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Subject: Strategy Tidbits: Opening Act rss

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Randy Brown
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In this bacon series, I will attempt to avoid my usual, overly-thorough approach to strategy articles, and keep a narrow focus.

In my previous articles, I've explored the 3 main strategies in Brass, and briefly discussed general approaches to each era. In this article, I will tackle the most common opening moves, highlighting their respective strengths and weaknesses. I will not cover every opening move, as many are only situational.

The four most popular moves that I've observed goo (in order of popularity) are: develop, build coal in Wigan/Oldham, build a cotton mill adjacent to a distant market access point, and build a port. With further adieu: adieu meeple, adieu meeple, to you and you and you meeple; here we go!

Development

Hands down this is the most popular action in the first turn. It gets invited to all of the parties, drives the fastest car, and dates the hottest guys cool. Is it the best move? Well, like everything else in Brass, that really depends.

The first player to take this action will only need to spend 1db 1db, virtually guaranteeing first crack at the next turn (the first full turn). Right away, that's better than a poke in the goo. Considering that you'll probably need to develop at some point, and will likely pay more than 1db 1db to do it later, that makes this option very attractive kiss indeed.

Seems like a Settler-Quarry no brainer zombie, so what's the downside? For starters, what you choose to develop (this will be the subject of a future article, so I won't get into specifics here) will commit you to a strategy. However, with only one action and 1db 1db invested, you are no more committed to a course of action than anyone else (yeah, that's called a straw-man, deal with it).

The real downside is that despite going first in the next round, you've actually ceded some initiative to the other players: the players who choose one of the other moves described below, will get first crack at their early game goals (EGGs laugh...). On the other hand, you'll be dropping higher point industries down (probably).

Initiative in the early game is an interesting thing. Getting to achieve your EGG is great, but also sitting back and seeing where everyone else is going, and then trying to find the road less traveled, is good too. Of course, if you do this right out of the gate (going first), you'll need to commit (even if only slightly) to a course before you see where everyone else is going. Like pretty much everything, it all balances out.

Developing for 1db 1db1db 1db (second) means more commitment and less money, but is more or less just as good. Developing for 5db 1db is more problematic because, in addition to the higher level of commitment/less money to spend, you may also lose out in the turn order game. While developing for 1db 1db is almost always a good deal, spending more may be actually overpaying. It's hard to know at the start what kind of game you'll be playing. In a high development game, you may average 4-6 pounds per development action, while in a low development game the average may be a lot less. Caveat Emptor is all I'm saying.

WorkingblankinblankablankcoalblankMine

Dropping a coal mine in Wigan or Oldham is a great way to get the jump on an early I&C strategy. Either location gives you two potential Iron Works sites. The 5db cost will probably give you 2nd or 3rd position for the next turn.

The I&C strategy is very versatile because it boosts your income 5db while scoring you points 5vp, so it's easy to switch to something else if others muscle in on your territory. However, this is not an opening move that you can take irrespective of your hand. If you do not have the cards to build that first IW, then this move is not for you.

The other downside is if only 1 player develops. Then your IW won't auto-flip, which sucks. It's not the end of the world robot or anything, but it does take some of the fun out of things.

What if you have excellent cards for this but some other choad beats you to the punch? Is it worth it to take the other location? It may be, if your hand is good. Perhaps you'll be able to beat out the other player in the IW competition, but it'll be slow going for both of you at first. Again, Caveat Emptor!

MillerblankTime

This was my favorite move when I was a newb. Does that make it a bad one? Yeah, pretty much. Seriously though, this move costs so much that it's less desirable than the other options. However, it still has legs. Your best case scenario is that you are left alone to pursue the early distant market trades. Yes you're guaranteed first crack at the DM (unless someone built a port in Lancaster/Preston/W&R and another player capitalized) angry. But, if you're lucky, you might be able to get 2 or 3 mills down, and sell them off to the DM before anyone else seriously threatens you thumbsup. Obviously, you'll need the right cards to pull this off.

A lot of good players like to use this opening to pursue the Rush over developing. Because of your falling to last in turn order, you may very well get first crack at cheap development on turn 2 (thanks to your friendly neighborhood I&C player), which could give first turn on turn 3. By building a level d10-1 and a level d10-2 mill, you'll be ready to drop level d10-3 mills with only 2 development actions, and you'll have some positive income (via the DM) to boot! If that's a lemon, then sign me up for a glass of lemonade.

