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Polis: Fight for the Hegemony» Forums » Strategy

Subject: Polis: my initial thoughts rss

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Cristian Cano
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I played this game last year in the 2011 edition of the Festival Internacional de Juegos de Córdoba when it was only a prototype and it was shown by Asylum Games’ staff just few weeks before the preorder campaign begun. I couldn’t complete my first play there, but I stood intrigued and decided to support this game to see the light.

This week, finally, my copy of Polis arrived home... Since then, I have played it solo two times and one more with a geek friend to get familiar with the rules and mechanics. I can’t stop thinking in the game and what are the best actions that each side must conduct to get advantage of his opponent.

I must admit that I still don’t have any idea of what to do to play this game well, but I’m going to enumerate my initial thoughts and I would like to generate some discussion, and maybe all us can learn to play better this intriguing game.

Let’s start:

1. Hoplites

It’s important to have hoplites in the map because you reduce your food requirement since you don’t have to feed them once they exit their Polis (the hoplites know how to take care of themselves in order to get food ). At the same time, they are very important if you want to besiege other Polis and to collect taxes in those bend Regions. Collecting taxes is primordial to latter trade the goods obtained for food/silver or collect metal/wood in the tax collects to being able to put more hoplites/galleys on the map or even collect taxes to get food and silver directly. But at the same time it’s important to have population in the Polis to have the freedom to maneuver in case of needing to react before an unexpected situation. So don’t create more hoplites than the strictly required… but what’s the perfect balance? At the start of the game, you have to move hoplites wisely because your prestige is low, but after the first round, prestige starts to be around 10 and you can take lots of hoplite actions (movement, collect taxes and besiege Polis). Spartan hoplites are slightly better than Athenians only because, in case of a battle, they Attack first.

2. Galleys

It’s important to have galleys because they can lock the door to most merchant routes. Galleys don’t have to be fed too (because they kill the time fishing when they get bore to death in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and there are no naval battles in the horizont ). Total control of all the seas by one side can provoke food scarcity to the other player but this seems to be really difficult to achieve. The most important diference with the hoplites is that galleys don’t collect taxes nor besiege Polis, so if you don’t collect taxes you don’t get wood to build galleys, the solution is easy: some hoplites are needed in any case. Thus, initially I think that galleys are less important than hoplites. Athenians galleys are slightly better than Spartan only because, in case of a battle, they Attack first.

3. Projects

The importance of Projects are easy to evaluate, simply don’t let your opponent build much more than you, if in this round he built two and you only one, in the next round you should balance that. But it depends in the Polis where projects can be built and from one round to the next you don’t know what is going to be available, so I would not worry too much about Projects. Also if you spend many actions geting what one Project require to be built, you can stay behind your opponent in the military race. So inevitably, your Polis with appetizing Projects can fall in the hands of your opponent sooner or later if you don’t take care of your army (unconsciously I’m talking again about hoplites!). In any case, I think conquering one neutral Polis only for being able to build there a Project that has appeared for this round is a mistake. I think the most important, in terms of conquer one Polis, is the goods you can collect there not the Projects it can accommodate. If you are stronger than your opponent, in the later turns you can go to Polis with juicy Projects and conquer them.

4. Proxen

This guy is very important, but you have to level out the way to the desired Polis if you don’t want to spend silver in his travels, and once he is in the desired destiny, he needs silver to convince the Polis to align with you. I think it’s perfect for getting, without the dice risks, a good Polis (value 3 and 4) that can help you get goods but first prepare to collect silver while you secure to keep your population fed. (You can't do everything so start prioritizing your goals)

5. Oil/Wine/Wood/Metal/Food or Silver and... the Merchants.

When conquering new territories, you have to take care that all goods are well represented on your controlled lands. But when collecting taxes, what the hell should I take? Getting food and silver via collecting taxes is vital because you depend less in the merchants. Some Projects require oil and wine and early you can get food for them at good prices when the market is at good ratios, but later (at the middle of the game) those goods get much expensive as the market prices raise. Half of these goods decay at the end of the round so take care of collecting as much as you can spend for this round.

