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Subject: Well Duh: A strategy primer from someone who isn't good at the game rss

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Ian Peters-Campbell
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I am not good at this game. I'm an enthusiastic player, and have been playing on Snellman for quite a while, but I never place well. I regularly finish at the bottom of Division 7 (for those who do not play the TM tournaments, that means I am right at the bottom!)

None the less, I think that over the last few weeks some things have crystallized for me, and I feel that I've gotten a bit better than I was. I'm hopeful that in the next tourney round I might finish somewhere in the middle of the worst division rather than at the bottom!

So that said, I'm writing a strategy post for other players who are new, or who are enthusiastically bad, in the hopes that some of my recent realizations might be useful to them. This will certainly all be of either the Well Duh category for veteran players, or may even be outright wrong.

Veteran players, feel free to castigate me as needed.

New players, I hope this is helpful but keep in mind that I am Not Good At This Game.

So here goes.

Faction Selection
There is a lot that goes into faction selection, and a lot of it is too detailed for me to usually think about. The tips I can give:

Try to select a faction that doesn't have neighbors on the wheel. If you must have a neighbor, try to make sure that the resource on the other side is uncontested. (e.g. if yellow is already taken, and you want to select red, it's better for you if green and gray aren't in the game)

Look at the bonus cards that are out. If your faction has a particular advantage in some area, it's good for you if those bonus tokens are not out. For instance if you are the alchemists you have a coin advantage and so it's nice when there are few bonus tiles out that give others coins, allowing them to mitigate your advantage. Conversely if your faction is short on a resource (like engineers are short on workers) make sure there are good sources of workers on the bonus tiles.

Initial Placement
Don't place too close to the edges and get hedged in. If you place one of your dwellings near an edge you should place the other more centrally to mitigate risk. Place at least one of your dwellings next to an opponent to get the cheap Trading Post upgrade and to leech. Try to make sure you have 1-dig hexes you can expand to (preferably to at least size 4, see Towns below).

The Economic Snowball
If you find yourself fighting in early turns to keep your victory points marching upward, you're making a mistake. I heard the game described in another thread as an Economic Snowball game, and that was a big help to me in recent weeks. What it means is that in Terra Mystica you spend the early turns expanding your economy, often at the expense of scoring opportunities, so that by turn 4 or 5 you are in a position to snap up a lot of points and don't run out of gas on what should be your biggest turns.

This is of course a very general principle, but I will try to apply it to some of the more specific items below.

Turn One Aggression
The first turn is your opportunity to lay in a good foundation to build your economy through the rest of the game. You should almost never try to husband resources on the first turn. Rather you should find every opportunity you can to build out quickly, and you shouldn't hesitate to sacrifice power, victory points, or anything else (except friendship) to do it.

Burning Power
It's almost always a good idea to burn power early. It has several big benefits, and very little downside. Burning power on Turn 1 lets you take power actions, which can be anything from extra workers to a double spade. It can be the difference between building out one space and building out three, which makes a huge difference in following turns.

It also means that your power moves through the bowls much more quickly. By turn 3 or 4 you want to be moving all (or most) of your power into Bowl 3 every turn, allowing you to take more actions and letting you put pressure on opponents to take those actions early if they want them.

Edit: It has been pointed out to me that, mathematically, burning power does not actually move your power through the bowls faster. However, if you use it for a smart power action that boosts your early economy and your opponent doesn't, you will in fact be moving power through your bowls faster on later turns as your economy will be moving faster.

How much power to sacrifice depends on the faction and the situation. If you burn more than 6 you will no longer be able to take the double spade. If you think your power income in late turns will be massive, you might not want to sacrifice more than 4. Keeping more than 8 power though is generally a sign that you're playing too conservatively.

Leech
Do it. Do it early and often. Remember: economic snowball. If you can sacrifice points for power in the first half of the game it's usually a good idea. You can use the power to get more actions, which will generate more points later.

Once you're in the second half of the game start being more discerning. By turn 5 or 6 it is probably not a good idea to suck down power at a significant victory point loss. In the first half though be aggressive and don't worry about the points.

Temples vs Strongholds
Lots of factions have very cool looking strongholds that provide neat powers. In most cases you should ignore them in early turns. They take a large amount of resources to build, and often choke off your economy early. There are some exceptions (Giants, Alchemists, Swarmlings, maybe one or two others?) but it's generally much better to build a Temple in the first turn.

The temple gives you a couple of big advantages: favor tiles and priests. The favor tiles are powerful and can either represent significant income or a large number of points later, especially when built in turn 1. Also, going into turn 2 with priest income gives you a much better opportunity to advance shipping, advance digging (see below), or send priests to the cult tracks. This last item is important since it both allows you to get more power, and to collect on cult track income each turn. It also doesn't hurt that temples are a lot less expensive than strongholds, and building one generally leaves you more resources to expand.