BringblankonblanktheblankPort

I won't lie to you, I've never opened with a Port build. However, I've seen it done a number of times. There are two ways to go with it. You can build in Lancaster with an eye towards building an IW in Preston (with the obvious problem that a player who opened with coal will go before you cry and spoil your fun), or you can shoot for an early mill/port flip. This will either involve Lancaster and Preston, or Ellesmere Port and Warrington & Runcorn. As pointed out by Talltim below, opening with a port in Ellesmere will deny other players the chance to use your build in Lancaster/Preston for their own gain.

If you decide to build your Port in Preston, with an eye towards Lancaster for your mill, you may screw up the I&C player(s) by allowing the developing player(s) a crack at the first IW. So you'll get points and income from your industries while sewing chaos. When you put it that way, I can't believe I haven't tried it before sauron.

You're going to need the right hand to pull this off. Besides the above locations, you'll want some western mill locations to keep up the Rush, or more Port locations. I'm not a fan of building a lot of ports early, because you can never be sure if enough players will be pursuing the Rush to pay them off for you (not to mention you don't know how kind the DM is going to be). However, as an early way to start the Rush, and build up in western Lancashire, a first turn port has legs. thumbsup

Conclusion

There is no one must do move to open the game. Careful consideration of your cards is needed to suss out your opportunities. There are some situational starts that I didn't take a stab at here, but by and large, the above actions are what you will see in the first turn (in some combination).

Rest of the series: 1) The Big 3, 2) A Tale of Two Eras, 4) Alternative Rock
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Einmal ist keinmal
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I just recently saw a player take out a loan as his first action, securing his start in turn order for the following turn. I smiled. Not because I thought it was a bad move, but because I love to see players experiment/take a gamble. I haven't had the balls to do it yet.

It actually worked out well for him, as he finished a close 2nd place.
 
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Darrell Hanning
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If you and Grognads ever post to the same web page, my eyeballs might melt.
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Randy Brown
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I'll be discussing that opening (loan) in my next article, along with some others that can be useful given the right circumstances.

A Vorlon's eyes melting? laugh
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Tim Schwarz
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For a port opening, I think Ellsmere Port is a good alternative to Preston / Lancaster because you don't give a free build cotton and flip move to someone else in the 2d round.
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Randy Brown
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Good catch. I'll add that in.
 
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Ed Chen

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After reading a post by Greg909, I started considering which cards are useless instead of which cards are useful, and I think that's something to think about.

It's great if, say, you can do Wigin->Preston->Blackburn to flip your first coal and first two iron works. But then what are you going to do? If you get boxed out of Warrington and your starting hand is, say:

Wigin, Preston, Blackburn, Blackburn, Birkenhead, Coal Mine, Coal Mine, Colne

you can pretty quickly find yourself in trouble if you don't draw useful cards. Now with 5 draws, there is a decent chance you'll find something, but I've played enough games now that sometimes you just continue to get crap, and you are really sad when that happens.

In a situation like this, you can instead often build a cotton mill and churn through cards. The standards are (depending on whether you think you might get poached on the distant market or not):

Turn 1: cotton mill (and go last next turn)
Turn 2: canal + loan (and go first next turn)
Turn 3: loan + sell

Turn 1: cotton mill
Turn 2: canal + cotton mill (and go last next turn)
Turn 3: canal + loan (and go first next turn)
Turn 4: loan + sell

Turn 1: cotton mill
Turn 2: canal + canal (and go first next turn)
Turn 3: cotton mill + sell

Substitute develop for any of the loan options if you want and if it preserves your position. These options allow you burn a lot of useless cards and hopefully leave you some options going into turn 4 or 5.

Just my 2cp
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Philip Eve
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Think hard before building a coal mine in Bury or Warrington & Runcorn (or to a lesser extent, Bolton or Oldham). If some horrible jerk builds a coal mine in Manchester you might have trouble flipping it!
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Randy Brown
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I usually open with the coal mine in Oldham only if I could get an IW in both Manchester and Rochdale. That way, if someone builds coal in Manchester, I can still go for Rochdale. However, the problem is that coal in Manchester opens the possibility of another player (like the developer) snagging the first IW, which really sucks. You would need to spend considerable effort to get your Oldham coal mine exhausted (but it is doable, even in a high coal game).

I prefer the Wigan opening if I have a choice. As Ed points out above, you can be trapped, but I'd rather be trapped in the West than in the East. The West has greater flexibility for pursuing your rail era redtrain goals.

Also, if you're really trapped, there's no shame in using a double action build. It often blindsides your opponents, making it worth the premium you pay in actions.

I would not recommend that anyone open with coal in Bury. That's trying to implement I&C strategy against your hand. The exception is if you go last on the first turn, and no one has built a coal mine, leaving you an opportunity despite not having an ideal hand for it. I will cover the coal mine in Manchester in my next article.
 
