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Subject: How do you make proper use of explore powers and leeching? rss

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In this thread: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/3977869, Tom mentioned:

Tom Lehmann wrote:
My second reaction was to look at the top start worlds and note that they were all worlds that give players early card advantage. The led me to hypothesize that the play on Genie *taken as a whole* was what I would call "intermediate" level, based on comparisons with the playtest groups' experiences with start worlds. (This is not to say that some Genie players aren't extremely strong or that this won't change over time.)

Now, to give Rob credit, he did go back and take a harder look at the Alpha Centauri data and found that it fared less well in winning % among the stronger players. To me, that was expected. Card advantage is something that is fairly easy for beginning and intermediate players to exploit (as opposed to leeching or explore powers, etc.).


Which leads to my question:

How do you make proper use of explore powers and leeching?

I say this with reference to my own stats from Rob Renaud's RFTGstats page; amongst my weakest worlds are Epsilon Eridani and Separatist Colony. I also had a quick glance over some of the top rated player's stats and noticed that those 2 worlds were the weaker worlds more often than not. I mainly play those 2 worlds like I would play New Sparta (my favourite world) with mixed results. How does one plan to set up a tableau to 'use explore powers' or 'leech'?

With card advantage, you pick trade when you've got a good good to trade. You might also put down trade powers to improve your return from trading. How does this translate to explore powers? Would you put down, say, Expedition Force and explore more than usual? Would you explore more often than usual if you start with Separatist Colony? The only way I can see where it actually helps is that if the opponent needs to explore to get cards, and your explore power gives you the bonus, but this seems more a passive rather than active use for me. Also, you can't really predict when the opponent is going for an 'explore' stratregy, because there isn't really such a thing. Is there anyway to actively 'use' the explore powers?

Same goes with the 'leeching' bit. With Epsilon Eridani, I usually trade the good from the first world that I put down, and the consume power is usually ignored.

Any thoughts?
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Andrew
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Explore is a great, yet often underappreciated phase.

If you want to develop or settle, and you know that someone else will call that phase (eg they have a massive hand of cards, or no production worlds), you are at an advantage calling Explore instead. There's a thread/article somewhere that lays this out, but essentially you see more cards while not missing out on the relative discount.

Explore+5 is very important to find cards that interlock with your tableau, which can be crucial to catapulting you to first place.
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Serge Levert
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fateswanderer wrote:
Explore+5 is very important to find cards that interlock with your tableau, which can be crucial to catapulting you to first place.

Yeah i often like to e+5 when i know there's gonna be a dev this turn, have the cash for a 6dev, but don't have a good one in hand.
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Rob Neuhaus
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Here is some data for homeworld winning rate as a function of player skill

The following are the rating buckets, according to the ratings on rftgstats.com . The buckets were picked so that each bucket has approximately the same amount of data, and not by percentile of player skill, since most of the high ranked players have played on genie a lot.

1449, 1527, 1580, 1633, 10000

I am too lazy to write Javascript to graph this at the moment, but if anyone wants to throw it into an excel and produce a line chart, that would be cool. The numbers here are raw winning rates, which are approximately win percentage * 2 (except scaled fairly for multiplayer games). Note for simplicity, these not normalized by player skill, unlike most of the data on my site. However, the random assignment of homeworlds to players should mitigate the skill effect.

From just eyeballing the data, it doesn't really look like it's just that low skilled players benefit disproportionately from the high card flow worlds (AR, AC, DAF), for example, the AC advantage over ELC looks fairly constant through the rating buckets, and DAFs advantage over ELC grows with player skill.

On the other hand, it does seem like military helps the lesser skilled players disproportionately.


Earth's Lost Colony 0.59136 0.85807 1.04394 1.10508 1.30991
Alpha Centauri 0.69773 0.97982 1.18898 1.25207 1.41534
Epsilon Eridani 0.62399 0.84264 1.01381 1.10986 1.31103
Separatist Colony 0.56811 0.85923 1.00433 1.16063 1.27730
Doomed World 0.49044 0.76779 0.93072 0.98753 1.21770
Ancient Race 0.62951 0.91751 1.12886 1.22482 1.41195
Old Earth 0.50563 0.78812 0.95114 1.08802 1.27083
Damaged Alien Factory 0.55034 0.85087 1.03623 1.16475 1.36591
New Sparta 0.72430 0.98180 1.14125 1.24948 1.38343
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Kester J
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Separatist Colony I can't comment on, as my record with it is terrible.

