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Subject: Opening a Balloon Cup strategy discussion rss

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Joe Grundy
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Hey look! There's no strategy article for Balloon Cup! Let's see what I can do in my own meagre way to get some strategy thoughts/discussion going.

I've seen people say there's usually / always either an "obvious play" or no useful play in Balloon Cup. Maybe I can tease that thought apart a bit. Sure, there's moments where you have a clear "winner" on the choice front, but Balloon Cup clips along at a merry pace a few quick turns at a time, and then you hit some decision points. This thread is about lots of (sometimes competing) decision drivers that are more than merely maximising your margin on a hop.

Feel free to discuss these ideas and disabuse me of my erroneous thinking. And of course add / raise more of your own observation and experience.

Here's some basics, most of which you probably already noticed:

+ The high and low cards are valuable. The mids are not. The game is largely about getting the most value out of your valuable cards and managing to get rid of the mid-range cards without giving up too much.

+ Watch the totals. Don't play a 13 (or a 1) if a 7 will do... ie don't go overboard totally thrashing your opponent on a single hop. It only takes a one point margin to win the cubes. (Or even a zero point margin!)

+ Actively ditch the bad cards. If you're already sure you're going to lose or win the hop, grab the opportunity to clean out some of your mid-value crud. (Perhaps even in preference to assuring a victory in another hop.)

+ If the hop is yours already, be patient. If you feel you and your opponent aren't chocked up with bad cards, there's no point spending a turn (or two) finishing off a hop you've already won when there's other hops to compete on. (Watch this in the endgame though.) But here is a juggle... circumstance will dictate which is more important between other opportunities, ditching crud cards on this assured hop, and denying your opponent the opportunity to ditch crud cards on this assured hop.

+ The Grey Are Mine! (Do your best Sauron voice for this one.) In order to win the Red trophy, you have to compete and win 7 cubes. (Plus their companions.) In order to win the Grey trophy, you only have to win victory margins over three cubes. (Plus their companions.) If you can win Grey, Blue, Green that's less cubes than winning just Yellow and Red. The different card distributions don't give either player an advantage. Sooo... concentrate on winning the cheap trophies!

+ Know the card distribution. It's not tricky. Below is the full makeup...

Card Distribution.

All colours have 1,7,13. Plus...
Grey, add 4 and 10 vs Yellow, everything EXCEPT 4 and 10.
Blue, odds vs Green, evens.
And of course Red has everything.

The table of cards...

Grey: 1 4 7 10 13
Blue: 1 3 5 7 9 11 13
Green: 1 2 4 6 7 8 10 12 13
Yellow: 1 2 3 5 6 7 8 9 11 12 13
Red: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Here's some possibly more subtle thoughts.

+ Know where the cards are. You can follow the cards in the discard pile most of the time. You can see what's on the table, and what's in your hand. When the discard pile gets a reshuffle, ie about four or five times per game, you should have a pretty good idea what your opponent has at that moment. Especially, know where the high and low cards in each colour are. Practise with just the 1s and 13s. Then try the lowest and highest two cards in each suit.

Then when the 9 is the highest available card, you can play it with a smile.

+ Gaps in card distribution offer leverage. There's no 12 blue, or 12 or 11 grey. eg if you can already see the 13 Grey anywhere and your opponent would need at least 11 Grey to catch up on a hop if you play the 13 Red, you can afford to play a less extreme Red card to secure your position.

+ If you leave an opening "for a few turns", 50/50 your opponent will fill it. None of this, "opponent would need the 1 could fill that so it's pretty safe". In just a few turns your opponent has has access to half the cards you don't see. Except just after a reshuffle (when of course you know their hand in detail ) leaving a "nearly secure" hop open for multiple turns is not a risk worth taking.

+ Your Red cards are useful for winning Grey cubes. Apart from Hop #1, the cubes are pretty gregarious and tend to turn up in bunches. When a Grey turns up, you're going to want to do well in whatever colours come with it. That's what your good Red cards (and Yellows) are for... winning cubes in other more valuable colours. Competing for Red cubes for their own sake is scraping the bottom of the barrel for doing something "useful".

+ If your cards are great, bias to finishing a hop quickly. By finishing off a hop (either "yours" or "your opponent's" and hopefully using mid-range cards) you show the next set of cubes and get to make a start on them with the great cards you already have. If your cards are all mid range crud, you want to stall while you get a chance to get rid of some and hopefully get some better cards in your hand before a fresh lot of cubes turns up. (So for example if hops #3 and #4 are both a done deal, and #3 has only one card to play while #4 still has three cards to go, you have a choice how quickly to press the next contest.)

+ You don't win by forcing your opponent to play on "your" hops. The play of cards is (almost) zero sum. You play, they play, you play, they play. Every cube claimed took two cards to claim it. The only way to get your opponent to play "extra" cards on "your" victories, is to play "extra" cards on "their" victories. (Though the thought is similar to just being patient as long as you have better plays.) The point is, it's not a decision point of itself. By all means finish "your own" hop if you can drop mid range cards on it to do it, and/or you have some good cards and want to see a new hop flip while you have the edge.

+ You gain leverage by finishing your opponent's hops. If your opponent has a secured victory on a hop, if YOU play out the hop you get to (1) throw out some crud mid range cards, (2) draw one extra card of hand upgrade than your opponent does, and (3) time the new hop and first crack at it to suit your available options.

+ You might gain leverage deliberately losing a hop to your opponent. ie play to lose it from the first card you play on it. Here's a practical example: It was a mid-game race for a green card. Most, but not any, of the remaining geen cards would have done for either of us. The Blue and Yellow trophies were already claimed, and my opponent had no blue or yellow cubes. The Red trophy was a shoe in for me. So... Hop #1 is showing Blue, Hop #2 is showing Yellow and Red. None of these cubes are likely to be valuable to my opponent. If I deliberately play to lose those two hops, I'll dump some crud and get 2 extra cards cycled through my hand before my opponent does, giving me two extra chances to draw the much desired Green card.

+ You can win by giving your opponent a trophy. (Ok you probably already noticed this.) By forcing your opponent to take the cubes to finish a trophy you can set yourself up with a wild which you can use to claim your third trophy.

+ On the #1 hop, try to let your opponent play first. (Maybe not on Grey or Blue, and depends on relative positions on cubes.) You can ALWAYS do this if you have the card/s to guarantee you win the hop, and there's rarely a penalty for patience. (Under published rules you need the highest AND lowest card. Under any restricting variant you need the appopriate card for your side.) If they play the 1 or 13, they've lost use of it for leverage elsewhere and you can throw crud and get the extra turn. If they leave you an opening, you can beat it by a minimal margin, thus maybe saving your great card for later.

+ The #4 hop is a waste of time. Ok, not always. But basically you don't get "more cubes for your effort" by competing on the #4... it still takes 2 cards per cube to finish the hop. But you probably get a less tasty selection of colours of cubes you are getting. Watch the #1 and #2 hops especially and pick them up when there's few or no Reds or Yellows on them to get extra efficiency out of your cards. (But I'd say you have to watch out that if your opponent "stops trying" on the #4 that you take advantage of it then.)

What more, folks? Any other tips tricks or thoughts?

Anyway... if you can digest all the above (and more?) to the extent that all the plays are "obvious" to you, your brain is more powerful than mine. My hat is off to you.
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