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Chris Ferejohn
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Desiderata wrote:
I just recently saw a player take out a loan as his first action, securing his start in turn order for the following turn. I smiled. Not because I thought it was a bad move, but because I love to see players experiment/take a gamble. I haven't had the balls to do it yet.


Huh. Not that I've played Brass that much, but I think someone has taken a loan with their first action in every game I've played. Seems a particularly worthwhile move for the player in 4th, since then he gets to double move, having seen what everyone else has started with and can then react.
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Ed Chen

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When I first started, I thought that every single pound was super important. As I played more and realized how easy loans were to get, I thought pounds weren't that important. As I got better I realized that every single pound was super important.

Taking a loan in the first round isn't good unless you know for a fact you can pay it off quickly, preferably in the 2nd round. So for example if you are going last and someone has put a coal in Manchester, taking a loan to go first and then placing an iron works in Manchester is a great move.

Taking a loan to randomly get to go first to take a move which is most likely not contested, and therefore where your turn order doesn't matter, isn't that efficient. And if your play group regularly places coal mines in the first turn in locations with iron works, I would suggest they try a different strategy, as it may work out better for them.

Also off topic of the previous message, but as an addendum to my post above, I've stopped using all of those openings I listed above. They probably work fine as a beginner or even into intermediate games, but IMO they are all too slow to be really effective at high levels. Once you encounter opponents who are willing to work with each other, you will quickly find yourself trailing behind with no way to catch up.

Of course who knows, after another 100 games or so I might change my mind again Certainly Brass is a game where I've held significantly different viewpoints as I've grown more experienced.
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Randy Brown
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Chris,

As Ed said above, taking a loan with the first action is not usually a good idea. If you play with opponents who regularly seed IW towns with coal, then it can work. Otherwise, there isn't much you can do with your bold move to go first. You'll end up paying 6-9 pounds for this privilege. In the rail era, such a move to manipulate turn order makes more sense. In the canal era, it's hard to spend your initial 30 pounds. There's no need to be paying for a loan of cash that you won't be able to spend for a while.
 
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Jason Shapiro
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Dropping a port for your first action is a colossally bad move. You NEED to develop your level 1 ports if you're going to play them. The only time I would play a level 1 port is if I need it to flip my level 3 or 4 cotton.

If you're going ports, it's reasonable to get 5 ports flipped during the canal phase, maybe 4 if things go poorly. Assuming it's 5, by not developing, you are trading a level 3 and a level 4 port for two level 1 ports. (instead of building 2-2-3-3-4 you are building 1-1-2-2-3). Two level 1 ports give you a total of 4 victory points. A level 3 and a level 4 port flipped in the canal phase give you 30 victory points. By not taking one measly little develop action, you are robbing yourself of 26 victory points.
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Randy Brown
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Jason, thanks for the advice. I'm going to need to bite the bullet and try out the port strategy. It never quite made sense to me the way I'd seen it done, and you're comments have helped me to see why. I suppose I'll need to go back to playing online so that I can gain the experience I need to straighten out this article. While I realize that its old and not going to be seen much anymore, I do put a lot of work into my strategy articles, and I want them to be accurate.
 
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Ed Chen

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Keep in mind that the port strategy mostly only works against good (or at least experienced) people. If your games usually end up with a winner with less than 130 points (in a 4 player game), you'll likely never get the port strategy running on all cylinders.
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Randy Brown
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My opponents aren't at the highest level, but our games don't go that low. I generally average around 150 for 4p and 200 for 3p. One reason that I haven't tried ports before is that I find my opponents don't pursue the rush hard enough to justify it. That's why I'm thinking of resuming online play to test it out.
 
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Jon G
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random user wrote:
Keep in mind that the port strategy mostly only works against good (or at least experienced) people. If your games usually end up with a winner with less than 130 points (in a 4 player game), you'll likely never get the port strategy running on all cylinders.


It's worth discussing *why* this is true. The ports player really cleans up when 2 other players are trying to get their level 3 mills flipped, and the fourth player is focusing on something that isn't ports. If that's true, then the cotton players would much rather flip your level 3 port than waste an action playing their L1 port, and the other player is working on coal, iron, ships, L1 mills, or port-mills pairs.

It can backfire when:
- The distant market buys 4-6 cotton
- Somebody else develops ports and competes with you
- A new player drops L1 and L2 ports when they run out of other things to do
- A couple of players build their own ports (sometimes because that's the hand they were dealt
- You don't get the cards you need to put down 4-5 ports

The port strategy can really backfire if it gets too much competition; if someone builds a L1 or L2 port next to your L3 in Preston or Lancaster, you're not getting flipped first. In one of my recent games, a newbie placed an L1 port next to the port player's L4 port. As it happened, that L4 port never flipped. Like Ed said, newbies are especially prone to placing L1 ports, or building low-level port-mill pairs rather than give you a pile of points.