I do have a decent amount of success with EE, and I feel that playing it like New Sparta is certainly a mistake. I'd rate the value of the consume power vs the +1 military as ~2:1, and tend to make a lot of use of the consume power accordingly. This includes letting windfalls be fed to it rather than trading, unless I have either no direction or an expensive direction in my hand when I'll trade instead.

EE can set up 4VP+1 or 2 card consume engines very quickly and cheaply, which gives it nice flexibility. If the opponent hasn't kept up with my engine, I'll expand it and run it. If they have, I've probably done it cheaper and can push card advantage for a turn or two to run a develop or military strategy while keeping close in VP chips if they run their engine.

That's what's tended to work for me anyway: while I'm sure it's not the apogee of EE strategy, give it a go and see if it works out for you.
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Once the Geek has you, there is no escape...
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Here's the link for the article on Explore, if anyone is interested.

In response to your questions:

Having +1 Look over my opponent doesn't usually mean I will explore more, except maybe in the very early game (as I already tend to explore a fair amount), but if my opponent has +1 Look over me, I am very likely to explore a little less. If, however, I have +1 Keep over my opponent, then I will definitely explore more. Likewise, I will certainly explore less if my opponent has +1 Keep. Regarding Separatist Colony, I will often explore a lot in the early game.

Until you are able to target your opponents' role choices with specific leeching powers in your tableau, Exploring is the foundation of leeching. You can just spam your tableau with leeching powers such as Pan-Galactic Research or something similar for consumption or trade, but that's a big investment and it might not pay off.

Many people miss one half of the leeching process. You must both establish a leech and have something better to pursue. If you have nothing better to do, then your best move becomes using your own power that was originally intended as a leech. This means that your opponents are now going to very effectively leech off of you.

Kester's points are solid regarding Epsilon Eridani. Often, I'll consumex2 a couple of Novelty goods on it in the early game or I'll let my opponents trade force my good to be consumed for a card and a VP while I do something more beneficial for me (Dev/Settle if they're card poor or Produce if they can't leech it).
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rrenaud wrote:
On the other hand, it does seem like military helps the lesser skilled players disproportionately.


Excellent. I love data that is grouped by skill; it is always fun to argue about it.

I wager that military favors weaker players because it's higher variance; a bad produce-consume strategy will lose pretty much every time, but a bad military strategy can still get lucky.

Incidentally, a friend of mine has a winning rate of three with a world; how is that possible? http://rftgstats.com/player_Restart.html

Quote:
Card advantage is something that is fairly easy for beginning and intermediate players to exploit (as opposed to leeching or explore powers, etc.).


I'd actually attribute more of the success with windfall worlds to a different factor - against a bad player, you will almost never lose unless you have a bad start. With windfall worlds, you have at worst a mediocre start, and they are the best worlds for playing against a bad player. There's a decent population of those on genie (no offense), so they form a fair amount of the statistics for winning rate.

I would argue that you can not be consistently good with military without lots of leeching, yet New Sparta is one of the higher ranked worlds for higher ranked players. So I don't know if I'd agree with that, as far as I'm interpreting leeching.

What does reduce the level of skill is not knowing who you're playing against. Optimal play will vary quite a bit between a beginner, a mediocre player, or an expert, but it's hard to pull off certain gambles without knowing your opponent's tendencies (rank alone frequently doesn't cut it). So that's the biggest limiting factor to me.
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Stunna brings up a great point when he says that it's easier to crush poor players with lower variance worlds (and I don't think it's radical to claim that military is inherently higher variance than windfall).

Is there a way to determine winrates of starting worlds when both players are highly ranked?
 
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Rob Neuhaus
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Everything is normalized by player skill. You can get an arbitrarily high win rate for a card by

1) Getting your rating arbitrarily low.
2) Beating a single particularly highly rated opponent
3) Playing that card.
4) Refusing to play the card in any other game.

If the only time a particular card showed up were only expected to win the game with probability .1, but you actually won, then the winning rate for the card would be 10.
 
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Tom Lehmann
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Kester's comments on EE are quite good. I will add:

* EE should often consider placing non-military worlds as well as military worlds. In the base game, worlds such as Artist Colony, Secluded World, Spice World, Gem World, and Refugee World are its friends, in addition to the usual suspects of Star Nomad Lair, Rebel Fuel Cache, Last/Gnarssh, Runaway Robots, and New Survivalists.

* Don't be scared of consume powers. Given you have nice consumption for a card and a VP, you can put down a card like Public Works during the early going without worrying about whether it will suck a good away.

