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Subject: PrezCon 2018 recap rss

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Scott Saccenti
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I ran the Great Western tourney at PrezCon (annual week-long con in Charlottesville, Virginia) last week, so here are some memories of it, both from the perspective of the GM and as a player.

GM stuff...
This is the third GWT tourney I'm aware of. Hopefully there has been a lot of others?! John Weber put one together at Maryland Game Days in April 2017. That drew 18 players, final in order was Amelia Fortmayer, myself, Eugene Yee and Antony Saccenti.

Second was kind of a PrezCon trial, to test interest. Summer Prezcon 2017 in June, I Chris Wildes ran it and we drew about 20 players. Our Maryland crew (myself, my two sons Antony & Donte, Eugene, Rodney Bacigalupo and John) did really well, I think it was all six of us who made the semi-final, and final ended in order Donte, Antony, Eugene and myself.

So we are pretty full of ourselves. Well, just me really whistle But this is a game we play a whole lot, and are noticing that we play differently than other more-casual players. For example, at the June event, our opponents were commenting that they had never really seen people build more than one or two buildings, or drop in KC more than once, which would be unheard of in any game involving those guys above. So it's always interesting to go outside your own game group and (hopefully) see some styles of play that will challenge your thinking.

For last week's event, we drew 28 total players. We had three heats, I had four tables at heat one, five at heat two, and three at the last one. We ended up with nine unique winners (one of those had two wins, and one had three). I'd like to have had three-threes and cut to a three-player final, but two players had to drop the semi because they were both in the Terraforming Mars final which was running concurrently. So I had a four and a three-player semi, and took the top two from both games for a four-player final.

Longest game in heats ran 3 hours 15 minutes, but that was an outlier. All other games finished inside the 3-hour slot we alloted. The semi and final games were barely over two hours, even with players being really deliberate, because at that point everyone knows the game real well.

We did random turn order for the heats; we bid for turn order in semis/final.

You saw all strategies at this event, though as you'd expect, less-experienced players always gravitate to cows. Not to say cows aren't strong. Cow strategy won more games than builder or train overall. I think of it kind of like Big Money in base Dominion. It's a pretty solid default. If you think you can beat it with something else, go ahead and try, but it's at the least the bar you need to get over.

As a player...
I had a really great run, and this was by far the most fun tourney I played in all week, and I played in a dozen or so. Here's what I remember:

FIRST HEAT (Tuesday) -- My go-to is builder, I'll play that if I can, and probably go that path 80+% of the time. I drew the only three-player table, and my two opponents weren't experienced with the game. I built, one player went cows and the other train. With nobody getting in my way, I spammed out buildings the whole game. In addition I gave the "Southern Strategy" a go. This is kind of new (with our group anyway). Eugene has been trying it for a few months now, and lately he has really been making it sing. You drop your first tollbooth (#1a/b) above the swamp at the bottom of the board. Then your next two builds are on the swamp path, which is going to be your private path. You're going to have to eat the swamp teepee tolls the whole game (and your oppoents are going to put every single one out they can, until they realize they are feeding you points...). This seems bad, but it turns out that you make up for it and then some by dropping the "1"s for $2 and cert bumps. Now. One caveat. For this to really be strong, you need #3b & #4a in the game. You put them in that order on "your" swamp path. You pull for your "1"s with 3b, bounce to 4a and buy a swamp teepee, and then bounce to what you hope is a neutral tile on the "B" spot. It's really, really good. You've put your "1"s to a powerful use, and you've gotten them now out of your hand for a more impactful trip around the rondel plus delivery. I take no credit for this. Eugene is a genius at games (he won Stone Age and Ticket to Ride at this year's PrezCon--I am fiercly jealous angry). When I first saw him doing this, I was sure it wasn't going to be good enough to be competitive, but it is. The only thing I would say is that it might, perhaps, be fragile. Because when you drop that first building on the swamp path, everyone knows what you are doing, and so another player might join you. But I'm not even convinced this is bad. You're going to lose one action (assuming the 3b/4a combo), which is huge. But you will have an early partner in clearing out the swamp teepees. Between the two of you, they will get sniped as soon as they come out, so you are not going to be getting taxed, probly not even early-to-mid game much, when money is dear. It will suck a little if someone gets in your way, but it might still be okay. And if it turns out it is not, and it causes you to lose, then the player who got in your way is almost certainly going to lose too, because they are also wasting energy doing something that isn't going to win. So you both lose. So they learn not to do that. So you are alone again, next game. This approach is so compelling that I think if you see 3b/4a in the game, you should not only seriously consider it, but also consider shaping the rest of your game around whatever strategy the "B" tile is feeding, since you are probably going to be hitting it on every loop.

