Andy Latto’s Tie-Break Rationale

Andy Latto is a very competitive gamer. Beating him at Thurn & Taxis was when I knew I understood the game. Having him win a game that you are teaching him is no longer a surprise. Andy is also generous with his time and talent to the hobby. Andy is the Game Master for the Thurn & Taxis tournament at the World Boardgaming Championships every year. To keep track of his tournament, Andy created a Google Sheets spreadsheet to register and track entrants in the tournament. He has, generously, shared it with other GMs and I will be using it for the 2nd time for my Puerto Rico tournament at WBC this year.

Along with other clever programming throughout, Andy implemented his tie-breaker rules for advancement. As part of the documentation, Andy explains why he uses certain tie-break rules. I found that so interesting (and well explained) that I felt compelled to share just that with other folks who may never explore Andy’s GM spreadsheet. So here, in his own words (and with permission), is Andy Latto’s tournament advancement tie-break philosophy. You may disagree, but if you do, I hope your reasoning is as clear as Andy’s.

Thurn and Taxis tiebreak system is as follows:

Each game you play that you finish first or second, you score points as follows:

  • Win in first game played: 1500 points plus (your score/second place score)
  • Win not in first game played: 1000 points plus (your score/second place score)
  • Second place, 4-player game: 100 points plus 10 * (your score/winner’s score)
  • Second place, 3-player game: 50 points plus 10 * (your score/winner’s score).
  • Top 16 scores qualify for the finals.

This scoring system was designed to fulfill the following goals:

1. Playing never hurts

People should always be encouraged, not discouraged, from playing a game. So I never want to put people in the situation of "I qualify now, but if I play again, and do badly, I might not qualify". So playing an additional game can only help, not hurt, your qualification score."

2. Reward achievement, not attendance.

The best players should qualify for the semifinals. Showing up for a heat and finishing last doesn't show you are a good player; it just shows that you showed up. So points are awarded only for finishing at least average, which in a game with 3 or 4 players, means 1st or 2nd. If you play a heat and finish 3rd or 4th, it doesn't hurt, but it doesn't help, either.

3. Scores should only be counted as score differentials.

In many games, a game may be high scoring for everyone or low scoring for everyone, depending on how the game goes. A Thurn and Taxis or Saint Petersburg game with many turns will have higher scores for everyone, but doesn't mean that everyone is a better player. So the absolute score should never be used in the qualification formula, since it gives an incentive to aim for a high-scoring game, which can be in conflict with the main objective of scoring higher than the other players.

4. Score differentials should be measured by ratios.

If scores are higher, we expect score differentials to be higher, too. So winning 15 to 10 is a more impressive achievement than winning 20 to 15, and should get more tiebreak points. So the tiebreak always measures the ratio of your score to another's score, rather than a difference. This has the added benefit of producing far fewer ties; since an 18-17 win is just slightly better by ratio than an 18-19 win, exact ratio ties are very rare except when both compared scores are the same.

5. Compare to other good players where possible.

Tournaments will always include some beginners who play poorly and finish with very low scores. The difference in skill, and therefore in score between the best and the worst players can be quite large, and the luck of having a very weak player at your table should not be rewarded. Some luck of the draw is unavoidable, but if we say that it's unlikely that there will be more than two very weak players at a table, their effect on qualification is minimized if the first player is only compared to the second player, and vice versa, rather than comparing to all players or to an average.

Also, to the extent that one can make plays that target particular other players, I'd rather the first and second player target each other, rather than target the players who are losing, which I think makes a more fun experience for all.

6. Count closeness of seconds as more important than big firsts.

A close second means you did well against a player who won, while a win far ahead of second only means you did well against a player who came in second. There's less evidence you did well against a good player, so you get fewer tiebreak points.

7. First in a three player game counts as much as first in a four player game, but second in a three player game counts for less than in a four player game.

If first didn't count as much for three players as four, a player in a three player game would be at a severe handicap in qualifying. A second in a three-player game is easier to achieve than a second in a four-player game, so it counts for less. The fact that you can't get full credit for a second balances out the fact that it's easier to get a first.