Digging
Advancing your digging is usually a bad idea. There are some factions which get exceptions to this rule (Halflings, Alchemists, Yetis, Ice Maidens) but it's usually a poor use of early resources. Spending 5 coins, 2 workers, and a priest puts you in a big hole. You would need to dig at least 3 times to make the initial investment back, and you're sacrificing your early tempo in order to make the investment. Yes you get points for the upgrade, but remember that points are your most disposable resource early in the game.

Further, it's usually not a good use of workers to spend several of them on terraforming in the first place. You're often better to get your spades through the round bonus action (Spade + 2 coins) or one of the power actions, or just spending 4 coins and a priest to increase your shipping so that you can reach more tiles.

Spending 3 workers to dig should be the exception rather than the rule when you play. Spending to increase spades, outside some specific factions, should be something you only do in exceptional situations, or to grab points at the end of the game if there's nothing better for you to do.

You should almost always only be doing 1 spade digs. Converting terrain that is 2 or 3 away from you on the wheel should only be done in emergencies, or perhaps if you're the halflings. Look for the parts of the board where you will be able to expand significantly with 0-1 digs.

Cult Tracks
Do not underestimate sending priests to the cult tracks! If you can snap up a couple of the 3 spots you're in a stronger position later in the game. It gives you a better chance at late-game points, and it also sets you up to gain more power in the mid-game as you climb the 2 (or 3!) power spots on the tracks.

Conversely, consider what your priest income will be near the end of the game. If you are going to build 3 temples, don't send 5 priests to the tracks, since you will miss out on late-game income.

Pay attention to the cult income bonuses each round. Getting an extra spade or some additional workers can be a big deal. But don't sweat the spades if you don't have a good place to dig. If you don't have any good spots to convert then focus on a different track that will give you income that you can better capitalize on later in the game.

Favor Tiles
Earth 1 (Dwelling >> 2 points) is very unattractive. It doesn't give you income, and it only provides a small cult bump. Further, it goes against the idea of the economic snowball: by taking Earth 1 you are sacrificing other resources that will allow you to build more quickly.

You may be tempted to steer clear of it. Ignore that feeling. It is the most important favor tile in the game. If you build a temple on turn 1, and you don't take Earth 1, you should only do so if you have a very specific reason why you're making that decision. If you do the math you'll quickly see that by grabbing it early you're netting yourself something like 20 points later in the game.

There are some factions that might not want to take it as their first tile (Engineers, other factions that are short on some significant income source) but generally it's the way to go. If you don't take it on turn 1, try to build another temple and take it on turn 2. If you're playing a 4+ player game then there will people who don't get it. If you're the odd man out you'd better have a great plan for how you're going to make up those points.

Water 1 is in a similar boat, but not as important as Earth 1. I think it's generally good to take as the 2nd or 3rd favor. If you have to wait till later in the game neither of these are as valuable, so early is good.

The level 3 favors are generally not useful early in the game. Yes they might earn you a one-time cult income, but you're (usually) sacrificing some significant points or income to take them.

Bridges
Engineers notwithstanding, there will only be a maximum of six bridges in the game. More likely five, since it's not usually something worth doing on Turn 1. This means that you'd better plan early if you want to build towns that cross a river. If you see other players might also want the bridge that you need, you'd better have a plan for how to get it.

Towns
You should finish the game with at least two towns. If you can form three then even better. Have a plan early for where your towns will go, and for getting the resources (such as bridges or shipping) that you will need to make it happen. Have backup plans for what to do if other players cut you off.

Which key tiles to take is very situational, and I'm not sure I have a great grasp on it, but generally, again, points are better late. If you're taking resources from a town tile on a late turn make sure you have a plan for how to capitalize on them.

Passing
Before you pass, take a look at your current power and at your income. If you would lose any income due to bowl 3 being full, then before you pass convert some power to coins. It's easy to forget, and it sucks to lose income because you forgot to convert on your turn.

Bonus Tiles
Keep in mind that the +VP bonus tiles are usually not as great early in the game. They get better later on. The exception is probably the SH/SA tile, which also gives 2 workers. Consider what you might be able to do with 2 workers, especially combined with burning power early.

The +3 power tiles can also be great. On turn 1 they can enable you to take the +Dig or the +2xDig actions by burning power. On later turns, if you have been burning power, they provide a lot more movement through the bowls than you might think.

