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Subject: Predict the Market rss

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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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The Basics

Let's start with some basic whisky economy. Natural whiskies are bought for 1-3 pounds and mixed whiskies are sold for 4-6 pounds. It takes 2 natural whiskies to get 1 blended whisky + 1 VP (or 3 natural whiskies for 1 black blended whisky + 2 VP). In addition, there is an investment of 1 pound to place a shop. At the end of the game, natural whiskies are worth 3 pounds and VP are worth 6 pounds. Most pounds wins.

The return gets better if the same shop attracts different whisky barons but worse if you have to place extra pounds to attract whisky barons so let's assume that each transaction requires a shop investment of 1 pound. Let's also assume that each transaction takes 1 round and thus a full blend cycle requires 3 rounds (2 to acquire natural whiskies, 1 to sell the blended whisky).

This means that an investment in natural whiskies on average returns 0 pounds (value 3-shop 1-buying price 2) per round and an investment in blended whiskies on average returns 1.33 pounds (VP 6+selling price 5-3 shops-buying price 4). There is also an opportunity cost of passing and collecting about 1 pound depending on how quick the other players pass.

To make things worse, you face a liquidity challenge, since the VP have no value until the end of the game. Thus, each sold blended whisky drains 2 pounds from your cash and with a starting capital of only 6 pounds you won't last long.

The Strategies

From this, it sounds like you might just as well pass every second round and reuse your shop every second round to get 1 pound per round. The first counter argument is of course that this would give the other players better access to the best deals but we must still find out which means we have to improve both our liquidity and our profit margin. There are two basic strategies at our disposal.

Buy low/Sell high

Buy low/Sell high is the most obvious strategy. With a price range of 1-3 for natural whiskies and 4-6 for blended whiskies, there is a potential pound to be gained for each transcation if you can get a lower buying price or higher selling price than the average. This strategy requires a lot of shops so that you always have the right whisky baron nearby to attract. One obvious risk is that you can't expect to have your own choice of whisky barons and the greater the competition, the less will your profit be. Another risk is that the initial investments in shops and natural whiskies may drain your cash and force you to spend time passing to get more pounds (and time is also valuable!).

Just in time

Just in time aims at matching your buying and selling so that whiskies bought can be sold the same round and/or whiskies sold can immediately finance the next whisky purchase. Well executed, this strategy can give you efficient rounds where you don't have to pass and instead make business each turn. To accomplish this, you must plan whom to sell your blended whisky to before you buy the necessary natural whiskies and make sure that this whisky baron is at your shop at the right time. This strategy often sees early placements of whiskies to start attracting distant whisky barons towards your shops. The obvious risk here is that other players have more time to interfere and attract "your" whisky barons before they reach your shops.

The Tactics

With those two basic strategies in mind, let's proceed to the tactics to execute them.

Shop location

"Location, location, location” is a common mantra in real estate and it's true in Dyce as well. If your shops are far away from the whisky barons, they are of no use to you. But which locations are the best for your shops then?

Generally, the central squares are better than the edge squares, since the whisky barons tend to move towards the center, either to take the shortest route to the next shop or since central squares win ties against edge squares.

However, foregoing the edge squares may mean foregoing the first transactions before the whisky barons have reached the center. The pounds you save from not placing "bad" shops probably won't compensate you for the slow start. Instead, you should use an edge shop to lead the whisky barons further inwards to your central shops - and hopefully make them stay there.

This leads to the interesting question of whether you should spread or cluster your shops. If you manage to "lock in" a couple of whisky baron in a cluster of yours, you'll have a powerful engine going but if they are all attracted elsewhere, your cluster will look like a deserted shopping mall. For the "planning" just in time strategy, a cluster may be preferred, while the more "opportunistic" buy low/sell high strategy may benefit more from a good spread of shops.

Shop recycling

If the shop won't come to the whisky baron, then whisky baron must go to the shop. The idea of shop recycling is to use your shops economically and keep them full, either with whiskies or with barons. Unlike a shop locator, you can't rely on having a shop near a whisky baron when you need one but you must know which whisky baron you'll need in the next few rounds and attract him to your shop.

Shop recycling is commonly used together with the just in time strategy but the the buy low/sell high strategy should also take it into account, otherwise the whisky barons with the best deals will always "happen" to be far away from your shops when you need them.

Shop marketing

Shop marketing (placing an extra pound) to win ties when attracting whisky barons is an efficient but expensive tactic. Not only does it cost a pound but it also costs an action. Given how small the margins are, shop marketing should really only be used as the last resort if a lot of other transactions are dependent on getting a specific whisky. On the other hand you should perhpas not have put yourself in that situation to start with. Whatever you do, avoid marketing wars with two or even three pounds on a shop - such wars have no winners.

Shop futures

With shop futures, we mean placing a whisky that you don't wish to buy or sell right now. This is an option if you want to attract whisky barons well in advance but it also serves as an efficient blocking tool.

Imagine if an opponent is interested in a whisky baron's other dice. Normally, the first die would be removed if there wasn't any supply or demand for it, thus unlocking the second die. However, if you attract that whisky baron to a shop on the other side of the board, he'll spend many rounds going there first, during which your opponent has to wait while you have time to prepare the transaction.

Conclusion

Whether you choose the Buy low/Sell high strategy or the Just in time strategy, it's important that you constantly predict the board state a couple of rounds ahead. What do you want to do and what do you need to acheive that? Where will the whisky barons be, which whiskies will they buy/sell and what will the prices be? Given that, what do you expect your opponents to do and how should you counter/take advantage of their actions to further your own goal?

The answers to those questions will help you decide where to place shops, which whiskies to place on them and which additional pounds to place on them. Dyce requires you to react to the constantly changing board state but that doesn't meant that it's a purely tactical game. If you don't align your tactical decisions with your overall strategy, you may find that the whiskies you need cost you a pound or a turn more to acquire and the worse your margins are, the worse your victory chances get.

The Solo Strategy

Most of the strategic and tactical advice for the multi-player game apply to the solo play as well. You may think that the solo game is even easier, since you face no competition for the whisky barons. However, it's the lack of the competition that IS the challenge of the solo game.

The key rule to think about in the multi-player game is that whisky barons with no buyers/sellers will leave and push the game clock forward. While the multi-player game often see players fighting for each and every whisky baron and "help" each other to keep them on the board, you won't have enough pounds to satisfy all the whisky barons yourself in the solo game. Letting whisky barons that you can't afford go isn't a solution, since this will end the game before you've fulfilled the victory conditions.

Thus, in the solo game you must work much more with shop futures to delay certain transactions until you can afford them You must also think differently about shop location, since the important thing is not to have whisky barons as close as possible at the right time but to have them at the right distance so that they arrive at the right time.

Imagine a whisky baron who demands black whisky. To satisy his demand, you need a blue, a red and a yellow whisky. How many turns do you need to acquire those whiskies? The answer tells you how far away from the whisky baron to place a black whisky. Attract the black whisky baron too soon and you won't have the whiskies you need in the shop when he arrives. Attract the black whisky baron too late and you won't get the money you need in time for the next transaction. Time is money in Dyce and that's perhaps even more true in the solo game.
 
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