This post is the second in what may be (if I have time) a series of basic strategy posts on Troyes (the base game). In my first post, I discussed the basic strategy of initial worker placement. In this post, I’m going to talk about the next—chronologically—major decision in the game: how should a player go about fighting the black Event dice?
As before, I make no claim on being an expert at this very deep and interesting game. Although I’ve played close to 300 games in person and online, this game reminds me of Chess in many ways—one being that it while it is an easy game to improve significantly with study and practice, it is a very difficult game to master because it offers numerous tactical decisions that vary from turn to turn and from game to game. As a result, what follows are some basic “black dice” strategies I’ve acquired from playing with a wide variety of people.
The Black Dice
The black Event dice, generated by the Event Cards that appear at the beginning of every Round (and the permanent Marauding card) create several interesting decisions. I’ve noticed that new players easily grasp one of these decisions, but often don’t have the experience to understand some of the more subtle gamesmanship that can take place in this phase.
Setting Up For Success
The first thing to note is that the first player in turn order should have tremendous control over how the black dice affect the structure of the Round. I say “should have,” rather than “has,” because often beginners don’t sufficiently plan for going first in a subsequent round, and lose the opportunity to seriously influence the game.
The first mistake some players make is to not have sufficient red dice to fight off the expected amount of black dice when they become the first player. I think that in typical situations (where the player does not otherwise need red dice to score points or to prevent others from scoring points, most obviously when The Joust is in play) the first player should expect to use red dice to fight the black dice. This is for two reasons.
For the obvious, red dice are nearly twice as efficient at fighting red dice as yellow or white dice. The number of “pips” on a red die is worth twice the number of pips on a white or yellow die when fighting the black dice. However, the red die is not exactly twice as efficient because of its cost—each red die costs 2 deniers more than a yellow die, and 1 denier more than a white die. This means that in terms of net efficiency for fighting black dice, red is best, followed by yellow and then by white. Based on this very rough calculation and on some of the concepts I talked about in my previous strategy post about the relative value of different worker placements, white dice should rarely if ever be used to fight off black dice in the early game: there are simply much better options for white dice than wasting them here.
For the less obvious, the added power of the red dice in fighting black dice provides more “control” because the player using red dice has more opportunities to fight more than a single black die. For example, assume that, in a three player game, there are four black dice facing the first player: a “5,” “2,” “2,” and “1.” If the first player’s highest dice is a red “5,” the player has the option of fighting off the first and last black dice, the first, third, and fourth black dice, or even all of the black dice. But compare a player who has no red dice, and whose highest die is a white “5.” That player can only fight off the first black die with his white “5,” and will have some serious decisions to make about whether to use a second (or third) die to fight the remaining black dice. Whatever that decision, the latter player will likely have to burn more of the game’s most precious resource (dice) before his turn even begins to gain the same sort of control that the player with one red die can wield.
Because of this, I think it is a good rule of thumb to always have at least one red die (and preferably two) on hand to fight black dice when you are the first player. This means that the player going second in one Round should be cognizant about getting additional workers into the Palace prior to the end of that Round, because one of the worst positions for the second player is to have workers knocked out of the Palace just in time to be faced with one or more black dice as he becomes the first player in the following Round. (Conversely, attempting to displace the first-player-to-be from the Palace is usually a good strategy to consider, especially as the number of red dice dwindles near the close of a Round).
Fighting Black Dice Strategically
So you’ve followed the set-up strategy and have at least one and preferably two red dice available as the first player at the start of a new Round. What’s next? There are two primary considerations when fighting black dice: (1) how will fighting black dice hurt my opponents, and (2) how will fighting black dice help my opponents?
I’ve noticed that often beginners focus only on the first consideration, and not the second. Thus, it is standard practice for the first player to fight the highest black die (as required by the rules), and then sufficient additional dice so as to prevent having to face the black dice again in the Round. So, for example, in the three-player game described above, the standard move would be for the first player to use his red “5” to fight the black “5” and “1,” leaving the “2” and “2” for the other players to deal with. In the basic situation, this seems like a good move—why fight off dice that will cause opponents to waste precious dice before the Round even begins?
The problem, however, is that allowing opponents to fight dice gives them tremendous power, including by allowing them to use influence to re-roll dice; and allowing them to take control of the board-state.
A (rather obvious) example can be helpful here. In our hypothetical situation described above, suppose that the first player has one yellow “6” and a cube on Tithing from a prior activation, and that both the second and third players have rolled at least one yellow “6.” The first player is getting ready for an amazing scoring move by using Tithing to steal the second and third player’s yellow “6s,” combine them with his own “6,” and activate The Goldsmith. However, the first player, being a beginner, follows the standard move of fighting only the first and last black die. The second player, seeing an opening, uses one influence to re-roll his yellow “6,” turning it into a “2,” and then uses a red die to fight off the second black die. The third player, getting the hint, uses his yellow “6” to fight off the last black die. The first player sees his amazing scoring move evaporate—one that he could have kept available at no cost to himself.
As another example, imagine our same sort of scenario, but in the early game, prior to any of the Round Three Activity Cards appearing. Also imagine that it is the neutral player, rather than the second player, with the third available yellow “6,” that the available Round One yellow card is The Artisan, and that the second player has only one influence. The first player may be tempted to fight all but one of the black dice, reasoning that requiring the second player to fight a single black die will not impact the first player’s intended move of using the Tithing cube and the two other available yellow “6s” to activate The Artisan. However, the difference between having one and two influence is very important in the game—it might allow the second player, on his first turn, to activate an Activity card without moving a worker from another placement. Influence is usually at an even higher premium in games with The Artisan, which requires influence to activate. Thus, fighting all four black dice—at no additional cost—is likely the better move for the first player; rather than giving the second player an opportunity to obtain a second influence before his turn begins.
As a final example, consider scenario with the same board-state as the first scenario with The Goldsmith, but with two important distinctions: assume the neutral player rather than the second player holds the final yellow “6,” that the second and third players are battling to have the highest red dice total to activate The Joust, and that the first player would prefer to have the second player win that battle because the second player is not a threat to win the game. Again, the first player might be tempted to pass on a single black die to the second player, reasoning that the second player won’t be able to harm the first player’s scoring move and that it would be good to deprive the second player of another die. However, if the first player believes that the second player might be forced to use a red die to fight off the remaining black dice—leaving that player vulnerable to the third player in The Joust, the better move may be to “take the hit” for the second player to ensure that the third player will have fewer opportunities to score with The Joust.
There are many other, subtler examples, but I think these are illustrative of the basic considerations in fighting black dice. To get the most advantage from the black dice, the first player must think not only about how fighting black dice can harm an opponent, but how fighting those dice allow an opponent to (1) re-roll or spend dice that the first player may want to use, (2) gain board control (mainly by making decisions about whether to pass dice on to the third player), and (3) gain precious influence that may be necessary to effectively complete that player’s first turn move.
Thanks for reading!
Great stuff! One minor correction; the first sentence in the third paragraph under Setting Up For Success reads: "For the obvious, red dice are nearly twice as efficient at fighting red dice as yellow or white dice." and should be "For the obvious, red dice are nearly twice as efficient at fighting black dice as yellow or white dice."
Admittedly, as much as I try to read the board state during the "resolve black dice" portion, if I'm the first player, I attempt to resolve as many as possible just to have the additional Influence.