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Subject: How to Catch the Leader? rss

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Robert Martin
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Catching the leader in Settlers was fairly straightforward - trade embargoes, the robber, soldiers, and road blocking were usually enough to slow the leader down. In fact, I'd say that in Settlers the player in second place going into the endgame usually won because of the power of leader bashing.

In Cities and Knights, it seems much more difficult to catch a leader. I've found in a majority of games that I can predict who will win the game within the first couple of rounds. In other words, an early leader gains an unassailable lead.

The leader will typically be ahead in the production of progress cards and there is no real way to shut this down. The yellow progress cards make up for trade embargoes, the blue progress cards can be used against trailing players, and the green cards give the leader even more free stuff. The aqueduct gives a free resource, the Bank gives commodity trading, and the Fortress gives mighty knights. The leader will very often have control of the Merchant for 2:1 trading as well. The leader has many additional resources at his disposal in Cities and Knights.

Does anyone have any thoughts on how to slow the leader down in Cities and Knights more effectively? I'd like to better understand how to bring the game back into balance, because I am otherwise a huge fan of all the changes this expansion introduces to the game. Thoughts?
 
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Tootsie Roll
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I've actually found Cities and Knights to have less of a leader problem than basic Settlers. Some of the cards can only be used by players who are not the leader. I have found that being in second is often the best place in this version as well.

First, all players can gang up on the leader with their progress cards. Since there are a lot of cards, trade embargos rarely work. However, if all other players are taking the cards away from the leader, they rarely have enough cards to do anything significant. There are also cards that are useless to a leader since they can only be played on persons with more victory points. They tend to be great cards, and they simply fill up space in the leaders hand. This is only mitigated slightly by the ability to discard useless cards. If I am the leader and someone is close, I keep them to help me later because they are just too useful. If no one is close, I have to discard them to take more useful cards. But that takes time. Holding them also tends to be risky since others will play the spy card to steal them from me and turn around to play the card I was holding and take two of my resources! Argh!

Second, everyone focuses on getting a single fortress. It is easy for someone to build up a single track of their city, but building up multiple tracks takes too much time. While balanced development gives a broader range and more useful combinations of progress cards, it also essentially yields the fortresses to the other players. Two points per out the window. As a result, there are always other people with more yellow, blue, or green cards than than whoever happens to be the leader.


I have found that a large number of knights is rarely useful. I have heard people talk is other messages of seeing people get three or more Defender of Catan points, but I have never seen this in any of my games. If one person starts building up a large army, a second person follows, and no one else has to have a significant number of knights to defend their cities, allowing them to use resources for other things. The first time the island is defended, the victory point can be obtained with a minimum of five cards (2 ore, 2 sheep, and 1 grain to build a strong, active knight is the cheapest I have seen, but it often requires at lest 3 more to build a second active knight). Subsequent points require more knights and more grain to activate those knights. It is rarely worth the cards spent to gain the victory point when those cards could be spent building cities or settlements. Also, I have rarely seen a game short of six people where the robber invaded more than four times, and I have never seen a game where he invaded seven. There are just too many turns for each player at that point, and despite the thriteen point goal, the game is over. Victory points are usually spilt between two people with large armies or are limitted to two points for a single person. All others going to ties.

Overall, the winners I have seen ussually score four points on their last turn through a combination of stealing the longest road, capturing a fortress, stealing the merchant, and building cities or settlements. The person in the lead, who keeps having their cards stolen by the other players and has been stuck at 10-12 points for the past few turns, now finds themselves at 7-10 points after the merchant/fortress/longest road have been stolen from them, and they are often in third place or worse. I once again found the main advantage of the leader in grabbing territory and cutting off the other people, but this is temperred in this version by them falling behind in other aspects of the game, namely knights and city development.

But you also point out that you can see who will win early on. In a couple of our early games, we let this person develop a sizable 3-4 point lead before focussing our efforts in pulling them back. But it was too late. We have found that by the time someone is three points ahead (6-3 or 7-4), it is difficcult, but not impossible, to pull them back unless two of those points are the longest road or the merchant, both of which are quite fickle. People get picked on as soon as they are one or two points in the lead or even as soon as they look like they are going to pull into the lead. Our bigger problem has become the person who pulls into the lead in the mid-game (10-7, and the early leader is often the last one to get past 7). But once again, the leader is often undercut by everyone else and a thirds person (the one who was not in the lead early or in the mid-game) generally bursts through to win.

Our biggest problem is that there is generally one person in games of four or more who gets shut out in the first invasion, losing their city, and they never have a chance to catch up. I have never seen that person win, and they have generally never gotten more than 6 points by the end of the game. It is hard to know that you have know chance after the barbarians have invaded once.
 
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david karasick
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We play that the barbarian ship has to reach shore the second time before its effects take place. This way everyone has a chance to build up a bit and not get left at the starting gate.
 
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Bob McMurray
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Nice summary Nate - I largely agree with everything that you say. I particularly agree that having attained 3 levels on all of the progress cards but not actually getting one of the metropoli is not a good tactic.

The only thing that I would add is that playing to 17 points allows someone who loses their city on the initial barbarian pass enough time, if they are a good player, to come back and win. This is especially true if the reason that they didn't put out a knight at the beginning was because they are heavy in non-ore resources. With that kind of position they usually can expand quickly, acquire new numbers through settlements, and secure longest road first. Also, be aware that, even after their city is lost, the player still benefits from any city developments which they had already played so they can still participate somewhat in the progress card distributions.