The merchants, I don’t know what to think about them, they allow you to trade goods with neighbor civilizations but if you want an extensive use of them, you have to spend wood to build merchants instead of galleys… that can cause the losing of sea area’s control and then merchants get worthless. If you keep making merchants and galleys too, you will find yourself with insufficient population in your Polis to mantain the number of hoplites than your enemy is recruting. So, prepare to die because you are feeding those citizens that in further rounds will turn to be your opponent.

6. Population growth vs. Megalopolis

We all know that if we have food surplus after feeding our Polis inhabitants, we can increase our population spending more food. This is vital but… where we want to make this population grow? Everybody in the same Polis (normally in Sparta or Athenai) and sacrifice Megalopolis benefits? Or split population grow in the small Polis to earn some prestige points due to Megalopolis benefits? I think in early rounds it’s preferably to concentrate population growth in your capital to make a further “make hoplites/galleys action” more efficient because if you have two cubes in several small Polis, you would have to make this action several times and only to create one unit per action. But, in the other hand, if you concentrate population growth, you’ll start the round with less prestige and thus less military actions to conduct. (This part really intrigues me)

7. Phoros

I have never used this option because I don’t feel confident of spend prestige for silver yet, although I think it’s an important option because starting a round with silver can give you some advantage to take control of an enemy Polis with the Proxen or start a Project that costs silver. When I feel more confident about how many prestige points I should keep for the next round, then I will use this option.

8. Battles

As I mentioned before, I think Sparta has a slight advantage in land battles, since these kinds of battle are more likely to happen than sea battles (if I’m playing properly), Sparta is a little step ahead in terms of military strength because it attacks first and it's very important to attack first because in the first boost you know you're not getting casualties but can infringe casualties to the Athenai unbalancing the battle from the very begining. So the Athenian player has to make an effort trying to find in the Spartan some sign of weakness in other aspects to being able to beat him. Maybe controlling most sea areas with a strong galleys fleet to block Spartan merchants is an option but I’m not sure because letting Sparta to have considerably more hoplites than Athenai can be the beginning of a slow but sure defeat as Sparta would take control of most Polis without facing any resistance.

These are my first thoughts about Polis. I really encourage all you to discuss your sensations with me.

I admit, I’m really clouded with this game! Now it’s the only game in which I can think.
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S. R.
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Hmm.
Peoples, I am totally flabberghasted.
Now, I was looking forward to playing, the rules looked really good and made myself anticipate a great game. And today I finally tested the game, a solo (playing both sides).

I don't know what I did wrong, but I am nowhere near the 10 Prestige in Round 2 that were claimed to be average in the OP.
How do you get prestige, anyway?
In Combat, due to annexion of new poleis, via projects, based on
Megalopoli-sation.
Combat does not happen until the second round, so annexion, projects and Megalopolis. But to get the big cities, you mustn't create hoplites. Which you need to get Tributes (loss of prestige), which you need to do anything anyways. Basically every important action costs a hell of a lot of prestige. And annexion is not only a game of chance (if it is worth it), but also a decision based on supply, which has to be got, too...

So, the only prestige-free actions are "build" actions, trade and the proxenos thingies. But the proxenos's real strength is in Civil War, which costs an awful lot of coin, which we don't have that much of, if we do not get tribute, which means moving hoplites (loss of prestige), etc.

I don't know, I must be totally bloody stupid. But really, prestige costs are pretty darn expensive.

In the end of the game, Sparta (which I made some considerable mistakes with) did not have enough prestige left to even play the last round, and so forfeited. Sparta had only managed to secure one more polis, and even Athens had only two more. Sparta managed one project in total, and Athens two. Sparta had 1 PP, Athens about 7 or 8...

I don't know what I do wrong, here. And I am too impatient to play the game long enough so "everything becomes clear"...

...could you help me?
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Fran Diaz
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First: thanks Bravucon, all your thoughts/feelings are just what I wanted for a player playing Polis. There is no "winning" strategy, you have to balance all the paths (military, projects, expansion...) and adapt all the time to the situation created by the opponent.

I don't want to discuss your thoughts before other players talk about them. But I will do.


