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Subject: The caravan strategy - yes it's broken rss

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Pap Qaq
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I like Yspahan. Its a neat little game which on the surface has a lot of different options to pursue. Ideally, the game should play out as a tight choice between strategies driven by pursuit of scarce resources. Unfortunately, one of those paths is broken - the caravan - as I discovered in my third game. After I started caravanning I basically didn't lose, and our game quickly devolved into everyone caravanning witha very limited race for the corner the barrel position and caravan position. Souking became an after thought, with souk only players getting beat by a margin of roughly 2/1.

Why is the caravan broken? First let's take a look at optimal strategy.

The first thing to observe is that there are four synergistic elements that combine to benefit caravanning. First is the caravanserai - the building which gives you a card when you put a good on the caravan. A card by itself is a mediocre turn, but when combined with a good to the caravan it becomes very strong. The second is the corner barrel shop - which happens to be opposite two other buildings and therefore gives you the option to send two goods to the caravan in one turn. The third is the rule that you can spend camels to preserve your board position, ensuring that you can send two to the board again and again. The final synergy is that the cards generally favor caravanning.

The best strategy therefore is to use the first week to line things up and the second and third weeks to cash in. Start by gaining the goods necessary to build the caravanserai. This means either taking camels or gold (if there are 3+ dice there) or drawing a card. While you're at it, try to secure a back up supply of camels. Finally, when the opportunity presents, get the Hammam (change the supervisor movement) so that you have enormous flexibility without having to spend gold. If you have time you can probably send a good or two to the caravan; in week 1 I wouldn't spend camels to protect your board as they will be more valuable later on.

Why is drawing cards good? Cards offer a number of benefits to the caravan player. The most obvious is free camels, which are essential, and free gold which can be used for buildings, buying dice (for the lottery shot at vases when you have the hoist and a card to discard) and late game scoring. Building discounts are pertinent in the early game and can help get the caravanserai, the hamman and the hoist. Placing a good in a souk can save you a turn in setting up the opposing souk formation and should always be used to claim the corner barrel if it's open. Finally, putting a good on the caravan has obvious value.

Once you have the caravanserai its time to start caravanning. If you can secure the corner building, then you should really do nothing other then send two goods to the van each turn (even if it means clearing the caravan) while occasionally replenishing your camel inventory. Buy the Hammam early if possible and eventually pick up the hoist when convenient. Sending one good to the caravan and getting a bonus card is very strong; sending two goods to the caravan and getting two bonus cards is unstoppable. A great turn? When you draw a 'good to caravan' card and send three (or four!) goods to the caravan.

There are a few finesses. Don't empty the caravan at the end of a week. Consider saving a good to the caravan card if you are in competition caravanning with others as you may either ensure a spot on the third row or succeed in locking another player out before scoring. With the hoist and extra cards for discount, look for opportunities to buy extra dice and go for the lottery shot of sending to the vase district. Keep protection for the corner barrel good (unless you're near the end of the week or if you've hit the lottery. Of course if someone wants to save you a turn and send even more of your goods to the van this isn't the end of the world.

And that's it. The caravan is broken, period. A few rules changes have been suggested but I think there's a better answer. My suggestion is to eliminate the caravanserai building. It's just too strong. The official suggestion is to force the supervisor to move at least one square and to only draw one card if you send two goods. I'm less enthusiastic about that change as the supervisor rule can become irrelevant if multiple players are caravanning and one card + goods to the caravan is still very strong. My solution - taking away the card bonus - means the caravan becomes a strong option but not a mandatory strategy. For me it restores balance by encouraging players to look first to the souks but to keep the caravan as a strong option (better than card draw depending on board position) if there aren't attractive board plays.
 
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Russell
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I disagree with this. Played a couple of weeks ago with someone who never went near the caravan unless it was a no brainer, and hit the souks like they were going out of business (ha ha!). I kept going at the caravan and was handily beaten.
Sure the caravan strategy is strong, but broken?
As in it ALWAYS wins? EVERY time? It NEVER looses?
I still don't think so.

Also grab the cards from the Ystari box expansion, This seems to shove the game back towards the souks.

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Chris Johnson
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The caravan is only "broken" if the players aren't particularly skilled, or are only "good" at playing the caravan.

Once players are skilled at the *game*, it's just another part of the game.

Some of the stuff you describe requires the other players to be letting you get away with things that they should be routinely blocking, sabotaging or taking advantage of themselves. Poor play by your opponents does not equal broken.

Also, the expansion does change things up even more.
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Mark L
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Even if you don't want to buy the expansion, you can use a couple of the rules for it with the base game, and greatly improve the balance of the caravans.

One is that when moving the supervisor, you must move him at least one space -- so you can't just keep him where he is and send the same cube(s) again.

The other is that if you have the cravanserai, you only get one card each time you send cubes to the caravan (rather than one card per cube).