So - we like to play to 17 points instead of the very, very short 13 points. Not only can you catch-up from a slow start but you also have plenty of time to overcome a leader. I agree that whoever makes the best choices in the mid-game usually is the winner.
 
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Matt Pritchard
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When we lose to the barbarians, we play that the losing players city gets sacked (turned upside down) and only costs a wood and an ore IIRC to return to normal.
I can't remember if the official rule is for it to become a settlement or be lost completely but whichever it is is too much of a setback on the first attack.

We only have a part translation on our german version of the expansion, what is this rule about stealing fortresses??
 
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Chris Hawks
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We've found little difference between C&K and basic Settlers when it comes to runaway-leader issues. In C&K, one player will often start out strong and then peter out 1/2 or 2/3 of the way through the game.

One player reaching 4-5 "Defender of Catan" VPs is not uncommon for us, nor is a single player building 2 Metropolises particularly rare. Then again, we typically play C&K with 3 players and Seafarers (exact scenario in the Files section).

And 13 points a "short" game?! I cannot fathom how long 17 points would be take our group. Then again, the other weekend my brother played 2 5-player games of C&K in 2 hours! So anything's possible.

Kanedacorp wrote:
I can't remember if the official rule is for it to become a settlement or be lost completely but whichever it is is too much of a setback on the first attack.

Players who get sacked by the barbarians must convert one of their Cities into a Settlement. If they have no extra Settlements, I believe the City is turned on its side.

Quote:
We only have a part translation on our german version of the expansion, what is this rule about stealing fortresses??

A Metropolis can only be "stolen" from a player at Level 4, by another player reaching Level 5. Once at Level 5, the Metropolis cannot be stolen.
 
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Michael Marvosh
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jentinma wrote:
The first time the island is defended, the victory point can be obtained with a minimum of five cards (2 ore, 2 sheep, and 1 grain to build a strong, active knight is the cheapest I have seen, but it often requires at lest 3 more to build a second active knight).


The last time somebody tried this, he got the defender of catan point, but I stole his knight with a deserter card, too the liberty of deactivating it for him, and he lost his city on the next attack. I try to always build two level one knights before promoting one to level two. It only costs one more resource per activation (maybe 3 or 4 throughout the game) and is much more safe and stable.
 
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Eddie the Cranky Gamer
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Islay wrote:

So - we like to play to 17 points instead of the very, very short 13 points. Not only can you catch-up from a slow start but you also have plenty of time to overcome a leader. I agree that whoever makes the best choices in the mid-game usually is the winner.


I have played more than a few standard rules games of Cities and Knights, and not a single one of them ever came within an iota of anything resembling the proximity of "very very short". I'm sure your group is just more experienced with it, but I think it would be hilariously inaccurate to characterize Cities and Knights of Catan as "very very short" out of the box.
 
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Tootsie Roll
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I have seen that happen, but it is rare. I try to have the second knight by the time it goes around a second time, but so few progress cards have been distributed by the first invasion that knights rarely get stolen. If you are not short of grain, having two knights is definitely preferable to one, but sometimes the grain is the limitting resource and it cannot be gotten. But I agree with you in most cases.
 
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Michael Marvosh
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Islay wrote:
Nice summary Nate - I largely agree with everything that you say. I particularly agree that having attained 3 levels on all of the progress cards but not actually getting one of the metropoli is not a good tactic.

The only thing that I would add is that playing to 17 points allows someone who loses their city on the initial barbarian pass enough time, if they are a good player, to come back and win. This is especially true if the reason that they didn't put out a knight at the beginning was because they are heavy in non-ore resources. With that kind of position they usually can expand quickly, acquire new numbers through settlements, and secure longest road first. Also, be aware that, even after their city is lost, the player still benefits from any city developments which they had already played so they can still participate somewhat in the progress card distributions.

So - we like to play to 17 points instead of the very, very short 13 points. Not only can you catch-up from a slow start but you also have plenty of time to overcome a leader. I agree that whoever makes the best choices in the mid-game usually is the winner.


So we played another game of this the other night. Took about 2 and a half hours. Very, very close. The other guys playing got pretty sick of it, so it wasn't much fun at the end. We almost reached a point where no one was able to win, and that was in a 13 point game! I finally pulled off a 13, 12, 11, 11 victory. In a 17 point game, I can see this happening very easily--no one can build anything else, metropoli and LR split evenly among the players. Are your games always so lopsided that this doesn't happen?
 
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Guy Srinivasan
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Drinkdrawers wrote:
So we played another game of this the other night. Took about 2 and a half hours. Very, very close. The other guys playing got pretty sick of it, so it wasn't much fun at the end. We almost reached a point where no one was able to win, and that was in a 13 point game! I finally pulled off a 13, 12, 11, 11 victory. In a 17 point game, I can see this happening very easily--no one can build anything else, metropoli and LR split evenly among the players. Are your games always so lopsided that this doesn't happen?

It is not possible to reach a point where no one can win. The best you can get is everyone having 12 points of knights on the board, with knights and roads set up so the stronger knights can't kill the weaker. Even then if nothing but 7s are rolled, with a blue progress card each time, with one player getting all of the Deserter cards, he'd be able to knock off 1 knight from each other player, at which point the Barbarians could land and give him a point.

Granted, if it ever comes to that, you should just roll a d4 and see who wins. But still *someone* can win.
 
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