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Subject: Influence, control, and initiative -- first play impressions rss

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Bruce Padget
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Fjords was on the 10% discount rack at my FLGS. On solo trips I had picked it up, looked at it, and put it back several times. Between trips I read up a little here on the Geek.

On a recent trip, my SO and main gaming opponent, Ellen, noticed it. She is a lover of most things Carc, so she was intrigued. The price was so low, why not?

Round 1
The first round started with us a bit frustrated. We tend to like games with fairly quick "feedback." That is, you know fairly quickly whether the move you're making is a good one. Not that the advantage is gained immediately, just that you know right away whether you've made a good move. We had no problem with understanding legal placements, but it took a while to get what constituted an advantageous placement. As we learned by the third round, with only 40 tiles and fairly restrictive placement rules, missing just one or two advantageous choices could turn a game. But I get ahead of myself.

On the other hand, I definitely like shallow-looking games that have depth that is left for the player to discover for himself, and Fjords fits that bill very nicely.

About halfway through the first round tile-laying phase I started to clue in how mountains and water could work with farms to exert influence over an area.

Me: "Okay, there really is a similarity to Go!"
Her: "Pity I don't like Go."

For a moment, set the wayback machine to 1989, at a little Go club in Boise, Idaho. I haven't kept up my study or play of Go, but my teacher gave wonderful advice, which I have found useful in several gaming and non-gaming situations: First you influence an area, then consolidate control. The key to winning play is knowing when it's time to change from influencing to controlling.

To give an extreme example, in Fjords you could solidly control an area from the start by placing all four farms close together early in the game. While this would give you rock-solid control of a small area, it would leave your opponent free to spread influence over the rest of the board.

I understood going in that farms would exert influence. My mini-epiphany (epiphanito?) in the first round was how mountains and water can channel and block influence.

It's tempting to say that the tile and farm placement phase is the influencing phase, and field placement is the controlling phase. Not quite true, though.

In the field placement phase, lines quickly form that define uncontested areas. You want those lines to curve to encroach on areas your opponent influences. So...and I hope this makes sense...you need to use your first few field placements to push the influence of your farms outward. Sometimes there will be a clear choke point defined by mountains and/or water, others you just have to push influence across an open field.

To spread this influence, you need my Go teacher's third key idea, initiative. The rules on who goes first in field placement provide a chance to take initiative. But (hat tip to my Go teacher and also a fencing coach) initiative isn't just a matter of who goes first, it's about how you approach play. This was the biggest problem in round 1. Ellen went first, but she claimed a field there was no way I'd get to, and all her other field placements were reactions to mine. I started the phase influencing more territory, and my every contested field placement was an "in your face" move. (I may even have used that phrase.)

When we scored the first round, I was ahead by eight. Ellen kind of bent over the table, cocked her head, and went, "Hmmmm." Cocked her head the other way, "Hmmmm" again. Looked me in the eye, smiled a little, and gave a third, "Hmmmm." Rough translation: "I think I've got it now."

Round 2
Round two was much more defensive for both of us. We ended up with small, disconnected features, and it wasn't just luck of the tile draw. I started the field placement, and Ellen was reacting again. After a couple of moves:

Me: "Honey, don't just react to me, take the initiative."
Her: "You're right, I react too much."

Round two to me by one point.

Ellen did the three-"Hmmmm" bit again, but the smile with the third was bigger and bit less warm. Rough translation: "Bring your 'a' game, boy!"

Round 3
In round three we got a couple of large mountain ranges going, and a water inlet that looked like a fjord.

Me: "Hey, our fjirst actual fjord."
Her: [patented evil pun-hating glare]

I came to appreciate the subtlety of the tile placement rules. There was one tile (the one that's all farmland) that couldn't be placed when I drew it. Later there was one legal placement, where only she could claim it. Each time Ellen looked at the skipped tiles, I had to roll against my poker-face ability, but she kept missing it, and it stayed unplaced. Odd really -- when we play Carc in all its forms, she always sees placement better than I do.

I got first field placement. Good thing, because Ellen was definitely not reacting this time. In fact, I missed a point because in my mind I'd ceded the area to her. (After games we point out missed plays to each other, always in a friendly and sporting way. A dream lover and dream opponent -- I got a twofer!)

We're both fans of theme, but Ellen had trouble calling the wooden disks fields.

Her: "They're not fields, they're just...dots!"
Me: "And these aren't farms, they're obviously longhouses. Just really short longhouses."

Third round score, Ellen by one point, final 47-39 to me. But the first round had Ellen at a disadvantage going in.

This will definitely be hitting the table a lot. If Ellen comes to like it enough, maybe I can get her to give Go another chance.
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David desJardins
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bapadget wrote:
I came to appreciate the subtlety of the tile placement rules. There was one tile (the one that's all farmland) that couldn't be placed when I drew it. Later there was one legal placement, where only she could claim it. Each time Ellen looked at the skipped tiles, I had to roll against my poker-face ability, but she kept missing it, and it stayed unplaced.


I don't understand what you're saying here. If a tile is playable, then either player can play it.
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Bruce Padget
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I could have placed that tile, but the one place it would have fit could not possibly be claimed by me in the field placement phase, as that round developed. So it wasn't to my benefit to place it.

I'm sorry this wasn't more clear.
 
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David desJardins
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OK. But, as I remember the rules (I don't have them here), the tile placement phase doesn't end until there are no more playable tiles. So, if that tile was still available at the end, you or your opponent would have to play it in that spot.
 
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Bruce Padget
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From the rules, p. 3:

"After the last face-down tile has been drawn and placed in the region or set aside as an open choice tile, the 1st part ends. All open choice tiles are out of the game, even those that could now be played. Leave them aside until the beginning of the next round." [emphasis mine]

So you can start the second phase without all the tiles being placed.
 
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David Molnar
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bapadget wrote:
From the rules, p. 3:

"After the last face-down tile has been drawn and placed in the region or set aside as an open choice tile, the 1st part ends. All open choice tiles are out of the game, even those that could now be played. Leave them aside until the beginning of the next round." [emphasis mine]

So you can start the second phase without all the tiles being placed.


Note that this is a really good rule. If in fact the rule was as David remembered, then it would be more or less up to chance who went first in the second phase. But with the rule as is, what it boils down to is one player wants there to be an odd number of left over tiles, and the other player wants there to be an even number. And that is something that you can control to some extent.

Nice session.
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David desJardins
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molnar wrote:
Note that this is a really good rule. If in fact the rule was as David remembered, then it would be more or less up to chance who went first in the second phase. But with the rule as is, what it boils down to is one player wants there to be an odd number of left over tiles, and the other player wants there to be an even number. And that is something that you can control to some extent.


I'm not convinced it makes the difference you're saying. If there's a currently playable tile in the set-aside tiles, and you want to go first in the second phase (the usual situation), then you can always choose to play that playable tile rather than drawing the last face-down tile from the pool. So it still really comes down to luck how many unplayable tiles there are.

I agree I misremembered the rule, though.
 
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Bruce Murphy
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Not quite down to luck. Choices in where to place tiles can make one or more of the set-aside tiles playable as well.

B>
 
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