a huge advantage.