J. Alan Henning
Thoth is currently the winningest City Blocks player in the world, with a TrueSkill of 1234 (not a typo!) and 38 completed games to his credit. I interviewed him about his approach to strategy.
Q: What's your overall strategy for hand management? Are there certain tiles you like to use first, certain tiles you like to save for later?
A: For hand management the obvious answer is that I try to be as flexible as possible. Not so easy, of course, as there are more building types than you can have on your hand. I try to have at least 1 Store and 1 House/Factory on hand. Also I try to have a high valued (5+) building in reserve. I think the right balance is to have 2 special buildings and 3 'value' buildings and, if I have a choice of 'equal' plays, I'll try to play a card that allows me to get that combination.
But you have to work with what you get. I'm in a game now where I have 4 special buildings and still played the 5th card 3 turns in a row, as I thought it was the best move.
My strategy is often to react to what my opponent plays. The only tile I like to save is the Courthouse. You really want to play it as the last one in a row/column to immediately score it. School/Power Plant I will almost always play if it neutralizes two of my opponent's buildings.
Q: Do you use the courthouse more often to increase the value of a street you want to claim or to decrease the value of a street an opponent is about to claim?
A: Almost always to decrease the value of a street the opponent is about to claim. The score effect is the same, of course, if you change your low value street to a high value one or do the reverse for an opponent. But generally the more expensive streets fill up first, so early on you have regular chances to decrease your opponent's score but few chances to increase your own score. I tend to only use it for a 10+point swing.
Only time I use it to increase my own score is when I draw it late.
Q: Do you ever stuff a low-value street with some buildings with the expectation you will switch its value for a higher bonus later?
A: No, never. But I have to admit I've not tried it. I think it is just not worth it unless my opponent helps. To do that you need to play 5 buildings on that street, including the Courthouse. While doing that, my opponent can get close to decisive majorities on two or more high value streets. Switching the bonus then only breaks even in score, but loses the Courthouse.
Plus you need to play the Courthouse before playing the last building. Otherwise your opponent will happily finish your low scoring street for you. If you do that, he might switch the bonuses back immediately with his own Courthouse.
Q: What is the biggest mistake that you see opponents make?
A: Not so easy to answer. I think the most obvious one is placing too many of the same building type in one street. It allows a School/Power Plant to neutralize 2 buildings in one go.
But as I can not see my opponent's buildings it is hard to say what options he had.
Q: Imagine you have a board without any Power Plants, Schools, or Malls yet. You can play a 3-value Store, House, or Factory. How do you think about the different types of 'value' buildings?
A: Well, Stores are obviously a lot better than the other two building types as they will always have their full value. The other 2 are closer. Houses a little better as they get neutralized by 2 buildings and Factories by 3.
Q: What do you like about City Blocks? What do you dislike about it?
I like that it has a good amount of depth for a short game with simple rules.
What I do not like is that even though the amount of luck is good on average, sometimes you will just lose a game without a chance. One game my 5 and 6 Store plus the Courthouse were in the last 4 cards. But that is true of course for any game that has a random element.
If anyone wants to play send me an invite on Yucata.