The trick is to try to discourage competition: Ideally, you want one port each in WR, Ellesmere, Preston, Lancaster, and either Fleetwood or Liverpool. With Preston and Lancaster, you're looking to help a cotton player build beside you (blocking the other port spot); this works better if the other location cards for that spot are still out there somewhere, and two others are developing cotton. In the south, the best case scenario is to build in Warrington while holding the Ellesmere card for a later build. Fleetwood can be iffy, since connecting it costs an action (which can be fine if you need to use a tempo), while building with the card (but not connecting it) only works if the player who needs to use it is connected to Preston. Liverpool can cause you problems, since it has two other port spots when players holding the card can drop cheap ports. It's easier to use online, where you can see how many L'pool cards are left before you connect it.

If another player develops ports after you, you have two decent options:
1. Get your L2's down fast (before the other guy places ports that block your cards). They'll either back off, or place their ports. If the latter, you need to pursue a mixed strategy. Too many ports (especially 2 each in Preston & Lancaster) will kill the port players and help the cotton players too much.
2. Develop away your L2 ports, place your L3's, and flip them yourself. If this someone uses one of your ports, you may get a L4 flipped in the canal age. This can be the better choice when you only have 3 port cards and decent cotton location cards.

I've found the port strategy works quite well with limited port competition, and I've won most of the games when that works out. I will say, though, that I rarely get more than 4 ports flipped in the canal age, usually both 2's, one 3, and one 3 or 4. You really can't can't count on flipping 5 ports... too much has to go right
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stephen biggs
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Desiderata wrote:
I just recently saw a player take out a loan as his first action, securing his start in turn order for the following turn. I smiled. Not because I thought it was a bad move, but because I love to see players experiment/take a gamble. I haven't had the balls to do it yet.

It actually worked out well for him, as he finished a close 2nd place.

A turn-1 loan only costs 3-steps on the income track. Taking loans later costs more steps & can net cost more money.
It "spends" no money. So your going to have first move turn-2.
Consider the following pair of moves for turn-1.
Turn-1:
player-1 develops ships for a cost of £2. (planning to build a ship in Liverpool)
player-2 takes a loan.

Turn-2:
player-2 moves first. So he develops ships & builds a ship in Liverpool. While that doesn't wreck player-1 it certainly reduces the value of the his first turn action.
Player-1 has to do something that doesn't use the ship development he made in turn-1.

Developing ships turn-1 is bad, unless your the last player and none of the earlier players have developed or taken loans.
 
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Randy Brown
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That's not a very fair analogy, as even you point out that going for that ship right away is a poor play. Moreover, without player 3 building a port in Liverpool (which would also be a poor opening move), that ship can't be built.

Taking loans while on the 10 space does make sense. Taking a loan with your 1st action doesn't. The reason is that by the time you pay that loan off, you'll have lost 6-9 GBPs.

Now if someone were to open with coal in Manchester after 2 players have developed, then I suppose a first turn loan isn't so bad. You could immediately cover the negative in that case, and only lose 3 GBPs. But that's another situation where another player made a weak move.

What do you gain by going 1st in the second turn? Nothing really. I much prefer going later, after someone has built an IW for me so that I can grab another cheap development.
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Martin Sharman
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The use of all those icons gets in the way of the message.

I have absolutely no idea what this means:

Developing for 1db 1db1db 1db (second) means more commitment and less money, but is more or less just as good. Developing for 5db 1db is more problematic because, in addition to the higher level of commitment/less money to spend, you may also lose out in the turn order game. While developing for 1db 1db is almost always a good deal, ...
 
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Ed Chen

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Kalense wrote:
The use of all those icons gets in the way of the message.

I have absolutely no idea what this means:

Developing for 1db 1db1db 1db (second) means more commitment and less money, but is more or less just as good. Developing for 5db 1db is more problematic because, in addition to the higher level of commitment/less money to spend, you may also lose out in the turn order game. While developing for 1db 1db is almost always a good deal, ...


It just means developing for 4 (paying 2 pounds twice for two iron) vs developing for 6 (paying 3 pounds twice for two iron with the assumption that two players in front of you have both developed) vs developing for 2 (first person to develop, paying 1 pound twice for two iron) is almost (i would strike out the almost) always a good deal

As a other random note, it's kind of amusing to go back and read my old posts for Brass on this game.
 
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