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Subject: Strategy thoughts rss

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mike hunt
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After 10 games.

First game went on too long. We went through the deck about three times (3-player game), and with the novelty of laying routes we didn't realise how badly short routes suck.

After a few games, strategy becomes much more refined (the following comments are for 2- and 3-player games)

The scarcest commodity in this game is time. As such, you don't want to be wasting too many terms. So the initial instinct, which is to grab locomotives from the table whenever they appear is generally a bad one, as you'll end up behind the player that's picking two cards each turn.

With 45 carriages and 4 cards, the shortest number of turns to complete the card set is 22. On top of that you need to lay your routes and potentially draw new tickets and build stations. You can keep track of your position relative to your opponents in terms of remaining trains, but beware that they may be ready to lay down a long route and bring the game to an end - once a player is down to ten trains, the 8-train route will bring the game to an end.

In terms of location, there's a definite advantage to working in Eastern Europe because there are so many routes of 4 trains and above, which means big points (3 4-point routes is 21 points whereas 4 3-point routes is 16, and 6 2-point routes is only 12), and also that it takes fewer routes (i.e. turns) to lay down the same number of trains. In addition, because there are so many grey route sets, you can pick up from the top of the deck and be happy with pretty much anything, and also get a cheap locomotive every once in a while. With this 'grey-happy' strategy you have a much better chance of reaching six or more of the same colour (which is doubly good, beyond the large bonus, because you bring the game to an end earlier, hopefully before your opponent(s) have completed their tickets), because you have several good sets of colours in your hand, and the colour that you end up getting most of might not have been what you originally set out to collect.

Another advantage of Eastern Europe is that there is less competition for the key routes, so you can happily spend the first few turn building up a large hand.

With 2- and 3-player games certain routes in Western Europe (the doubled up ones) are often useful to both players. As this is so, it's wise to lay them down as early as possible, assuming you need them at all, and also to avoid signalling your intentions by laying down nearby routes before you lay the key route.

Another tactic is to not leave easy blocks. For the cost of one or two trains it's possible to block a player's ticket in certain areas of the board, requiring them to make a detour, build a station and/or possibly lose their bonus.

As such, leaving short routes open is asking for trouble. Complete the short routes first and then lay down the long ones.

On drawing cards, obviously pick up colours you NEED for certain routes. You don't want to be stuck at the end of the game desperately drawing for reds. Don't forget that you should never just pick up two cards from the top of the deck - take one, add it to your hand, and then if that makes one of the face up cards more attractive, take that instead.

Equally, never take two cards from the table - it's against the rules (you need to replace the cards as you draw them), and you might find the card from the deck is more useful than the second card you were going to draw.

Don't worry about locomotives on the table, they waste half a turn. If you draw from the deck you should pick one up eventually - with 14 locomotives and assuming you start with none, there are 14 locomotives (2 more than the other colours) in 110 cards. Disregarding the cards on the table, the chance of picking up a locomotive within 5 cards drawn blind (5 cards, i.e. 2 and a half turns drawing) is greater than 50%.

Tunnels are an annoyance in TTR:E. Zurich is plagued with them, and not only do the ones there only give two points, but tunnels generally waste on average at least half a turn: if you play two red cards to build a tunnel, and you have six other cards in your hand, and five on the table, none of which are red or locomotives, that leaves 93 cards, of which no less than 24 are bad news - the chance of succesful completion without penalty is only 40%.

Given these odds, you certainly want to have one card spare (which means delaying building tunnels until you have an extra card to spare), which you should spend if need be, given that 1 card represents half a turn of drawing, whereas the alternative is to waste a full turn and still have a close to evens chance (depending on the cards you know have been dealt) of having the same thing happen next time. Regardless, when route/ticket planning, be aware of the added expected cost of tunnels.

Obviously never choose to bring the game to an end with you needing to complete a tunnel, unless you have sufficient cards to be sure it will come to fruition.

I wouuld generally avoid picking up 'tunnel spares' from the table, better to hope they come to you from drawing; however, in the late game when you have all your routes completed in-hand, but subject to the luck of tunnel completion, it's clearly an error to try and DRAW extra cards to be sure your tunnel will succeed, given that you can only pick up two cards, and with 7 colours that are useless to you, the odds are not in your favour. Taking the chance of success on a tunnel with no backup, as 50/50, then the expected number of turns to successfully build your tunnel is less than two (the sum of an infinite geometric series with a = 1/2 and r = 1/2 is 2, but if you do not succeed you are clearly more likely to do so next turn), so it is better to try and fail, than to be safe, even if a card to match your tunnel colour is available on the table.

Other than in the end game, what if you need to fork out TWO extra cards to build the tunnel? Is it worth it? That depends on the cards. Two cards is one turn spent drawing, but if they are likely to be left over in your hand at the end, you haven't wasted time. Also if you cancel the tunnel building up this turn, the expected number of turns wasted is the current turn, plus the chance of failure next time. So choosing not to play when you have the 2 extra cards required actually costs 1 turn plus a fraction of a turn, whereas playing costs somewhere between zero turns (if the cards are surplus to your needs) and the number of turns it will take you to draw those cards again if they were needed (perhaps if the cards are two locomotives).