Dumon, take it easy :
First time you play Polis you'll feel overwhelmed. You don't know what to do and which actions are correct.
Let me say, if you finish the first round with 3-5 Prestige points is a good way to start. Approaching 10 it's almost impossible (I think I've never reached that before finishing 2nd round)

I'm talking how I play but yes: I've been beated by aggressive-clever players, so others like Bravucon may talk about their strategy.

As you say (and I know you know rules very well) in 1st round you'll get Prestige by:
IN GAME
- Getting cities (this way you may get around 3-5 Prestige in the 1st Round)
- No battles yet
END OF ROUND
- Finishing projects (this way you may get other 2-5 Pr. if you get 1-2 projects)
- Megalopolis (you may get around 2-3 Pr)

In the first Round you will usually get 1-3 Polis and you will tax 3-4 territories (remember: Taxing your homeland is Prestige free each Round!).

So if you begin with 3 Prestige and you may easily get 8-10 Prestige more (that's 11-13 after End of Round phases and 6-8 before them)

It's true that you will expend in this first round all your Prestige given at the beggining and earned getting cities: 6-8 Prestige (in example: 3 Hoplite moves, 3 taxes (+1 free in your homeland) and 1 siege)
So you may end the round with 3-5 Prestige (those obtained just in the End of Round phases).

A good first move may be: Tax your homeland and Trade (both are 0 Prestige) and you'll have some silver to get a Project or instigate a Civil war, and then get some Prestige to move your troops... and so on.

Think if it's worth to get 2-3 Population out of your capital in the first Round, you won't have to feed them and invest all your wheat to have Megalopolis in your remaining Polis.

If you save Prestige from Round to Round (very important!) you may end with 14-18 Points your first game... and I've seen expert players ending with more than 25-30 Points. It's hard but possible.

I've teached newcomers playing with 4 or 5 Prestige points both in their first game. Try it and change to 3 when you feel confortable.
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Cristian Cano
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Well, I was going to answer but the designer made it before, so not much to add... but I was going to say something similar.

In the first turn, when I said "Prestige around 10" I exaggerated a little bit, I should say 6. But having 6 prestige points for the beggining of the second round let you a lot of margin to maneuver because it's not the same to have 4 prestige at the beggining than 6 with your hoplites and Polis established around the map, and Prestige shortage probably would not be a problem for the rest of the game.

How can you achieve that? My idea is (the order of the actions should not be taken strictly):

Let's suppose we are Athenai:

Collect taxes in Attika (you don't have to spend Prestige to do that) I guess you should take 6 silver as you start without this precious resource. This amount of silver let you provoke a Civil War with the Proxen in a Population 3 Polis (Samos, Thebai or even Argos nex to your opponent homeland), maybe the less interesting is Samos as you have already Chios in the same region and you can't collect taxes two times per round there. This get you 3 prestige.

Now, take out two hoplites from Thebai and send them to Naukpatos (-1 prestige) as you could besiege this Polis without throwing the dice. [But I would go for a more ambitious goal and prefer to go to Korkyra, Pydna or Poteidaia, you really have 75% of chances to get there (and win +1 prestige)] Let's continous supposing that you went to Naukpatos. Trying to siege there is compensated by the 1 prestige point you get when you take this Polis, so you have until this point a net balance of +2 prestige, you're at 6.

Now it's time to send your 3 hoplites of Attika to collect taxes to Boiotia (-2 prestige), later to Thessalia (-2 prestige) and your 2 hoplites in Ionia can collect taxes too (-1 prestige).

Wow! now we have fallen to Prestige 1. But it's time to trade with the merchant, and maybe make another merchant to trade one more time.

Now we should have a lot of food: 4(initial)+3+3=10.

Make another 3 hoplites from Athenai to avoid feeding them. Also you can make one galley in Athenai and another one in Chios. So you have all of your Polis (5) with one population cube... but remember that you have 10 units of wheat!

It's time to make some population growth in Chios (+2), Chalkis (+1), Naukpatos (+1) and, why not, Athenai (+1).

Megalopolis is going to provide 3 prestige points.