So anyway, I built in this first heat, and did the Southern Strategy, and the final score was 80-35-33. My points were:
3-Money
36-Buildings
6-Deliveries
0-Train track (More often than not, I will never move my train if I'm building, unless I'm moving it with my buildings)
9-Hazards (4a was not in this particular game. This number will be much higher when it is)
8-Herd
8-Head bonus
3-second movement disk
5-objective card
0-station master
2-end trigger

Other heat winners: Eugene, Kevin Walsh, Rick Miller


SECOND HEAT (Wednesday) -- I don't have the sheet on this one I had a tough table for this one. Jeff Thornsen is from our Maryland game group. He isn't one of our "GWT crew" because he doesn't play it very often. But he is just good at all games. Also across from me was Kevin Walsh, who is the best player outside of our northern Maryland group that I have met to date. The fourth player was less experienced, but ended with a solid score. Kevin and Jeff did cows, and if 2a had been in the game, they beat me easy. I don't have the scoresheet on this one, so I don't have the best memory of it. I know I built, and sweated out a close win with 95 (Jeff-86, Kevin-79, other-61).

Other heat winners: Eric Wrobel, Luke Koleszar, Eugene, Jason Lurie


THIRD HEAT (Friday) -- I've got my ticket to the semi with a top seed locked up, so I resolved to try something weird in this game. I didn't plan ahead on what that would be, figured I'd see how the opening presented itself. So buildings 8b and 10b flopped. Okay, so building wouldn't exactly be "weird" for me. But these two buildings can make for a really hilarious combo when you can make it work. It is always either a spectacular success or a spectacular failure, and it's a lot of fun. Basically what you're going to do is try and "ring the bell" (get to the #39 train space) without ever buying an engineer. You're going to try and reserve adjacent building spaces early, and figure out how to ladder up your builds so that 8b/10b are together. You absolutely have to have this fully in place by mid-game--before the second cow flop, I'd say--or it is going to be too slow. And the game is going to be fast, because on the one hand, you aren't spamming little buildings out like normal, thus slowing the trail. And also your opponents will figure out what is up once 10b hits the table, and if they are any good they are going to push the pedal so that you don't have enough loops to make the bell. I would strongly caution against trying this in a serious game. There are many problems. One huge mistake I made in this game was to never buy a cow. You are going to be flying around the board at the end of the game, because you have to hit that combo pretty much four times minimum. That means you are probably making the unusual "seventh" delivery. But without any strategy to improve your deliveries (cows, certs, something...) your deliveries are going to get awkward quick. I pretty much always drop in KC three times when I'm building. In this game I had to drop negative five times. Because I couldn't even get to an "8" hand at game end, and once you've dropped in the "6" there is nothing but pain. My first three went into KC like always. And I managed the "6" of course. But I'm having to fly around the loop to trigger this strategy and I'm hitting KC with nothing. So I went "1" on next loop which doesn't hurt me. And then on the next, I go KC again, figuring $6 and -6 is still maybe okay at this point, versus the -4. I'm still spending all my money on building points, so it's okay. On the last loop, I went ahead with the "4" drop, which takes a -4, but it gives you an objective card. And the San Fran card was out, and I knew I could score that (9a was also in this game--8b/9a/10b is the holy grail of this strategy), so that more than cancelled out the fifth negative. I took a -28 in this game on the delivery track, but won 76-58-51-25.