Welp
I guess that's it for now. That's the brief summary of my recent lessons in TM, and the Well Duh strategies that I've picked up. I'll try to add more if I think of anything super smart.

To those who are already good at the game if you're still reading then I hope I haven't caused you to yell at your computer screen too much. If you're new to the game or not very good at it, then I hope it has been helpful or at least provided some food for thought.




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Michael Lange
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Well, from the point of view of another Someone Who Isn't Good at the Game (me), this is an excellent post. I've only recently learned most of these points myself; I almost never consistently apply them in my games. Your post is a welcome reminder and summary of what I would consider best practices. I certainly can't offer anything non-race specific by way of suggestion for improvement. Hopefully, we'll get some responses from the upper-tier players with additional pointers.

Great job and thank you!
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Ian Peters-Campbell
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Thanks! I have found a lot of the strategy discussions be kind of overwhelming, and I was hoping this would be helpful. I'm glad it connected with at least one other person!
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C TK
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Great write-up.

I wouldn't change anything you've written, but you may wish to add a specific section on shipping, which is much stronger than it appears at face value (because it allows you to build many dwellings much more quickly than with spades, for most factions).

If you look at the games of top players, such as this one, you will often see truly explosive openings that use shipping (possibly combined with BON4) to build many dwellings very quickly.

Also, especially early, if your resources are limited but you have places to build, it is almost always better to build 2 dwellings than to upgrade one dwelling to a trading post.
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Robin Zigmond
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I'm not all that good at TM myself (and getting worse - I did spend a fair while in Division 3, but now I seem to yoyo between 5 and 6), but I consider myself above average (my rating is around 1170-80) and have been playing for a long time. I can't pick many holes in what you say. So it's definitely a very good summary for newer players wanting to improve.

Just a few small points (you could call them "disagreements" but most of them aren't really):

1) You're definitely right about burning power early. But you do this to get the good power actions. Having fewer power tokens does not help you get more power later - this fallacy was debated endlessly when TM was new (search the forums if you want to see many many long threads on this), but everyone who actually plays regularly now agrees it generally isn't true. Having said that, you're right that with fewer tokens, you get tokens to bowl 3 quicker - but 2 tokens in bowl 2 is just as good as 1 in bowl 3 for the purposes of spending power (because you can burn), and of course what is power for apart from spending?

So yes, absolutely do burn that power when you need to to get a useful power action - and especialy on the first turn. But you're doing it to get that power action, NOT because having fewer tokens somehow supercharges your "power engine". It doesn't have any real effect on it.

2) VP Bonus tiles: I agree that, apart from the one that also gives 2 workers, they're generally not much good in the early game. I just want to emphasis how strong they are late on. Perhaps I overvalue them, but I feel sick when I need to take a few more actions in round 5 and end up missing on a VP tile for the final round. I think you should always aim to get one in round 6, and in round 5 as well if you can pull it off. By then it's not hard to get 8 VPs out of each of them, or 9 from the shipping one. (If you're playing Mermaids, you can get up to 15 off the shipping tile, although usually that's not practical until the final round.) Sure, the other tiles give more resources, but with only 1 or 2 rounds to go that's likely not as good as getting 6-9 VPs.

3) You quite rightly mention that the early game is much more about settting up your engine than about getting VPs. Certainly it's true that you should always accept any leech in the first half of the game (and I would actually go further, only turn down the offer if it's the last round and you clearly don't need it - or perhaps turn down something like 7 power for 6 VPS from round 4 or 5, but generally when it doubt, accept it) - but I don't think it's strong play to completely ignore the scoring bonuses in the early rounds. This comes more into your choice of faction than your choice of play itself - but you want to be playing in such a way that you get points for the things you want to do anyway to set up your engine.

In other words: if you have a choice between VPs and engine-building, in the early game, then yes engine-building wins. But you should aim to get both, and not have to make that choice.

I'm now waiting for the division 1/2 players to tell me I'm wrong, which I probably am
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Ian Peters-Campbell
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Totally fair. I'll gather edits and then try to make one update with lots of changes. I do perceive my power moving a lot faster once I burn 4-6, but that may be a result of the extra actions I take with it boosting my economy more, which means the power is literally moving faster.
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Bryan Thunkd
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Quote:
It also means that your power moves through the bowls much more quickly.
This is a fallacy. The player who hasn't burned power can always catch up to you (assuming you both get the same amount of power coming in) and match your power spend by burning power whenever they want.
Click on image to see explanation.
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Henrik Johansson
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mahatmamanic wrote:
It also means that your power moves through the bowls much more quickly.