For example, in a multi-player game, you might call Settle on turn 1 to place Runaway Robots and leech a Develop to place Public Works and AC's Consume:Trade for a card and a VP, leaving you at 3 cards and 1 VP (plus possibly a card for Explore if someone called that).

On turn 2, while the non-AC players are short on cards (and calling Trade), you can either Settle another cheap windfall (to leech again) or Artist Colony to either leech off AC (who sometimes calls Produce on turn 2) or to set up your own turn 3 Produce call, which will now generate two goods, 1 card, and a turn 4 Trade for 4 cards and another VP.

This sort of sequence will often put you ahead 1 tableau spot, give you 6-8 cards in hand, and set you up to swing into Produce:Consume mode (you already can produce and consume two goods, gaining two cards on the cycle) by adding, say, Plague World or Prosperous World (or Star Nomad Lair and Expanding Colony or Comet Zone and either Outlaw World or Terraforming Robots). If you go this route, Diversified Economy or Consumer Markets are your next best friends, as they will immediately generate more cards for you and, once you have a Genes or another Novelty production world, respectively, allow you to scale up your cycle from 6 VPs to 8-12 VPs as other players continue to Settle.

Alternatively, if you have drawn some nice military worlds and Drop Ships, you can switch over to a military strategy. Or, if you have drawn Investment Credits or Interstellar Bank, plus GalFed, go for a development strategy.

EE is extremely flexible. In 2-player games versus ELC/Toy-shop, it wins about 60% against the straight Settle/Produce line and about 50% against the slower, but deadlier, Settle/Trade line. If you want to do some solitaire training with EE, I recommend playing against these setups as they are quite simple to model and provide the ability to leech off a Produce/Consume cycle, while being under extreme time pressure. You won't be able to test out EE Produce/Consume strategies (as there aren't enough VPs in the pool), but you will learn how to set up a good PC leech and then swing into other strategies.
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Eric Jome
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crushedguava wrote:

How do you make proper use of explore powers and leeching?


First, I don't think you are reading Tom right here. It's not making good use of both together, but either one. That is, it is hard to use Explore well and hard to be good a leeching.

Leeching is essentially having a tableau that does something useful for you when your opponent does something. If they play Explore, you get to look at or perhaps even keep more cards than the standard 2/1. If they Consume, you can get a few points from consuming some spare goods or perhaps discarding for Deficit Spending. So, essentially, look for cards or combinations that let you do things when something is going to happen... a classic example is probably Interstellar Bank. If develop happens, you draw a card. Doesn't matter if you wanted develop or not, you are getting a benefit whenever it happens.

Building a tableau around Explore is possible in Rebel Vs Imperium, but not really in the basic game or the first expansion. The key element of a powerful Explore based strategy is getting as early as possible the ability to combine all cards drawn into your hand before discarding. This lets you strongly upgrade your hand to the best cards every Explore. Seeing a few more becomes much more powerful with this tool.

And it never hurts to find Galactic Survey: SETI in your hand if you really want to get ahead with Explore. Explore combines well with strategies that rely on combinations, especially development based strategies. You'll want some military strength no matter what to settle the worlds related to Explore... Separatist Colony is the closest thing to an Explore oriented starting world. Having the Explore goal in play is handy. And as others mentioned, at least one extra keep is nice, but not as crucial as mixing with your hand.
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Tom Lehmann wrote:
EE is extremely flexible.


I could not agree more. Epsilon Eridani is a great starting world because it can often do well with any starting hand. A small production world to start is a favorite of mine - New Survivalists forever!
 
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cosine wrote:
First, I don't think you are reading Tom right here. It's not making good use of both together, but either one. That is, it is hard to use Explore well and hard to be good a leeching.

I did read his comments correctly, but perhaps I didn't phrase my question(s) properly. I was actually asking 2 separate questions:
1) How do you use explore powers well and how do you leech well with explore powers? More specifically, what is the advantage from having Separatist Colony as a start world?
2) How do you leech well specifically with regards to start world Epsilon Eridani's power?

Question 2 has been answered very well by Kester and Tom (thanks!).

Which brings us back to question 1. I wonder why Tom didn't adress the explore and Separatist Colony issue .

fateswanderer wrote:
Explore is a great, yet often underappreciated phase.

If you want to develop or settle, and you know that someone else will call that phase (eg they have a massive hand of cards, or no production worlds), you are at an advantage calling Explore instead. There's a thread/article somewhere that lays this out, but essentially you see more cards while not missing out on the relative discount.