Other heat winners: Antony and Rodney.


SEMI (Sunday) -- So the semi cut is to nine, but we lose Eric and Luke to Terraforming Mars final. So we have a 3-player and 4-player, take top two from each for final. I get the 3-player table as reward for 3 heat wins. Other semi table is stacked with our Maryland guys (Antony, Rodney, Eugene, and they would finish 1-2-3).
My semi was simply the smoothest game of GWT I have ever played. We bid for turn order, and Kevin made me pay 5 points to go first, but it was worth it. The first build in a 3-player game can be really big, because your first tollbooth is a green hand which gets you $2 instead of the usual $1. If there's a prime and obvious spot for the best tollbooth building it is worth bidding high to get the placement, plus going first is just better in a vacuum because it's not an equal turn game. I got what I wanted out. I did Builder but I also did cows--I got four cowboys in this one and bought a good many points that way. 10a was in the game, so I built to that and with those 6 delivery points plus cows, I was just loving deliveries (rare for the Builder!). The game was really low-scoring. Players weren't stopping, and a really small number of heads got bought. I don't have the sheet for this but I think the final score was something like Scott-53, Kevin-37, Rick 35.

In the other semi, Rodney won with cows, Antony got second building.

So Kevin, myself, Rodney and Antony advance to Final.


FINAL -- So this is our home group plus Kevin. And Kevin and I have played a dozen times at least together. So everybody knows everyone else's game. Kevin is buying cows. I'm going to build. Antony can do all three things. Rodney can do all three. The opening map has either three or four swamp tiles. So that's just too much at start to consider Southern Strategy. Plus all of us have watched Eugene do that and crush us with it so nobody is going to let someone just win doing that anyway. Nothing was really compelling on the board, so the bid for start was pretty low (I've seen players bid nine points to go first, and win comfortably doing so). Kevin went four, probably wanting me to go five. But I dropped down to 2 points for second. Antony and Rodney conspired (kidding) to take third and fourth for nothing.

When I think about it now, I think the bad thing for me was that 10a was out, and I'd just won big with that, and had that game strongly in mind, and so naturally I looked to that same path. But every game is different. Just the flow of the neutrals on the opening flop can completely change how a game plays out. You really shouldn't lock into something, certainly not based on your most recent success. But anyway, I figured I'd try the same thing again, buy a few cows, ramp up to 10a, try to win with builders/cowboys, decent herd, decent building score, quality deliveries.

It kind of worked. I felt like I played a good game. But it was a real grind, and I got hosed again and again in this game on "not having the right card," for getting the $2 on actions, and for deliveries. BUT. As Eugene (who watched much of the game) rightly pointed out, I skipped card draw (auxiliary action) a lot, opting for what I hoped were more impactful moves. So you get what you deserve. I put all my buildings on forest spaces (1a was out), so I was getting $10 off of that just past mid-game, and I dropped 8b next to it, so I could pull $20 mid-trail on two actions. That was kind of fun.

Kevin played a really strong, straightforward cow game, and for most of the contest I was worried he was pulling away. He got good cows early. His deliveries by game end were pretty much the holy grail on that. Rodney...is a wild card. arrrh You'd laugh if you knew him, hearing that. So he didn't drop in KC this game. That just. Isn't. Done. He made it work. He'd won the semi with cows. He bought one single red cow in the Final. He did train but only bought one engineer. Used the "$2-for-2-moves" space plus the auxiliary train move, and ran the whole train line, all the way to San Fran, pulling four of the five station masters. Okay, so when I see this, I don't usually worry too much, because often when you put that much effort (<4 Engineers!) into getting the station masters, you aren't doing the things to make any of them particularly great (except the cert bonus one, which will probably be strong).

