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Subject: Papagra strategy and tactical tips rss

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Nick Bentley
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This is a starter guide for anyone who wants to play Papagra, and particularly for those who want to participate in the strategy thread contest that I'm running.

( see here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/137066 )

Those of you who are entering the contest, feel free to plagarize what I've written. I want the strategy threads to be as good as possible, and I don't care how they get that way. That said, I consider myself a beginner at Papagra, and everything that I've written below could turn out to be seriously wrong. Right now, I feel I have a better handle on strategy than tactics.

tips:

Late in the game a clear separation between offense and defense develops. A player who has gotten the lead by scoring a matched group of at least size 7 can usually profit more by trying to block his opponent's efforts at forming matched groups than by trying to form larger matches for himself.

However, once players realize this, the trailing player will often assume that the leader is playing entirely defensively. This opens the door for the leader to make unexpected offensive plays that put the game completely out of reach. So look out.

The final winning score is rarely less than 6. Therefore, from the first move, focus on building 6-stone groups with varied shapes, and don't worry about having groups smaller than that.

There are certain shapes that seem more useful than others, though I am hesitant to make this claim because it's not clear why. An example is a six-stone group shaped like a parallelogram. One possible reason is that some shapes are more or less difficult to modify in order to generate a wide array of other shapes. Another possible reason is that the edges of some shapes can serve as the edges for matching groups of empty spaces, but others cannot (this may be why shapes with straight edges seem particularly useful). I suspect that there is alot more understanding to be had here.

Papagra is partly a territorial game. In order to maximize the chance that you'll form matched groups and your opponent won't, you have to be able to control the empty spaces. The primary way of doing that is by having more of your pieces on the perimeter of empty territory than your opponent does. It is especially easy to see the advantage of this when you're in the lead, late in the game, so I'll illustrate the idea under this circumstance. When you're in the lead, as mentioned above, it is often best to focus entirely on defense. How can you defend efficiently? One simple, efficient strategy is to completely enclose groups of empty spaces, consisting of exactly the number of cells of your largest matched group, with your own pieces . The reason is that, in order to win, your opponent must form a matched group that is at least one cell larger than your largest one. He will have no hope of using the empty spaces you've enclosed to do this. You'll have permanently cut off a part of the board from him.

Having alot of stones on the perimeter of empty territory can also help offensively in at least one easy-to-see way. Let's say that you currently have a matched group of size X on the board. If you have alot of stones surrounding the matching empty territory, you can increase your score by doing the following: For your first action on a turn, remove one stone from the perimeter of the group of empty spaces (thereby increasing the size of the group of empty spaces by one), and with your second action, add a stone to the analogous location adjacent to your matched group. Now you have a matched group of size X+1. Often you can threaten to repeat this tactic for several turns in a row, which allows you to control your opponent's moves by forcing him to block.

This game is also a pattern-completion game, and as such, it shares certain properties with other pattern completion games such as hex. Primary among these similiarities is that when you're playing against an even modestly experienced player, you can't go about trying to form a matched group in a direct way. Your opponent will see immediately what you're doing and block your attempt easily. Instead, you have to a) make him think you're going for one matched group when you're actually going for another; or b) create a "fork", where if you're opponent blocks one possible matched group, the block itself allows you to form another one. This latter tactic is a difficult thing to pull off in our experience, but very useful when it's possible. It's hard to say how important this concept will ultimately be.

Another hard-to-pull-off but cool tactic is to set things up so that if your opponent can form a matched group, you'll immediately be able to form one of your own that's a little bigger. Opponents often miss this kind of threat in their eagerness to form a matched group.

Finally, a note on the psychology of this game. In the mid to late game, it can be VERY demoralizing to be behind. One often feels like one is being slowly suffocated. This leads many players to resign too soon, before the loss is inevitable. A good player will learn not to be perturbed when trailing. When you DO retake the lead at the last minute, it is an exalted, fist-pumping experience, and one of the best features of the game.

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Paul Allwood
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Papagra Strategic Considerations
With your strategy starter thread, you've already covered quite a lot of material. I have no evidence to gainsay your thoughts, but here are my additions, particularly in the starting strategy.

When starting it seems to make sense to start a few hexes in (very much like the recommended points in Go strategy). The object being to eventually attempt to build parallelagrams (as you describe) or triangles, both of which I believe are the easiest shapes to manipulate, whilst starting to build space along one or two edges of the board.

If both players try this, it seems like the first player whose nerve breaks will end up becoming the defender and attempt to place defensive stones in this border area. Whilst initially appearing defensive, if a player can get a single stone in a largish area of border space, then that will not only defend the area, but may set up an attacking move for him later in the game when removal creates a larger shape built elsewhere on the board.

I agree with the strategy of having stones on the perimeter of space, as this certainly improves flexibility of shape manipulation.

I believe, but am happy to be proved wrong, that there is very much an escalation effect on scoring, rather than large leaps and that between reasonably experienced I would expect a gradual increase in scores up to about 6 or 7 and then much generic defensive play with the occasional consideration and brief intense challenge around two particular areas of the board (the threatening group and the potential matching space) when a scoring opportunity is seen. Any attempts to create larger groups than this become fairly obvious and too easy to defend against by experienced players.

Probably the hardest larger shape to spot is something that is essentially created by two simpler shapes joined by a single stone. Such a shape or its corresponding space could be disguised in its formation by the surprise adding or removal (respectively) of the required stone to complete the united larger shape.

Anyway that completes my thoughts for now. I'm sure others may build on them, as I have built on yours. I guess for the purposes of the competition, you will need to decide who has added the most incremental value.


 
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Nick Bentley
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pallwood wrote:


Anyway that completes my thoughts for now. I'm sure others may build on them, as I have built on yours. I guess for the purposes of the competition, you will need to decide who has added the most incremental value.



Yes, that's exactly what I'll do. I'll comment more about about your ideas later. I think I should avoid commenting on individual entries before the contest is over.
 
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