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Subject: Two More Light Bulbs on a Dimly Lit Tree rss

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How often does the choose go the way you expect? For me maybe it's a quarter of the time, perhaps not even that often. Yesterday I played my fifth game of San Marco.

I like the game quite a bit although for the life of me I can't figure out why. I'm truly terrible at this game. Other players almost never choose the way I intend. Maybe I like the game for its the beautiful components. Maybe it's the simple rules. Or maybe it's just the idea of the game. I just have a feeling I should be able to do better at this in spite of all the evidence to date of the contrary. Maybe I'm just deluding myself.

Last time I reported on this game, I mentioned my realization that one has to play to the audience in deciding how to split the cards. Yesterday two more revelations finally penetrated my skull.

First is that, as the splitter, it's important to look at which player will be choosing first. Why? It's unlikely that any split will result in both opponents passing up the Doge during the choose, so you want to design offerings that will cause the Doge to be picked up by the player who is most likely to score you the most points in the process of scoring points for himself.

This came up yesterday during one of my splits. Scott and I were several points behind the leader, Chris. I could have designed a split that would have truly poisoned the two Doge cards in my hand and perhaps even dissuaded Scott, the first chooser, from taking them. But then I realized Scott's most logical place to score was the district where I was in second. So instead I created an offering that would force him to choke down a moderate amount of limit points, but would still be clearly the best choice for him of the three offerings. His score went up more, but both of us closed in on the leader.

Second (and perhaps this is just a corollary of the first revelation) is that while it's important to be first in at least a few of the districts, especially at the end of the third passage, it's absolutely vital to be second in as many districts as possible throughout the game. Riding on the cottails of other players is how you will score many of your points. Other players will always try to maximize their own score first; there's nothing you can do to change that. But you can be there to scoop up the points for second, just like those little fish that hang out around the mouths of sharks waiting for food scraps.

As we were playing, I realized that banishment and transfer cards often could not change the balance of power in districts for me to unseat the leader. However, they could give me second place.

Sadly these two revelations weren't enough to help me prevail over two newbies. The final split, which went to me, was a killer. Brian was out on limit points, so it was just me and Scott for the final turn. I drew two Doge cards and three cards to districts where first and second place were up for grabs. I didn't want to load Scott on limit points because that would have given Brian, the leader, the free banishment just before final scoring. I created a split that gave Scott just one limit point and the three district cards and myself the two Doge cards but a painful six limit points. Miraculously, Scott chose the way I had intended. I closed the gap on the leader, but it just wasn't enough. Brian ended up winning the game, with Scott in second and me in third.

I like San Marco quite a bit. There's a lot of downtime waiting for the starter to split the cards, but when it's your turn to split, it's fascinating to think about the possibilities. It's very hard to create splits that will get everyone, even your opponents, rowing in your direction, but I'm starting to get the hang of it. Maybe.
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