8. For simplicity, incorporate the HMW (heats: most wins) rules into the formula

Technically, the point formula should only apply if the list of precedence rules for qualification reaches the ‘GM specified tiebreak rule’. But I think it's easier to understand a rule that says "Add these up; highest score qualifies” than one that says:
"First see who has most wins; then see who has a win in their first heat entered, then...then add these numbers up and see who is highest"
So the size of the bonuses for win in first heat entered, other win, and second place ensure that the standard HMW rules will be followed, with the tiebreak points only mattering in comparing people with the same number of firsts and same number of seconds, and both or neither having a win in first heat entered.

If your tournament is HSW (heats: single win), rather than HMW, so that a win in the first heat entered is more important than two wins, you can achieve this by modifying the points for win in first heat entered to be:

Win in first game played: 5000 points plus (your score/second place score)

Feedback on this scoring system is welcome; email me at andy.latto@pobox.com.

Thanks, Andy, for permission to publish this. If you, gentle reader, have different view, please add it as a comment to this article. If the terminology of tournament structure is unfamiliar, you should read the WBC GM Guidelines at

http://www.boardgamers.org/wbc_gmeventform.html

Kyle Smith on Thurn & Taxis Strategy

Thurn & Taxis: Don't Just Mail it In

Thurn & Taxis, the 2006 Spiel des Jahres winner, was one of the first games I purchased when I first got into the boardgaming hobby 10 years ago. It has remained one of my favorites over the years and I believe I've played close to 600 games (thanks in large part to Yucata). Although it's certainly not the 'deepest' game, I feel there are multiple layers of strategy to discover and potentially master. There is some luck involved, as with any game played with a shuffled deck of cards. For me, however, the ratio of strategy to luck is just right. On occasion, the extremes of good or bad luck can decide the game, but not often enough for it to bother me.

Basics

There are a number of things that most players realize pretty quickly in their first couple plays:

Planning ahead - While picking up and playing cards for your current route, you need to also think about and start taking cards for your next route.

Key Cities and the 'Around the World' Bonus Chit - The bonus chit for getting into all colors is an important bonus. Although it's possible to win without it, the winning player will have one of these chits a vast majority of the time. As a result, the colors with just a single city (Lodz, Innsbruck, and Sigmaringen) are a little more valuable initially. You can also add Pilsen to that list, as it's the only way to get into Lodz.

Efficiency - An average game of Thurn probably lasts around 17-21 turns. That's not a lot, so you need to be efficient with your actions and your routes. That efficiency comes in several forms.

  1. Try to complete routes that allow you to place a post office in each city from the route, or all but one.
  2. Avoid (as much as possible) going through cities you've already placed houses in earlier in the game.
  3. Don't have more than three cards in hand when you close a route.
  4. Make smart use of the Cartwright and Administrator, but don’t over use them.

When I'm teaching Thurn to a new player I usually incorporate the above into the rules explanation. I consider these the 'common sense' that they'll learn within a game or so anyway.
The rest of this article is my attempt to explain my own personal strategies on different areas and situations.

Reshuffles

In a four-player game, you'll generally go through the deck around two times or so, depending on Administrator use. With only 3 copies of each city in the deck, obviously at least one player will miss out on the key cards the first time through. When the opportunity is there, I will try to make sure I'm working on a route that includes a key city when the first shuffle occurs. Better yet, I'll also be holding another key city in my hand ready for my next route. I'm often willing to take a tempo hit to extend a route one extra turn to keep a card out of the shuffle, especially if another copy is also out.

In addition, it's important to pay attention to what routes are in process at the first shuffle to be able to better plan routes for the next time through the deck. It's not unusual for two copies of a key city to be sitting in front of players at the shuffle. I often see this with Pilsen-Lodz. Unless a player gets both together early, it's often a player’s second or third route which puts it close to the shuffle. It's a tough position to need a card with only one available, tougher still when you don't realize it.

Relative Play Order

This is an area that I don't feel a lot of players think too much about, but I consider to be key. No matter where I'm at in turn order, I always have the most impact on the player to my left and the least on the player to my right. Early in a game, I make a conscious effort to work on a route (or start collecting for the next route) that follows my left-hand neighbor. Likewise, I try to stay away from anything my right-hand neighbor is currently working on. I've talked to players that think I'm counter-drafting them, but that's not really the case. I rarely take a card I don't intend and expect to play. Ultimately, it's not something you can always make happen, especially if you have a strong right-hand-opponent who is thinking the same way, but I find I'm able to use this strategy to my advantage in a majority of my games. A lot of strategies/tactics I use may only result in small incremental gains, but when the winning scores are in the teens and low twenties, that can make all the difference that's needed.