Explore+5 is very important to find cards that interlock with your tableau, which can be crucial to catapulting you to first place.

entranced wrote:
Yeah i often like to e+5 when i know there's gonna be a dev this turn, have the cash for a 6dev, but don't have a good one in hand.

I understand these concepts, but I remain unconvinced that there's all there is to it. The concepts above can basically be applied to any start world and to any tableau regardless of explore powers available. Since an Explore+5 lets you look at 7 cards, I don't see how a one-off explore to look at 8 (or 9,10) cards (while still keeping only 1) instead gives you any significant advantage over the a basic explore+5. I must agree though, that with the new explore power in RvI, then you get to combine your hand and that's a different kettle of fish altogether.

The Mad Vulcan's comments are certainly more enlightening:

TheMadVulcan wrote:
If, however, I have +1 Keep over my opponent, then I will definitely explore more.

I agree with this wholeheartedly. Let's now set this aside.

TheMadVulcan wrote:
Having +1 Look over my opponent doesn't usually mean I will explore more, except maybe in the very early game (as I already tend to explore a fair amount), but if my opponent has +1 Look over me, I am very likely to explore a little less.

TheMadVulcan wrote:
Regarding Separatist Colony, I will often explore a lot in the early game.

TheMadVulcan wrote:
Many people miss one half of the leeching process. You must both establish a leech and have something better to pursue. If you have nothing better to do, then your best move becomes using your own power that was originally intended as a leech. This means that your opponents are now going to very effectively leech off of you.

I guess this is the crux of the matter. In the early game, you explore when you need to, and sure, having the explore power helps. However, there comes a point where you either:
1) Decide that you have good enough cards in your hand to start calling develops and/or settles and pursuing a strategy (but might still be at a disadvantage when facing high card flow start worlds).
2) Are still stuck and need to explore more to look for better cards, in which case, the high card flow worlds are at a massive advantage.

In situation 1, the opponent will likely not need to call explore anymore, which means your explore power is somewhat redundant already. In situation 2, well, seeing more cards is still good, but you'd not be able to keep up in phases where there are more than 1 develop and/or settle phase called.

A situation where the explore power is definitely helpful is that your opponent is also stuck for cards (e.g. OE, ELC, maybe EE) and they need to explore. In that situation, you might put down an additional explore power to leech off their explores, but I can't see this happening too often.

Tom, you explained in fair detail an early, ideal strategy that best takes advantage of what EE has to offer. Is there something similar for SC? I guess your original comment sparked the desire in me to want to discover new things. Am I looking for something that isn't there?

Comparing start worlds as well, the so called 'better' worlds (NS, ELC, AC, AR etc) scores less points, so, SC would be included in that group. What am I missing here?

Or is it fair to say that SC would shine for better and more advanced players who know more card combinations, and is thus able to take advantage of the marginally more cards that is seen?
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Rob Neuhaus
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Here is the data involving just players rated > 1633 (~96th percentile) on rftgstats.

The first number is the win rate, the second is a 2 standard dev error bar, the third is the number of games the data is based on.


Alpha Centauri 1.114 +- 0.076 693
New Sparta 1.078 +- 0.075 707
Earth's Lost Colony 1.031 +- 0.079 636
Damaged Alien Factory 1.024 +- 0.077 700
Ancient Race 1.007 +- 0.075 726
Doomed World 0.969 +- 0.079 653
Epsilon Eridani 0.942 +- 0.077 685
Old Earth 0.926 +- 0.077 672
Separatist Colony 0.892 +- 0.081 613


Maybe a cleaner hypothesis is that SC is weak among strong players, at least for the distribution of games that are played on genie (mostly 2p, exclusively TGS, slightly more goals games than not) is the best explanation for crushedguava's struggles?

Against a bad player, SCs explore power and +1 mil is actually useful in disaster aversion, compared to say, ELC or Old Earth. Openings like finding a (possibly military) brown windfall or an early cheap dev with a dev bonus are usually good enough openings for an expert to still have good chances to beat a weak player. On the other hand, while such openings are decent against skilled player, but I certainly wouldn't think they are overall better than average chances. After the early game, in 2 player, the explore power mostly loses its utility, prod/trade starts to generate nearly as many cards seen as an explore +1/1, but has the big advantage in terms of cards kept.

Edit: data refresh

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Tom Lehmann
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crushedguava wrote:
I wonder why Tom didn't adress the explore and Separatist Colony issue [...] Is there something similar for SC?

Two reasons: A) I prefer to let other players answer first (as Kester did for EE), so I don't dominate strategy discussions. B) there are only so many hours in the day and I have a lot of other tasks -- I try to limit myself to one "essay" response per day on BGG.