Drawing extra tickets can be useful. When should you do it - early or late? I'd say on balance later, because it gives you more options in terms of whether to try and kill the other player(s) by ending the game when they clearly have not completed their tickets, or to build up your points by adding extra tickets. On the early side, you have the advantage of building in detours to your route planning, which can give you a longer continuous route and save you trains (although it usually doesn't save that much).

The process is a bit of a lottery, sometimes you will draw tickets that are already complete, others you'll have to lay entirely new track. In initial route selection I avoid retaining routes that do not overlap at least somewhat. This means that I generally have about ten leftover trains after the theoretical completion of my routes (something which I plan out, counting the trains needed to complete my routes against the remaining trains left in my bag). If I'm not confident that I'm going to win, and I don't have the 'quick lay' options of the six or eight-train routes (15/21 points) to finish things off, I'll draw more routes. If you are lucky, this can be worth more than twenty points. Other times you'll end up with three useless routes. If this happens, take the shortest one, or even build train stations to reuse your opponent's track.

On which topic, train stations are nothing to worry about, although they do cost at least 2 turns (if you figure in drawing the card you have to play, the turn to actually play the station, and the fact that you haven't used up any trains that turn).Ideally, assuming that you need to build a train station for whatever reason, you will be ahead of your opponent in pace, and having brought the game to an end, lay down your train station as your last turn, given that the 0, 1 or 2 trains you will have left at this point are going to yield at most 2 points.

One game I built two stations, both in Scandinavia, having drawn 3 routes already locked up by my opponent, and choosing to fulfil the ticket Frankfurt-Smolensk, with my network already covering North-Eastern Europe. This 12-point route, minus the 8 points for the train stations came out as a 4 point gain, but having spent three turns drawing routes and building stations, it was probably letting my opponent off the hook and a net reduction in my score. Of course, had I drawn better tickets, this would not have happened - in retrospect I should have finished the game as quickly as possible to thwart my opponent, not withstanding that I wasn't earning a bonus from my last 10 trains, rather than wasting time drawing tickets.

I think as a final thought, there's no need to draw tickets unless you are behind, in which case it's as an attempt to get variance to go in your favour. Of course if your opponent is drawing, you may well get into an 'arms race' of both drawing tickets in order to end up with a bigger bonus. But if you are leading in tempo, there's no need, finish the game quickly, if the opponent fails to complete any of his tickets, he will lose badly.
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John Anderson
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Moorhead
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I agree with most everything, but I'd be careful diving headfirst into Eastern Europe. I've played two games now where there was a lot of competition out east and almost none in the west. With no double routes in the east that made for a LOT of stations being used. Not that it matters much - your starting tickets basically determine where you will go most of the time.

What's your thoughts on the long ticket? I don't have a concrete strategy. I keep it if it fits with at least one other ticket, but ditch it if other tickets fit together better.
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mike hunt
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puck71 wrote:
I agree with most everything, but I'd be careful diving headfirst into Eastern Europe. I've played two games now where there was a lot of competition out east and almost none in the west.


How many players?

Quote:

What's your thoughts on the long ticket? I don't have a concrete strategy. I keep it if it fits with at least one other ticket, but ditch it if other tickets fit together better.


I haven't done enough analysis of the interaction between tickets, but a long ticket is worth roughly 2 and a half short ones in points terms. So that's a turn drawing tickets. So unless all three short tickets have some degree of overlap, and the long one doesn't overlap with any of the other three, keep the long ticket first, and then retain the best short ticket to go with it.
 
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John Anderson
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thelawnet wrote:
puck71 wrote:
I agree with most everything, but I'd be careful diving headfirst into Eastern Europe. I've played two games now where there was a lot of competition out east and almost none in the west.

How many players?
Once with 2 and once with 4 I think. The one with 2 was especially painful. We both had long tickets over there so there wasn't much we could do other than make the best of it.
thelawnet wrote:
puck71 wrote:

What's your thoughts on the long ticket? I don't have a concrete strategy. I keep it if it fits with at least one other ticket, but ditch it if other tickets fit together better.


I haven't done enough analysis of the interaction between tickets, but a long ticket is worth roughly 2 and a half short ones in points terms. So that's a turn drawing tickets. So unless all three short tickets have some degree of overlap, and the long one doesn't overlap with any of the other three, keep the long ticket first, and then retain the best short ticket to go with it.
Yeah that's about how I do it too. I don't put a hard formula on it, I just analyze my opening tickets and decide case by case. Usually all 3 shorts have to work together, or 2 of them work REALLY well together for me to consider ditching the long one. However, with no long ticket you can afford to draw up to 10-12 tickets in some cases.
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