I use these rules all the time and I find they work well.
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Maarten D. de Jong
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p1q0 wrote:
And that's it. The caravan is broken, period.

No, it's not. The caravan strategy is quite susceptible to subtle interference from other players (for example filling out the third level and quickly completing the caravan, or blocking one of the double souks), and although that interference often feels like 'I have to do it because otherwise he wins', it is actually offsetting the power of other very strong strategies (like for example filling out souks like crazy with the hoist and +2 VP bonus, and using gold to increase the odds of entering the Vase district). Yspahan is simply not a game where you do nothing but run your own strategy from start to finish, you have to take detours from time to time. If you don't, you run into problems no matter what you do.

Based on my experience: I've played this title 25 times or so now, and it is very rare these days that scores are apart by more than 6 to 8 points; playing the caravan is a good idea of course, but by no means a guarantee for the win.

You also neglect to inform us the number of players you base your analysis on. For 2, you could perhapsish have a small point. Somewhat. Here the simplest fix is to use the rules from the expansion for the overseer and caravanserai, and you'll be fine already. With 3 and 4 (where the bulk of my plays takes place) there is no glaring issue of 'broken' proportions that I've noticed.
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Ian Ross
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Just played my first game of this and the person with the most experience (who taught us the game) employed the caravan strategy. Out of 4 players he came in 3rd. I won. Crushed the others actually, and I never laid a single cube on the caravan the whole game. In fact, he had all but one spaces on the caravan.
I found, that since luck is involved the best strategy to employ was using what I could to enhance my probabilities, so I always bought extra dice. I found my "strategy" to be way more effective than the caravan strategy.
And I also disagree, the game is not broken. I found it well balanced, enjoyable and provides many paths to victory. All things, I look for in a game.
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Pap Qaq
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This feels a little to me like people arguing against the Halifax Hammer. Of the responses I see:

1) The expansion helps - could be! I've never played it but it sounds like the author realized the caravan was just too strong and tried to mitigate. That certainly supports my initial premise.

2) Bad play. I've played this game a number of times since. If you play with bad players, any strategy that is implemented efficiently will probably win. If you play with good players and they ignore the caravan they will lose. I've never seen it any other way. Getting massive points + bonus cards is just too strong.

3) You can block it. You can try and should try, but it's not so easy to do. Obviously if you don't line up 2 goods each turn then the strategy is a lot weaker. But if it NEEDS to be blocked and blocking is NOT a given, then the strategy becomes broken. Getting the corner shop is VERY strong and if the other players don't immediately block its game over.

4) Buying dice for souks. Yes! Buying the dice and gunning for vases is good, particularly with helpful buildings. However, this will be too little too late if you are facing good caravaners.
 
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Martin
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p1q0 wrote:
If you play with good players and they ignore the caravan they will lose. I've never seen it any other way.


Maybe this is the crux of the matter. They shouldn't ignore the caravan.
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Maarten D. de Jong
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p1q0 wrote:
This feels a little to me like people arguing against the Halifax Hammer. Of the responses I see:

That's because there is no Halifax Hammer in Yspahan; nor is there a Caravan Cudgel. And I notice that nearly a year after starting this thread insisting there is, and finding time to read through our arguments, you still haven't mentioned the number of players you play Yspahan at. Which is quite an important figure to have on the table, to be honest. So, would you mind?

Quote:
1) The expansion helps - could be! I've never played it but it sounds like the author realized the caravan was just too strong and tried to mitigate. That certainly supports my initial premise.

No, it doesn't, because it would only support your case for the 2P-environment, which arrived a few months after the game was published, and was developed by Ystari themselves. The 3P- and 4P-environments need no alteration. (The expansion was also developed by Ystari themselves, although it used elements from the original author Pauchon submitted to Ystari way back when.)

Quote:
Getting massive points + bonus cards is just too strong.

How much is 'massive points'? It's really only about the point deltas, and it is truly very easy for non-caravan players to sneak in a few cubes so the delta becomes managable. After all, the caravaneer is quite often not much present in soukhs and the like. And what is 'too strong'? Compared against what? What strategies are the other players following? How successful are they here?

Quote:
3) You can block it. You can try and should try, but it's not so easy to do. Obviously if you don't line up 2 goods each turn then the strategy is a lot weaker. But if it NEEDS to be blocked and blocking is NOT a given, then the strategy becomes broken. Getting the corner shop is VERY strong and if the other players don't immediately block its game over.

Is taking one action outside of one's intended action path already indicative of a 'broken' strategy? Two actions? Three? Where is the line? I repeat myself again: Yspahan is not a singular engine building game, you have to take detours. Everyone has to hit on each other once every while. In your games, does everyone hit on the caravaneer just because, while leaving each other alone? Is everyone just letting the caravaneer pick up hefty amounts of camels? Or leaving the supervisor standing where he is? How many points do non-caravan players score?