SC is also a bit tricky to explain and I first want to explain another concept that pertains to SC, EE, and IW. But, I'll try and get to these answers before the weekend is over.
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+1 explore from the very beginning can add up to a LOT of extra cards seen throughout the course of the game, especially if you explore frequently. There's a good chance that among those extra cards you will find some worth significantly more points than you would have played otherwise.

I suspect that a lot of players who get Separatist Colony try to play it like it's New Sparta, and make a big effort to get their military up high. I prefer to instead play low strength military worlds while exploring.

Cheap military worlds have a lot common qualities: A lot of them are green and/or Uplift, A lot of them are windfalls, a lot of them have explore powers or the Rebel keyword. Even if these worlds are not worth a lot of points on their own, there are a huge number of 6-cost developments that score extra points for these traits, and with your explore bonus you will likely find a couple of them.
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Tom Lehmann
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Several posters have noted that playing EE or SC like a "smaller" New Sparta doesn't tend to work very well. I agree. I think one of the reasons for this is that it takes too long, starting at just 1 Military, to gradually increase your Military.

NS, in the base game, can start by placing, say, an Uplift windfall world, followed by Former Penal Colony (+1), followed by Pirate World, then Space Marines, then the Lost Alien Warship, etc. and it all can work out fine, providing windfall goods to sell for cards and getting to Military 7 to be able to place large Rebel worlds for major points before the end of the game.

If EE or SC (or Imperium Warlord in the second expansion) try this, it's often too slow due to having to place another development to get to 2+ Military initially. Often the timing of developments and military worlds doesn't quite work out, plus having to place several small developments or worlds for increased Military means your tableau is a bit weak in terms of VPs; a chain of cards like Star Nomad Lair, Expedition Force, an Uplift windfall, Former Penal Colony, Rebel Warrior Race, Space Marines, Lost Alien Warship means your tableau is already 8 cards by the time you've hit 7+ Military (instead of 6 cards for New Sparta).

There are two general solutions to this issue.

One is to go for a small Military strategy, where you might never boost your Military at all and just play one or two of Star Nomad Lair, Rebel Fuel Cache, or Last of the Gnarrsh, etc. for cheap cards. Alternately, you might boost your Military once early on (with Expedition Force, Space Marines, Space Mercenaries, or Rebel Troops), to increase the number of the windfall worlds that you can conquer. (In the second expansion, with takeovers on, this can often still succeed because the VP value of your Military worlds is generally too small for them to be worth taking.)

The other approach is to aim for a rapidly increasing Military. For example, Expeditionary Force, an Uplift windfall, Drop Ships, and Lost Alien Warship can get EE, SC, or IW to 7 Military with just four card placements. With the first two expansions, combos like Space Mercenaries/Drop Ships or Space Marines/Mercenary Fleet will enable 5-7 Military (spending up to 2 cards for extra Military as needed). Add an Alien or genes world that gives +Military and you have a very nice 3 card combo that gets you to big Military and produces a sweet windfall good along the way.

A hybrid approach is to place one small +Military development initially (to get to a wider range of windfall worlds) and to keep Drop Ships or Mercenary Fleet in reserve (spending any other Military developments you find for cards), until you have both a linking Alien or Genes windfall world, plus a nice 5+ Rebel for decent VPs. Then, on a turn where both Develop and Settle are called, you activate this "military option" by placing your development and windfall world. On the next turn, you trade to fill your hand back with cards (and place the Rebel world if Settle is called). The advantage of this approach is you don't commit to big military until you know it's going to be worth it.

This hybrid approach allows a player to spend the early mid-game developing either a nice production or development leech, depending on where the game is heading, and still swing into big military during the late mid-game if enough Rebel worlds or supporting 6-developments show up. It can be especially potent for Separatist Colony, whose extra explore draws can allow you to gradually accumulate the cards you need to pull this off while you're doing other things.

EE, SC, or IW can successfully go big military; it just requires a slightly different approach than New Sparta. Enjoy!
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It's tough to say how I exactly play Separatist Colony. Mainly, I'd say I tend to play a bit more like it's a 3+ player game, with more exploring and less develop/settling unless I have a strong strategy, as opposed to the mediocre one I'll usually settle for. Other than the initial settle + trade (only for military windfalls; I don't like settle/trading nonmilitary windfalls when I have military, for several reasons) or playing good early developments (the develop bonuses, expeditionary force/space mercenaries), there isn't much I'll do with high frequency.