If you manage to make a Project you can have 2 or 3 of prestige more, if not, you probably would have enough silver to go with the Proxen to Korkyra, Pydna or Poteidaia and get another Polis providing you 2 prestige points.

I think this could be a realistic opening for one player.

In the case of Sparta they should go to Sikelia and take Gela with the Proxen early to get food without depending too much in the trade routes. (I guess if I'm the Spartan in a future game, I'd try to do this as a first main goal).

I don't know I have played Polis only once face-to-face but I'm thinking a lot about the strategies that each player can follow.
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Fran Diaz
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bravucon wrote:
[...]
I think this could be a realistic opening for one player.


And a really great opening round. Maybe we're giving too many clues... laugh


bravucon wrote:

In the case of Sparta they should go to Sikelia and take Gela with the Proxen early to get food without depending too much in the trade routes. (I guess if I'm the Spartan in a future game, I'd try to do this as a first main goal).


Be careful, if you do this a clever Athenian player may block you with 3/4 units while trying to tax Sikelia in the first or second round, making you unable to return to the continent. And this situation is critical for the Spartan player so early in the game. This is the risk of going to Sikelia too soon.

Depending on your opponent choices it's better to take a polis of Sikelia in the 2nd round (taking instead one of Makedonia and surviving this round with 3 wheat instead of the 6 from Sikelia)...

Too many choices... and now I shut my mouth for a while to hear your first thoughts and how do you play Polis and fight against the opponent and scarcity too.
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Arthur Switalski
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Hi Fran,

First off, thanks for a great game, I'm still trying to wrap my head around all the rules.

In your last response you wrote "Be careful, if you do this a clever Athenian player may block you with 3/4 units while trying to tax Sikelia in the first or second round, making you unable to return to the continent. And this situation is critical for the Spartan player so early in the game. This is the risk of going to Sikelia too soon."

I have two questions regarding this response as I'm still synthesizing all the nuances...

1. How exactly does an Athenian player block the Spartan player here? By controlling Ionio Pelagos with galleys? If so, he doesn't necessarily need 3/4 units he could just have 1 more than the Spartan player, you mentioned 3/4 because those would be the maximum amount that he could have during the first and second rounds correct? I just want to be clear that the Athenian player can setup a naval blockade by either having more galleys OR by having the maximum amount of galleys provided that the Spartan player did as well.

I'm not certain that the rules around creating a naval blockade are very clear. If Ionio Pelagos were a land territory then this would make more sense as both the Athenian and Spartan players would have to have the maximum amount of units in that space for it to be a blockade. If Athens were controlling the territory then Sparta could at least move into the space...

But as Ionio Pelagos is a sea territory the Athenian player only needs to have control-as Spartan hoplites can't stop in the middle of the sea...

That was probably a bit verbose but I just want to be sure...



2. I'm also not really understanding the risk for the Spartan player here. In theory he doesn't need to move his units back to land as he'll need hoplites in Sikelia to perform the collection action again next turn. Granted he can't turn his base population into hoplites because the max number of units in the territory has been met but is that such a bad thing? Perhaps he'll be able to score for Megalopolis here at the end of the round? Granted, I haven't thought this all the way through but I'm not seeing the "risk" very clearly at present. Would love to know more.

Thanks!
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Fran Diaz
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Hi Arthur,

1. Sea territories works just the same as land territories: if you have more units than the opponent there you block the pass thorugh it. So, yes, you just have to have 1 more unit. I said 3/4 stating the maximum unit, but if Sparta is able to match the amount (it's usually harder for him), Ionio Pelagos will be free to pass to both players; in the first round (3&3) there won't be battle but in the second (4&4) it will happen.

2. A Sparta army (3 units) being blocked in Sikelia the first round may be bad news if it's the main group of troops you have and it's not the right time to go: if you go there too soon you may get trapped before collecting mainland, if you go at the end of the round Athens would be able to go first or if he blocks the return you'll begin the second round forced to create more units (so losing VP) as long as you have enough metal and while he is collecting mainland.
So going to Sikelia the first round may be too risky depending on the situation on the map.
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