This is true for "your power" being the individual power tokens. This true statement can be misunderstood to be taken to mean "the total amount of your outgoing power from incoming power", which is of course not true, it remains constant, and you never stated that. It actually goes down a bit, since you may have to discard more power-in due to lack of power tokens. A word of caution: People may start to argue your statement on the wrong interpretation here.
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Steinar Nerhus
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Good one, I like this! (I am in Div2 for what its worth)

If I should add anything in addition to what those above added:

Faction selection:
Try to select a faction that does not have any color-neighbours on the color wheel. This is to make sure you can find more hexes with 0 or 1 dig. It is ok to have one color-neighbour, but it becomes hard to win with two color-neighbours. Example: Yellow is a color-neighbour with Red and Brown on the color wheel, so if Blue, Black and Grey has been selected it is a good idea to select a Yellow faction since it would have no color-neighbours in the game.

Initial dwelling placement:
This is a very important part of the game, and you should take time to figure out where to place your first dwellings. You already mentioned some of the things to think about, namely that you have access to 0 and 1 dig hexes, and the ability to form towns (these two are related...). Other things to think about are:
- You should think about how you will connect your first dwellings so that you can compete for nettwork later in the game. So dont place the dwellings too far appart! But in general you want them far enough appart so that you can form one town arround each of them.
- You want to have at least one other player next to you at the start of the game, so that you gain leech and can build cheap Trading Posts. Try to stick close to a player that is not a color-neighbour. E.g. with Grey you want to put your first dwelling next to Black or Brown since they will not be interested in the same hexes as you are.
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Per Fischer
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Awesome thread, thanks!

Per
(Not very great TM player either)
 
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Silly Words
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The article is very good. However, fav11 is important, there's no getting around that. If you are a beginner, which is the target audience of this article, then you should be grabbing fav11 if it is there, with the following exceptions.

Swarmlings - fav10 (EDIT - corrected)
Yetis - fav8

Anything else is possible, but those sort of decisions are best made by stronger players when they can read the whole board e.g. Fakirs take fav9 or acolytes take fav6 or icemaidens take fav6 and fav10 to get to 8 in a round 1 water cult track.

The rest of the advice is solid.
 
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Robert
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Great article!

For enthusiastic TM beginners who want even more details on strategy and how to improve, there's the excellent Basic Guide to Terra Mystica by Thrar (16 pages of TM wisdom! ).
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Matthias Reitberger
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SillyWords wrote:
The article is very good. However, fav11 is important, there's no getting around that. If you are a beginner, which is the target audience of this article, then you should be grabbing fav11 if it is there, with the following exceptions.

Swarmlings - fav12


Why?
Fav10, Fav11 and Fav12 will give you about the same amount of VPs.
You should be aiming at getting all 3, so start with Fav11 and then Fav10 because they are scarcest.
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Silly Words
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typo...
 
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Per Olander
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SillyWords wrote:
typo...


but still, isn't favor 11 often better for swarmlings than 10?
if we assume they build SH r1 before TE, then they will get 5 free TP's after their first TE = 15vp
in my experience, its quite rare for Swarmlings to build a non-free TP after the SH is built.

so vp-wise, fav11 is often more worth than fav10, and if not, then it is of value, just to deny one of the other 3 to NOT get fav11...

but yes, Swarmlings are one of the factions that don't get hurt so much by missing out on fav11, but that doesn't mean you should take fav10 if fav11 is still available.
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Going for fav11 first is very specific of 4p games with no additional scoring.

In 3p, it's often better to start with an income tile and pick fav11 later.

In 5p, going for more income instead of committing to fav11 puts you in a better spot to get victory points on networks scoring tiles.

In some situations, it's better not to rush fav11 even in 4p games with no additional scoring (e.g. dwelling rush in round 1)
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Tobias Zimmermann
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SillyWords wrote:
The article is very good. However, fav11 is important, there's no getting around that. If you are a beginner, which is the target audience of this article, then you should be grabbing fav11 if it is there, with the following exceptions.

Swarmlings - fav10 (EDIT - corrected)
Yetis - fav8


How about the chaos magicians? I just played them the first time and got the impression, Fav11 is not the best choice (just like Fav 10), because they start with only one dwelling. Ain´t it better to take Fav6, an income-fav and/or Fav12(depending on what bonustiles are used)?
 