So the three of us had a good, good battle and it was very close between us. Rodney finished at 80, I had 79 (with the tiebreaker), Kevin had 79.

Meanwhile, Antony was busy beating us all by over 20 points. He did cows and objective cards that the cow cards were feeding. This should be no surprise. He'd finished second (to his younger brother) in the summer PrezCon final. I don't think it was as clear to us how good a game he was having, because it was an understated strategy, a bit of little-of-everything kind of game, with cows at the center. I'll show the final scores now, with how the points came, so you see what I mean.

ANTONY SACCENTI (101)
Money +5
Buildings +5
Deliveries +12 (includes -12 from KC)
Train Track +1
Hazards +11
Herd +34
Objectives +14
Station Masters +8 (the +1/Head)
Head Bonus +8
Second Move disk +3

RODNEY BACIGALUPO (80)
Money +7
Buildings +4
Deliveries +14 (0 in KC!!)
Train Track +8
Hazards +10
Herd +2
Objectives +9
Station Masters +21 (the other four...)
Head Bonus +0
Second Move disk +3
End trigger +2

SCOTT SACCENTI (79)
Money +4
Buildings +38
Deliveries -4 (includes -18 from KC)
Train Track +1
Hazards +12
Herd +9
Objectives +13
Station Masters +0
Head Bonus +8
Second Move disk +0
Turn order bid -2
Leftover money (tiebreaker) $4

KEVIN WALSH (79)
Money +0
Buildings +2
Deliveries +18 (includes -6 from KC)
Train Track +2
Hazards +11
Herd +37
Objectives +6
Station Masters +0
Head Bonus +4
Second Move disk +3
Turn order bid -4
Leftover money (tiebreaker) $0

After the game, I asked Antony how he'd beat us. He said that pretty much from the start, his goal was to buy cows, and figure out a loop that would let him cycle his hand hard for good deliveries. The opening objective card flop had a bunch of cow stuff on it, so that would be a part of the path, if the other cow player (Kevin) didn't scarf them up. A really well-executed cow game. It worked out


It was a really, really fun week.

The next big GWT tourney (that I'm aware of) will be in late July at Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, part of the World Boardgaming Championships. I'll be running it, and I anticipate roughly 75 players, though I could be low-balling that figure. Hope to see you there
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John Weber
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Scott, thanks for the detailed report, but one correction, wasn't Chris Wildes the one running the Summer 2017 PrezCon tournament?
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Steve Schlepphorst
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I love reading these. If ever possible, streaming (or otherwise video recording) a high-level game would be really interesting.

Mostly unrelated, but, you mention a lot about buildings affecting decisions and the selection of the 3,4,8,9,10 buildings for different strategies: do you find the presence of 4b to affect gameplay? It has always seemed like the most above-the-curve building to me. It obviously doesn’t require going builder like some others do, but it’s the only one that alone pushes me in a direction (which, ironically, is cowboys not builders).
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Scott Saccenti
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John Weber wrote:

Scott, thanks for the detailed report, but one correction, wasn't Chris Wildes the one running the Summer 2017 PrezCon tournament?



Yes!! blush
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Scott Saccenti
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anwei wrote:
I love reading these. If ever possible, streaming (or otherwise video recording) a high-level game would be really interesting.


This is a really great idea. Making a recording of the WBC Final in July would be the right game to capture. I will work toward making this happen.
 
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Scott Saccenti
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anwei wrote:
Mostly unrelated, but, you mention a lot about buildings affecting decisions and the selection of the 3,4,8,9,10 buildings for different strategies: do you find the presence of 4b to affect gameplay? It has always seemed like the most above-the-curve building to me. It obviously doesn’t require going builder like some others do, but it’s the only one that alone pushes me in a direction (which, ironically, is cowboys not builders).


A little part of me dies when I see 4b on the flop. It is far and away the most efficient building in the game, and it is easily within reach of any player on just the second loop. There is no strategy in the game that doesn't benefit from an extra turn/extra movement with a pull from the hand. Plus it has the $2 toll in 4-player??!!