Explore +1/+1 becomes quite a lot better than Explore +5 in a lot of new situations. You can stall and not give up your card advantage, which is really useful in many situations, while still seeing many more cards (3 more). Explore +5 becomes a relatively rare play for me, although I'll double explore from time to time.

Mainly, I'm trying to keep my options open and counter my opponent's strategies until I find something good to go after. Speed military is probably my favorite, and I'll try to grab/keep/play Terraforming cards, Improved Logistics, Seti, Imperium Lords, and the cheap military windfalls that fuel those strategies. I try to keep my hand size up so I don't have to spend the cards I drew (which neuters explore and makes it inferior to develop/settle), so I avoid playing more expensive cards unless they are pretty good.

I still avoid power military (4+) unless I have some sort of immediate gain from doing it (which I do with all starting worlds). Separatist colony is the second-best starting world in the game for power military, but I really want to have a couple of good cards before I pull the trigger and try to run out the clock. The explore power gives me a much better chance of pulling this off. I'll stick to +1/+1 until it seems likely that I'll go for power military, in which case I might start double exploring or even +5ing. Catching the right military card is always much better than saving a card, but it needs to be the right military card.

I'll develop spam if I have two discounts or one discount + a development I like (or G-Fed), but it's not my preferred strategy without a strong advantage. If you try to rush the board, you're missing most of the point of the world... so you should have good cards out when you try it. I'd rather rush with military because military gives better point values and free cards. Develop rushes are based around the notion that you don't need to explore much and can leech settles for a cheap world; Separatist colony helps a bit with the second bit, but it's not great.

Production can happen any time you have a windfall and pick up the right cards. I'll hammer away with a production advantage (and worlds to cover me in case of a settle), but that doesn't come up that often. If you catch your opponent with bad cards, you can leech explore very well while filling up your hand with produce/trading.

I'll break from the explore routine when I think my opponent is going to explore (usually because they have a small hand size). I'll almost always try to throw down a few useful cards when my opponent probably can't reciprocate. Then, I'll reevaluate based on what I have.
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Tom Lehmann
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Separatist Colony is a demanding start world to play, partly due to "an embarrassment of riches" problem and partly because of some special issues surrounding Explore.

I'll begin by looking at two ways things can go wrong.

The first problem is that typically your opponents will call Explore during the first few turns of the game. At 4 keep 1, you'll often find a useful card. After several Explores, your hand may be full of useful cards. Now, you're facing an embarrassment of riches. You might have a wonderful six (Trade League, Gal Fed, Terraforming Guild, etc.) in hand, but to place it you're going to have to spend all the other valuable cards you've accumulated. What was the point of having an Explore advantage, if you have to throw away most of the fruits of your labor? A typical response to this is put down very cheap cards (so that you can keep pace with tableau growth without spending your valuable cards). Unfortunately, this often just postpones the problem. You spend several cheap cards, then get some new cards to replace them, and then are still in exactly the same position, except that your tableau is a bit longer and weaker... Sigh.

The second problem is that one 4 keep 1 Explore will often suggest a synergy between one of the drawn cards and one of your cards in hand. Then, the next Explore will suggest a different synergy between a drawn card and a different card in hand. And so on. Pretty soon, you have a hand full of 3 or 4 competing partial plans. So then, you try not to spend any of these cards until you draw a third card that will show you which way to actually go. I've seen players, particularly indecisive players, try to keep so many plans going, that they go nowhere until the late mid-game when they finally find one. And, then, there's not enough time left before the game ends... Sigh.

Gaining lots of early cards is useful for any start world, but I believe it's crucial for SC. With EE, for example, I'm often willing to drift between 3-5 cards in my hand over the first 2-4 turns as I quickly build a useful, flexible tableau, leeching here and there to keep the cards flowing. With SC, I really try to keep 5-10 cards in hand at all times. That way, I don't have to spend valuable cards to put down other cards. This, in turn, drives my opening moves.

With SC, if I have a cheap windfall world, I will often consider calling Trade on turn 1. If someone Explores and someone Settles, I'll get 4 keep 1; settle, say, Star Nomad Lair; sell for three; and end the turn at 7 cards. On turn 2, I'll call Produce, often leech another 4 keep 1 Explore (now 5 keep 1 with SNL), leech a cheap useful Develop or Settle, and end at 6-7 cards. Turn 3, I'll Trade again to end at around 10 cards.

In a 2-player game, I might consider Trade-Produce as an opening with SC, if I have a cheap windfall and think there's a chance my opponent may call Settle.