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Matthias Reitberger
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Don't know why you consider fav12, can't see how it should be useful for them. Combining an income favor with fav11 can be good. Try to upgrade to sa quickly to get the other 2 income favors.
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Juho Snellman
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Starting with just one dwelling makes fav11 better, not worse. Chaos Magicians will end up with roughly the same amount of buildings on the board as other factions. But to get there, they will build more dwellings during the game (as opposed to during the setup), getting the VP benefit from fav11 one extra time.
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Tobias Zimmermann
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1869 wrote:
Don't know why you consider fav12, can't see how it should be useful for them. Combining an income favor with fav11 can be good. Try to upgrade to sa quickly to get the other 2 income favors.


jsnell wrote:
Starting with just one dwelling makes fav11 better, not worse. Chaos Magicians will end up with roughly the same amount of buildings on the board as other factions. But to get there, they will build more dwellings during the game (as opposed to during the setup), getting the VP benefit from fav11 one extra time.


Thanks for your answers.

I considered fav 12 because it gets me about 15 points for very little effort. It´s only 2 TP I need. This seemed to be much "easier" points than fav10 and 11.

---

I see your point, jsnell. Maybe I placed my dwelling not in an optimal space, because I had a hard time expanding in a reasonable way. In the end, Fav11 got me 10 points and even these just because I was able to expand in round 6 three times with 1w for 1sp. I wasn´t sure about Fav11 because the magicians lack the flexibility of two starting dwellings, so it seemed quite risky to me to expect a lot of buildings.
 
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Robert
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Kyuubi86 wrote:
I considered fav 12 because it gets me about 15 points for very little effort. It´s only 2 TP I need. This seemed to be much "easier" points than fav10 and 11.
I guess it depends on your expections on how easy you set your own goals regarding your desired set of buildings on the map by the end of the game. If you're happy with 8 buildings in total, FAV11 isn't so great (still 6D mean 12VPs if you get FAV11 before placing your 3rd building). If of your 8 buildings, only five will ever be more than dwellings, then also FAV10 isn't so great as you'll just build five TPs, and when you build the first of these, you won't have FAV10 yet (still 4TP mean 12VPs).

However, just 8 buildings at the end is a really really low goal, even for beginners. Even as a new player, you should aim for 10+ buildings, and in intermediate games, you'll rarely get any network VP for a network of less than 12 buildings - more likely you'll need 13+.

And obviously, if you make it to 13 buildings, you must have placed 11 dwellings during the game (which could gain you 22VP from FAV11) and at least five TPs and probably more.

Moreover, by semi-clever timing when building dwellings resp. TP, you can double the effect of FAV10/FAV11 when building in rounds when placing TP resp. D scores extra points, which doubles the incentive to build more D resp. TP.

Kyuubi86 wrote:
I see your point, jsnell. Maybe I placed my dwelling not in an optimal space, because I had a hard time expanding in a reasonable way. In the end, Fav11 got me 10 points and even these just because I was able to expand in round 6 three times with 1w for 1sp. I wasn´t sure about Fav11 because the magicians lack the flexibility of two starting dwellings, so it seemed quite risky to me to expect a lot of buildings.
CMs should indeed be very careful where they place their one initial dwelling, as they are dead if the dwelling is cut off from expansion space. That's why the CMs are the last to place their initial dwelling, so nobody can castle them in with an initial dwelling.

CMs often aim more for many cult points than for many network points, but even if they do, they should achieve 11+ buildings, and there are instances of CMs actually winning biggest network.
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Matthias Reitberger
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Kyuubi86 wrote:


I considered fav 12 because it gets me about 15 points for very little effort. It´s only 2 TP I need. This seemed to be much "easier" points than fav10 and 11.



CMs want to upgrade TPs to TE to get 2 favors, they rarely have 2 TPs at the end of a round.
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Tobias Zimmermann
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1869 wrote:
Kyuubi86 wrote:


I considered fav 12 because it gets me about 15 points for very little effort. It´s only 2 TP I need. This seemed to be much "easier" points than fav10 and 11.



CMs want to upgrade TPs to TE to get 2 favors, they rarely have 2 TPs at the end of a round.


Sure. But I think its a question of ressource management. I don´t think most Ds are upgraded to TE in one turn. In addition, building strategies are influenced by round bonuses like TP+3, TE+4 or SH/SA+5. Actually it wasnt a problem to keep 2 TP most of the time when I played and finished with 8 Favs. Unless this is not enough for CMs. Cant tell that, yet.
 
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Matthias Reitberger
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8 FAVs are enough but the earlier you get them the better.
A Te can give you Fav8 + FAV9 = 4pw + 3c + 1p income.
2 Tp give you 4c + 2pw income.

Building costs are 5w + 10c for te compared to 6w + 10c for 2tps if you have neighborhood and 2 available hexes to build on.
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Tobias Zimmermann
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I see. So, if it works out well, I finish round 2 with 2 TE, maybe one additional D, 1-2 used Ps and 4 Favs. Get it. Thats a nice one.
 
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