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Subject: A Strategic and Tactical Framework for Beginners rss

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Claudio
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This article is not so much about strategy or tactics, but more about looking at the dynamics of King of Siam, trying to strip away the chaos, and applying some common sense and arithmetic. All in an effort to allow new players to get competitive more quickly and give them a framework from which to build their tactical and strategic approach. I still count myself in the ranks of 'new' players, so bear with me...

During my first plays of the game cubes seemed to shift around rapidly and chaotically throughout the short course of the game. Upon further thought, I realized that this movement is an illusion. In fact, a maximum of five cubes per player will actually move during the game. The illusion is generated by the adding and subtracting of cubes by playing cards and taking influence. For example, in a three-player game, a maximum of 15 cubes will move, 36 cubes will be added, and 24 cubes will be taken away (not including cubes in resolved provinces). This is compared to 32 that start on the board. I do not mean to lessen the importance of moving cubes – in fact, the realization of this illusion of movement has made me place much more importance on the cards that do actually move cubes – but merely to provide a starting point for discussing tactics and strategy in the game.

Another simple fact to take into account when developing a strategy is that cubes will come on the board in roughly equal distribution. In our three-player example, assuming everyone plays all their cards and has no null actions, twelve of each color will enter the board. In a game with such tight winning conditions – both for provinces and for the game – this puts enormous emphasis on the initial quantities and spatial distributions of the factions.

This brings me to one of my first strategic tips: recognize the importance of the null add. The facts that a) cubes come out roughly evenly and b) that margin of victory is so slim puts considerable emphasis on null actions that prevent addition of a given color. Not placing cubes because they are not available or because there is no ‘launch pad’ reduces the faction’s prospects considerably and should be considered a very aggressive ‘bet’ against that faction.

This brings me to the question of how slim the margin of victory truly is. For the meta-control game that is the true aim of the game, controlling a four-province faction is a relatively rare thing. A two-province victor an even rarer thing. This means that most games will go to a faction with three provinces. With five other provinces to resolve, that means that without a British-controlled province, second place will also have three provinces. This highlights the benefits of pushing a less-favored faction to three-province in the mid-game. Of course, this should be done in a way and at a time where a) an opponent is committed to that faction, b) an additional province is made difficult or impossible for that faction., and c) you can protect your lead (or tie for control of the second place faction) on the second faction to reach three provinces (i.e. the winning faction).

This brings me to a tactic I like to call the ‘Hedge Pull’. In this move, you pull a critical cube of your opponents ‘preferred’ faction, thus achieving the double-goal of weakening the faction’s position while strengthening your control of that faction. This is particularly useful in the situation above where you are pushing a faction to an early three-province ‘lead’. By taking one of the cubes of that faction, you are debilitating its prospects in the later rounds while at the same time hedging your bet against them. An additional benefit of this action is that it forces an opponent into protecting his or her control of that faction if they still believe they can ride it to victory.

Another ‘bet’ against a non-preferred faction is what I like to call the Overload Swap. In this situation, you concede victory of a province which is about to be resolved to a non-preferred faction to which your opponent is clearly committed. The goal is to try to ‘waste’ cubes during the province’s resolution. Simply use the 2-for-1 card to retreat one of your preferred faction cubes into a competitive province while shifting two of the non-preferred faction cubes into the province. To ensure the effectiveness of this move, you may want to use a Maharacha card immediately after to lock down the province to ensure that it gets resolved and the cubes are ‘wasted’. The Overload Swap can also be used in conjunction with the Hedge Pull (of course, you should pull from another province as your primary intent should be to waste cubes). Note that this tactic will reseed the supply with the non-preferred faction, so, if you are holding an ‘add 2’ card for that faction and it is playable as null now, do it, because it may not be playable null later.

The tactics outlined above are only useful once you have decided to push a faction to victory. You should do this only when an opponent is clearly committed to a non-preferred faction. What does it mean to be ‘clearly committed’? I’m still thinking through this one, but I would guess that it comes down to an opponent that has an advantage in a particular faction of three or greater cubes in the mid-game and two toward the end and has played as many or more cards than you. This would mean that, if you are able to force your preferred faction to victory, you’ll be able to comfortably stay ahead of any accumulation of that faction on the part of your opponent. Just remember, you need cubes on the board to pull them for control!

One final tactic that I’d like to share is really only available in the three-player game is what I call the ‘Unappetizing Leave’. In this situation you pass when the player to your right gains a clear advantage by allowing the province to resolve. This forces the player to your left to play cards when they may not want to, thus forcing them to lose control of the gameplay and commit to factions they may not be ready to commit to. This has the effect of getting two players committed and out of control, allowing you to try and play against them. This can be a very risky but rewarding play.

So, that is it from me for now. I’m still pretty new to the game, so I’m very open to having my ideas shot down/discussed. I hope that they are useful in making the game more accessible and rewarding to new players. It is really a neat game that plays so well and differently at all player counts. And it plays so quickly, but packs so much punch.

Issues for future consideration:
The natural geographic advantages and disadvantages of the different factions.
The role of one to three British provinces in determining the winning requirements for the three factions.
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Joel J
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It's difficult for a lot of people to wrap their minds around this game. This a fantastic introduction, and gives a great feel for the game. It almost would have been a great review by itself.
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Claudio
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Thanks for the kind words. This is a really enjoyable game that is very different but interesting at all player counts. I wish it were more known and played because it really shines with four experienced players. Maybe I've done my small part to increase that pool.
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