During the early game, I try to make every card I place contribute to getting more cards. For example, in a 2-player game using the second expansion, if I start with Galactic Advertisers and a 1 defense military windfall, I'll call Develop-Trade. If my opponent calls Settle, then I'll be back to 5 or so cards and if my opponent doesn't call Settle, I'll still make a card on the Consume phase (so my Trade call isn't wasted). Then, next turn I can call Settle-Trade myself and I'll continue leeching cards from Consume for the rest of the game.

As SC, I will rarely put down a +Military development early on unless I can immediately make use of it (for example, to settle a 2 defense Uplift world). Space Mercenaries allows for potential big Military strategies later on, while Expedition Force further improves SC's Explore selection; both are cheap and I generally prefer them to Space Marines at the start.

I'm likely to pass an early Develop or Settle with SC, if I don't have something to place that will gain me more cards. In my opinion, with SC, extra tableau tempos are not worth sacrificing early cards.

As selling goods for cards is so important for SC, I avoid placing consume powers, such as Public Works (unlike EE), early on. Instead, I will save them for later if I decide to go for a Develop strategy in the midgame. Export Duties is a fine first development, as SC will typically trade 3-4 times before the midgame. Interstellar Bank is great as it produces a card even if SC doesn't place a development.

This relentless focus on gaining cards will often result in SC having several windfall worlds. As SC, I try to find windfall production so that when players start calling Produce, I can place it unexpectedly and leech off their Produce call. Mining Robots paired with Smuggler's Lair, Runaway Robots, or even Rebel Fuel Cache, can be effective and is often overlooked.

While +2 Explore is nice, adding 1-2 +draws makes it even better. In addition to SNL and EF, Deserted Alien World and Abandoned Alien Uplift Camp can be nice, provided that placing them will also enable SC to conquer a higher defense Genes or Alien world in hand. Trading Outpost is a wonderful settle on the turn you call Produce early on, as it pays for itself on your next trade and gives SC Mix and Match Explore. Blaster Runners is also useful if lots of early Settles are being called and SC needs +1 Military. Galactic Survey/SETI can be a very nice endgame 6 if SC places several cards with Explore powers.

The cards SC puts down early to get card advantage, combined with the cards SC found the other players' initial flurry of Explore calls will often suggest a strategy. For example, drawing Galactic Genome Project when SC has placed Last of the Gnarrsh and Genetic Labs suggests a genes strategy; drawing Mining League after SC has placed Runaway Robots and Mining Robots suggests a rare strategy; drawing Terraforming Guild after placing several windfall worlds for their goods suggests a windfall tableau rush, and so on. Drawing GalFed or Galactic Bankers, plus Public Works or Investment Credits, or drawing Mercenary Fleet or Drops Ships, plus a high defense Alien Windfall and a 4+ VP Rebel World, can suggest alternative strategies for SC to switch into.

If SC arrives in the mid-game with card advantage and no clear plan, then SC should consider calling Explore.

In general, a player wants to call Explore either when another player is calling Explore (as then you aren't giving away anything) or when it gains you a clear advantage over other players. During the early game, when other players are calling Explore, as SC, I will consider calling Explore, but rarely do so. Calling Produce or Trade to gain card advantage, while leeching 4 keep 1, is usually better.

During the mid-game, as SC, I will call Explore +1+1 to get 5-7 keep 2 (depending on how many +draw cards I placed during the early game) to find a plan if no plan showed up during the initial flurry of Explores by other players or the cards I got from trading goods.

In a 2-player advanced game, this is a clear advantage. I'm keeping one more card and seeing 2-5 more cards. This can lead to a different, more reactive, style of play where, as Matt notes, SC calls Explore and something else, but lets the other player drive the bulk of the phase choices. In part, this can work depending on the cards that SC placed while getting to an early card advantage.

For example, suppose SC got unlucky on drawing cheap military worlds and passed one Settle, but still placed Galactic Advertisers, Runaway Robots, Interstellar Bank, and Mining Robots, while getting to 10 cards in hand. Suppose these 10 cards now finally include another cheap military windfall world, plus Terraforming Robots. SC can call Explore+1+1 and Develop to place TR. At this point, SC has turned into a "super-leech", gaining extra cards on every phase. Giving your opponent an extra card on Explore isn't a big deal, as you're gaining cards no matter what phases your opponent calls. Thus, you can afford to play a reactive game while you devise a plan.