Turn Order

Actual turn order does have an impact on how I play, at least at the beginning of the game. Once I see how the other players are playing, that will often impact how I play out the rest of the game. Here are my thoughts on each seat.

Seat 1

Many players think seat 1 is the strongest. You have a head start on being the first player to get one or more of the bonus chits, including the 'around the world'. You are also initially in control of the pace of the game. When I can get the first color bonus chit after just my first two routes, I'll usually continue to push the pace of the game.

Seat 2

I consider this the weakest seat and I think statistics from WBC show that to be the case, if only slightly. It's not as good as seat 1 for chit advantage or pacing and has none of the advantages that I think make seat 3 or 4 better. It's not enough for me to be overly concerned when I start second but enough for me to be aware that it's my least favorite seat.

Seat 4

My preference is to go last. There are couple things I think seat 4 has going for it. As I mentioned earlier, I value relative player order pretty highly and the player in seat 4 has the most information to start the game. You know every other player’s first two cards (unless someone draws blind); which card they played first; and most of the cards that will be left on the board to start turn 2. That's a lot of valuable information to start the game with and getting that information is the primary reason I value seat 4 the highest. Another benefit is knowing when the game will end or, occasionally, being the player in control of ending the game. If you can take the lead in carts, you can potentially force the other players to close their final route prematurely in anticipation of what could be the final turn. This can often earn extra points by picking up a remaining long-route chit.

Seat 3

Seat 3 is not as good as seat 4 in the same way that seat 2 is inferior to seat 1. However, I still really like seat 3. I'm probably in the minority, but I actually put seat 3 ahead of seat 1 in my personal ranking. The extra starting info and the possibility of forcing 2 out of 3 opponents to close their final routes early puts this ahead of seat 1 for me.

Tempo and the Cartwright

On the majority of your turns, you'll be using either the 'Draw 2' or 'Play 2' special ability so it's fair to think of your turn as having 3 actions. Every city in a route costs you two actions; one to draw the card and one to play it. With 20 post offices, you need a minimum of 40 actions, or 14 turns, to be able to end the game that way. However, you are bound to need to hit a couple cities more than once, adding a few turns to that. If a player is rushing to the 7-cart by using the cartwright, turn 14 is also the earliest that the game end can be triggered. The 7-cart is worth 3 points more than the 6-cart, which is over 10% of most winning scores. It's another 2 points less for the 5-cart. In addition, the first player to acquire a 7 also gets the 1 point bonus for ending the game so if you end the game while still on the 6-cart, you already have 4 points to make up. I point all this out to stress the importance of keeping pace with the cart leader. Although Thurn is not a race game, it often plays out like one. The cartwright ability serves a couple purposes in relation to tempo – 1) It can help maintain pace with the cart leader; 2) It can help you catch up when other circumstances have caused you to fall behind; and 3) it allows you to get away from small routes while still picking up the next cart.

The Administrator

Don't be afraid to use the Administrator. I've seen plenty of players refuse to (or rarely) 'flush' the cards because they consider it inefficient or feel that it just helps the other players too much. On its surface, the administrator does “waste” 1 action, by depriving you of the ability to draw or play a city. However, if the ideal cards aren't there to draw, you aren't losing a good action. The alternatives are drawing blind off the top or taking a less desirable card for your route, possibly hitting a duplicate city. The blind draw could get you a completely useless card (for the 1 action wasted as using the Administrator) and leaves you in the same position for your next action. That’s not to say there aren’t times to draw blind as well. If there are several connectors that will work and the deck is low and you’re confident there’s a good chance, then go for it. But also pay attention to what cards your opponents are currently looking for. The flush can be used as a good defensive play, getting rid of someone’s key card while improving your own card selection. Similarly, if I notice that there is nothing on the board that connects to the next player’s route, I may be more likely to blind draw, and possibly put them into a position where they need to flush.

Conclusion

Most of these may only result in small incremental advantages, but in a game with winning scores averaging around 20 it can make the difference. While I always keep these strategies in mind, there are times when you need to zig instead of zag. I don’t consider any of these strategies to be absolute. That's what keeps the game interesting even after so many plays, and the ability to know when to alter your plan is what separates the top players from the rest. It's no fluke that many of the same people make semis and finals year after year despite WBC fields of 150+ players.