Quote:
4) Buying dice for souks. Yes! Buying the dice and gunning for vases is good, particularly with helpful buildings. However, this will be too little too late if you are facing good caravaners.

So am I reading you correctly that if two people use the caravan they also will beat the other(s)? Because that would be an impossible stretch of imagination.

In the end I feel that the discussion is truly only about the amount of 'few' in 'making a few moves to bring a point delta back to a managable level': at what number is it still considered 'part of your own game', and at what number is it considered 'dominating to the point where you cannot play your own game'. Your contributions suggest that you take the second interpretation even for a relatively small number of 'few'.
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Pap Qaq
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The problem with stopping the caravan cudgel is that it leads players towards strategies that are naturally inefficient for them while only mildly slowing down the cudgeller and leaving them advantageous selections. Soukers find themselves chasing and cursing while cudgelers enjoy their chortling.
 
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Stephen Stewart
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p1q0 wrote:
The problem with stopping the caravan cudgel is that it leads players towards strategies that are naturally inefficient for them while only mildly slowing down the cudgeller and leaving them advantageous selections. Soukers find themselves chasing and cursing while cudgelers enjoy their chortling.


If your game is STOPPING one strategy, it's not a game, it's an exercise that you MUST endure to try to win.

GOA was similar if my memory is correct...
 
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Adam K
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fnord23 wrote:
The caravan is only "broken" if the players aren't particularly skilled, or are only "good" at playing the caravan.
...
Poor play by your opponents does not equal broken.


This is true, however, when I play this game, most of the people haven't played it so much or maybe never even tried it. So that makes this strategy "broken" in every single game I play.

If a game requires a certain way of counter-play I would much rather have that changed.

Also, some people get really annoyed when people tell them what they must do, to prevent someone else from winning.
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Ville
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I have played over 20 games 4-player games in yucata.de and won all but one of them. Needless to say I have used ultra caravan strategy every time. Last game I had an opponent which was in top30 in rankings and I was able to use caravan more than him and won by 5 points, so it was close. Normally I win with ~30 point margin. They key is the corner building with 2 opposite buidings. The player who controls it, controls the game.

I hate to see that word broken is used so often to describe games, but IMO Yspahan is if not totally broken, very very close to being one.
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Martin
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Archvile wrote:
I have played over 20 games 4-player games in yucata.de and won all but one of them. Needless to say I have used ultra caravan strategy every time. Last game I had an opponent which was in top30 in rankings and I was able to use caravan more than him and won by 5 points, so it was close. Normally I win with ~30 point margin. They key is the corner building with 2 opposite buidings. The player who controls it, controls the game.

I hate to see that word broken is used so often to describe games, but IMO Yspahan is if not totally broken, very very close to being one.


So how many of those players knew about the caravan strategy? Or had previous experience with the game?
 
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guzerat wrote:
Archvile wrote:
I have played over 20 games 4-player games in yucata.de and won all but one of them. Needless to say I have used ultra caravan strategy every time. Last game I had an opponent which was in top30 in rankings and I was able to use caravan more than him and won by 5 points, so it was close. Normally I win with ~30 point margin. They key is the corner building with 2 opposite buidings. The player who controls it, controls the game.

I hate to see that word broken is used so often to describe games, but IMO Yspahan is if not totally broken, very very close to being one.


So how many of those players knew about the caravan strategy? Or had previous experience with the game?


I don't know for sure, but for sure most of the players of good ranking know about the strategy. Most of my opponents had played more than ten but less than 100 games, but I think majority of them didn't know about the caravan strategy or played the game very seriously.
 
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Maarten D. de Jong
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Archvile wrote:
I hate to see that word broken is used so often to describe games, but IMO Yspahan is if not totally broken, very very close to being one.

Were the others getting in on the caravan as well? Or were you the only player there? And if they were in the caravan, with how many cubes, and on what level?

And just what is an 'ultra caravan strategy', precisely? (Just so I have some idea of what you were doing, as I've never heard of the adjective 'ultra' in conjunction with the caravan.)
 
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Ultra caravan strategy means that I almost totally ignore the points from tents and try to maximize the points I get from caravan. I use the first half of the game to hoard camels and to get two technologies which enable the strategy: The one which lets you draw cards when playing to caravan and the one that let's you move the dude more freely. Normally the first tech I get is the camel tech as it's really important to get as many camels as possible. Then I try to get to the position that I can take control over two paraller tents so that I can play two cubes and draw two cards in single action (and pay camels so that I can do it again turn after turn). Normally I'm able to do this at some point of phase three but it should be enough to win the game.
 
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Ultra caravan strategy in action: http://www.yucata.de/en/Game/Yspahan/3946717

EDIT: It seems that you cannot see the game if you are not logged in. Sorry, my bad.
 
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