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Subject: A game of tactical manipulation rss

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Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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It had been a rough weekend -- had to work Sunday morning, and Saturday had been filled with more errands than you can shake a stick at. . . couple that with a sleepless night Saturday night, and I was hating life by Sunday afternoon. . .

Fortunately, Rick and Kelly responded to my plaintive call for some spur-of-the-moment gaming, and we met at Cafe Mayorga in Rockville at 4:30. A stranger came by as I was waiting for Rick and Kelly, plopped his laptop on the seat next to mine, and then went up to order his coffee. I told him that we were getting ready to play a game at that table, and if he wanted to join us that would be great, but otherwise he might want to move to another table. He was working on a paper and so declined, but was appreciative of the offer to join, and asked, "So. . . what kinds of games are you playing?" My answer was filled with uninformative "uhs" and "sort ofs," and "hard to explains" -- I'm going to have to work on that one for next time.

Rick surprised me a bit by picking MarraCash, a game I didn't think he'd remembered very well.

Every time I play MarraCash, it shows me another side that impresses me. It has an intriguing auction element, but it also has fascinating spatial issues and also a nice factor of inevitable mutual assistance that never seems to devolve into crass kingmaking. But this time, Rick's play showed me how important the manipulative elements can be.

I won all three auctions in the opening round, I thought for cheap. After Kelly won the next auction, I won the fifth one, and was instantly low on cash.

My normal strategy in MarraCash is to auction like crazy -- usually trying to steer shops that are around mine into the hands of my opponents, so that they have an incentive to move traffic past my shops. In the past, I've won when I've maintained the discipline to keep auctioning even when others were starting to pick up paydays from movement. When I've gone for the quick profitable movement without sufficiently preparing the board, I've paid for it.

But Rick's play yesterday showed me how my strategy doesn't work in a situation where an opponent is behaving as he is. I got down low in cash and ultimately had to stop buying shops, whereupon Kelly bought them, and Rick stayed resolutely out of the bidding. Then he started cleaning up on cheap shops when neither I nor Kelly could really bid.

Moreover, my shops were not so well arranged. They were all together on one side of the board, with hardly anyone else possessing an incentive to move men past mine. I hadn't wanted that, but Rick's resolute non-bidding put me in that spot.

In retrospect, I made two costly errors in this game. One was a tactical error; on an early move when I had to move men (because I hadn't the $100 on me to make an opening auction bid), I chose to get in on some commission action on the opposite side of the board. That started a healthy flow of traffic over there; I should have taken a less profitable but traffic-starting move near my own shops.

The other costly error I made was not to perceive early enough when I needed to shift from auctioning to movement. This is the reverse of the error I usually make. But in this game, when I had an edge in the number of shops and the game was well along, I needed to start making profits on those shops before the game situation got too late. Instead, what happened was that at the game's end, I was groveling for small paydays in my own shops, instead of moving the fourth and fifth men into them as Kelly and Rick were able to do.

Rick also shrewdly used his superior cash position in the middle game to dominate the yellow shops, picking up three of them.

In any case, the superior paydays available to Rick, and to a lesser extent to Kelly, were the big difference in the game. On each of Rick's last three turns, he had a single move in which he made at least $900 for himself, and cleared $1000 on all three of the turns. I had only one move like that. Kelly had the biggest single turn of the game at the end (picking up $1800) but it was too late to catch Rick.

I got my clock cleaned, but greatly enjoyed the game, as MarraCash showed again how malleable it is in the hands of a different strategy.

Rick $4600
Kelly $4250
Chuck $3450
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