It doesn't push me to cowboys on its own. But if 2a is also in the game, you better have a really clever alternate idea in mind, to not go the cow route. I'm not that smart. I'll play cows if it is a 2a/4b game.

If you are a stubborn builder, looking for the silver lining... You're going to get 4b out in your second loop like everybody else, but you'll get it out in addition to your 1a/1b tollbooth, while the cow players are just upgrading. So that's something. Keeping the #1 building in play is actually key for most building plans. It is presumably in the prime taxing spot. When you pop the 4th builder, now you can ladder up your original 1 tollbooth to the very nasty 5a/5b. So now with 4b as well, you have two really strong tollbooths on the board, probably still early mid-game. Hopefully you were able to put one or both along the path before the cow market. (The other thing that makes the Builder sad is when the cow market flops on the "A" space. I mean, at some point, one has to give up and be a cowboy when these things happen whistle )

Shorter answer: every strategy can often benefit from a secondary strategy. I tend to do best when I play builder primary, and dabble in cowboys secondary (see my semi-final game for how happy this can make me). If 4b is in the game, either go cows yourself, or for sure make it a part of your plan.
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I too love reading post-game debriefs. Thank you for sharing your strategies and those of others. Great read, and congratulations on making it to the final!
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Alexander Pfister
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Fantastic write-up! Gives also a good insights to the PROs. I like the name of the Southern Strategy.
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Hehe... should it be called the “Great South-Western Strategy”? :-)
 
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Scott Saccenti
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AlexP wrote:
Fantastic write-up! Gives also a good insights to the PROs. I like the name of the Southern Strategy.


Thanks for designing a tournament-worthy game that holds up to deep analysis and nuanced play. Many ways to win, every game different. thumbsup
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Per Olander
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saccenti wrote:

So anyway, I built in this first heat, and did the Southern Strategy, and the final score was 80-35-33. My points were:
3-Money
36-Buildings
6-Deliveries
0-Train track (More often than not, I will never move my train if I'm building, unless I'm moving it with my buildings)
9-Hazards (4a was not in this particular game. This number will be much higher when it is)
8-Herd
8-Head bonus
3-second movement disk
5-objective card
0-station master
2-end trigger



may I ask what stations you deliver to when going all in on building? just focusing on the lower levels for objectives, or do you eat the tolls for delivering far ahead of your train? when (if) do you increase hand size?

I have only played the game as 2p and 3p with the same 2 other people around 10 times now, so we tend to group think and lean on the cowboys and/or engineers, with a maximum of 2 builders on our board at any given time. I have tried focusing on builders once, and lost heavily.
 
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Scott Saccenti
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Per Olander wrote:
may I ask what stations you deliver to when going all in on building? just focusing on the lower levels for objectives, or do you eat the tolls for delivering far ahead of your train?

Best ones I am able. First three deliveries will be to KC, then hopefully 4th delivery to the 10-spot. Ability to make good deliveries as a builder varies, it depends on what your buildings are doing for you.

Yes, eat the tolls, unless your buildings are moving your train. There is a way with buildings to ring the bell (hit #39) without ever buying an engineer (8b/10b). Hard to pull off but great fun.
Per Olander wrote:
when (if) do you increase hand size?

I'd never increase my hand size unless I was doing cows. This consideration is really separate of whether you are building or not.
 
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Nate Dorward
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Am I missing something here...? There's a reference to "swamp teepees" along the bottom of the board. But in that area you place hazards, not teepees. It's much harder to clear away hazards than teepees.
 
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Scott Saccenti
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Nate Dorward wrote:
Am I missing something here...? There's a reference to "swamp teepees" along the bottom of the board. But in that area you place hazards, not teepees. It's much harder to clear away hazards than teepees.


You are correct, that reference above should have read "swamp hazards" thumbsup
 
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