In games with 4+ players, even though SC is better -- on average -- to find a great card on Explore than any other player (due to greater draw selection), the odds are still that one of the other players is going to get lucky on SC's Explore and find a great card. This leads to one of two routes. One is for SC to only Explore until SC has a plan and then to stop Exploring. The other is for SC to put down Research Labs (or Pan-Galactic Research in the second expansion) and to gain a +2 card advantage while Exploring.

This extra card is needed to offset the odds that someone is getting lucky on SC Explores in large player games. And, if SC has enough leeching powers in tableau, this can be a powerful, but somewhat risky, approach. Typically, even if I go the RL approach, I'll still stop exploring once I have a plan in hand. I'd rather leech 6 keep 2 off of another player's Explore, than give the other players a chance to get lucky.

If a plan doesn't materialize quickly, two strong mid-game leeches are either Trade League or Imperium Lords. These can leech a lot of cards off an opponent's Produce/Consume cycle, enabling a late game push to place several other 6s, once you finally find them.

To summarize, my general approach with SC is to focus solely on gaining cards during the early going, giving up tableau tempos as needed. Then, in the midgame, I will Explore until I have a plan and then stop Exploring and put my plan into action. Since I may be behind on tableau, one nice plan -- if the cards cooperate -- is to go for either a Terraforming tableau rush (with TG and Seti) or big Military (with several big Rebels and relevent 6s), using Improved Logistics to catch up.

Good Luck!
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Rob Neuhaus
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Interesting post Tom.

The over-arching theme is to be patient; avoid the temptation to tableau rush.

In terms of overall surprising parts of the post (really, 80% of the post is generally applicable RFTG strategy not specific to SC), to me were these.

Quote:
In a 2-player game, I might consider Trade-Produce as an opening with SC, if I have a cheap windfall and think there's a chance my opponent may call Settle.


This was particularly surprising, after you consider reasonably likely settle is. A priori, I'd say the only two worlds that I think are especially unlikely to first turn settle against SC are DAF and AR, it seems like a quite risky play, and this is coming from a fan of opening Trade/Prod in other circumstances, see First turn trade/produce as Damaged Alien Factory in 2 player advanced. The likely case when it fails, you had a see 4 keep 1 vs an opponents explore and dev, and if fails badly, you just got double devved.

Quote:
The other is for SC to put down Research Labs and to gain a +2 card advantage while Exploring.


This is also somewhat surprising, but I guess this is just mostly RL dislike on my part. I certainly appreciate the ability to keep the 2nd card out of 5 (or 6 or 7) with SC on an explore, it certainly allows you to find a synergistic pair, or sometimes to keep 2 cards that already synergistic with your hand/tableau, but that 3rd card seems like it really hits the point of diminishing returns. Wei Hwa has said more than once that you only build about 1 in 4 cards that reach your hand. The chance the best of 5 gets to be built is high, and the second of 5 is still reasonable, but the third of 5, well, 3/5 is significantly greater than 1/4. I guess the other way to use is to simply explore +5, like RL is typically used for, but really, there comes a point when you actually need to pay for things or get left in the dust, quality only goes so far when most of the quality cards require quantity to be placed anyway.




 
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Thanks for the replies Tom! I really appreciate it. I'm the kind of person who needs stuff spelt out to me; things don't really come intuitively to me, and I love reading and discussing strategy. The Race forums really needs more strategy pieces like these.

Tom's replies really deserve their own post. I feel it's a bit of a waste if it's lost in this thread.
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Kester J
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Thanks Tom! The "embarrassment of riches" part in particular sounds just like my SC games, so this should be a help.
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rrenaud wrote:
This is also somewhat surprising, but I guess this is just mostly RL dislike on my part. I certainly appreciate the ability to keep the 2nd card out of 5 (or 6 or 7) with SC on an explore, it certainly allows you to find a synergistic pair, or sometimes to keep 2 cards that already synergistic with your hand/tableau, but that 3rd card seems like it really hits the point of diminishing returns.


I don't think Tom's reason for wanting to keep 3 cards from his Explore is because he think he's actually going to find 3 cards that he wants. It's just a way of getting more card advantage so you can call Explore and be gaining on your opponent. You could think of the extra card as "just money" and the result might be not that different.

You can also double-Explore, which would be 10-keep-3, right?

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crushedguava wrote:
Tom's replies really deserve their own post. I feel it's a bit of a waste if it's lost in this thread.


I want to make new posts entitled strategy and copy and paste (quote) Tom's 3 pearls of wisdom there. Is this an okay idea or not? What do people think?
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Cameron McKenzie
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If Tom wants to post a strategy article, he can post one.
 
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