About Kyle Smith

Kyle Smith is unquestionably one of the best Thurn and Taxis players in the world. He won the annual Thurn and Taxis event at the World Boardgaming Championship in 2011 and has since finished in 2nd place twice – in 2014 and again in 2016. He's also made the finals at Euroquest in 4 of the last 5 years (with 2 wins). For a game with as much randomness as T&T this is a truly impressive resume. For whatever it’s worth, he’s also the single player I fear the most whenever he sits down at my own T&T tournament table. While he’s a great guy away from the table, as you’ll read here his in-game strategy is both cutthroat and very effective. - Randy

Through the Ages: Plan A

Through the Ages: Plan A

Plan A

The new edition of Through the Ages has made it so that there is a primary way to win the game.  Plan A, if you will.  Plan A in Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization is to hit someone with a war at the end of age III so that when they take their turn, it’s Age IV and they can’t resign, nor can they catch up to you in strength.  It takes advantage of two  rules changes in new TTA:

  • Uncapped military strength
  • No resignation in Age IV

For the rest of the article, understand that I’m going to explain how you make this materialize, and to talk about the differences between the two games so you can easily transition from the old game to the new game and stay on top of your competition.

The Core of TTA

In Through the Ages, everything is equally important, with military being slightly more equal than the others.  You always have an axis you are weak on that you need to solve, and you want to make sure that you also solve for military while solving for your other weaknesses – ending your turn as the strongest is preferred, but not being the weakest at the end of your turn is nearly mandatory.  The “strength tax” needs to be paid.   Why and how this works out between the two versions is slightly different.

Aggression Cards, Then and Now

Aggressions were often defense card checks, especially early in a game.  A one point strength lead meant you could either: force a discard of a highly sought after defense card , win the aggression, or make them sacrifice a unit.  All of those outcomes were great, so hitting someone hard early was something that was desired – making Caesar the highest ranked leader in Age A.  His extra red dot meant more cards drawn, the ability to hit and keep drawing cards, and a minuscule strength lead good enough to hit someone in round 3 with an aggression.

Aggressions in the new version of the game are quite a bit more deterministic.  The math is easy to do, and red dots define how high you can ever get your strength to.  Being 1 point behind means that the events are going to bite you, but aggressions aren’t going to bother you much.  To the point that fewer aggressions get played if everyone is keeping up with their strength relatively well.  Relatively well is simply measured by this formula:

Safe zone: Strength >= strength leader – 1 per red dot.

Safe-ish zone:  Strength >= strength leader - current age defense card strength - number of red dots + 1

For example, in age II (with defense cards at 4), if I have two red dots, a two strength different is extremely safe.  A 5 point strength difference is mostly safe.

I use the same formula when determining to attack someone or not.  This can change based on the number of defense cards seen, how many of the previous age were used, etc.  Due to fewer aggressions overall, people can be assumed to have a previous age defense card as well, but as per every game of this nature, you must make that judgement call based on what has happened thus far in your game.  But I do tend to not send aggression to people who are safe-ish based on the above presumption.

So Strength Doesn’t Matter as Much Anymore?

No - strength still matters for Plan A.  Strength still matters for events.  You may notice more events getting seeded due to less aggressions being played.  It is still true, however, that at higher levels of play, you’ll see less and less cards seeded during a game.  This is because you tend to be the weakest at the start of each of your turns when playing with good players.  You tend to not to want to seed when you aren’t the strongest unless you have good enough knowledge of what’s left in the deck and have an event or two left in there you really want to see pop before you take your turn.

Tactics Cards and How They’ve Changed

One of the big weaknesses in the old Through the Ages was the Age II tactics lottery.  You wanted to have 3 red dots going into Age II to maximize your chance of drawing a classic army, or perhaps a Napoleonic army as a consolation prize.  Sometimes you just set up your military for whatever and hoped for any (non-fortification) tactics card.  Failing to draw a red card in Age II probably spelled the end of your game.

The attempt to fix this in new Through the Ages was allowing people to copy tactics in play, albeit a turn later, so that the person playing it will get one turn to exploit their newfound strength before others can join in on the fun.  When playing casually, this means everyone will go play their tactic when they can to enjoy the strength benefit for a turn of events, to avoid being last in strength, or to get in one good aggression on next turn before losing the advantage.  Due to this, the number of tactics cards in the deck went down in the newest edition.

Competitively, however – this means there is only one way you want to play with these tactics – on the turn you declare a giant war in your favor.  The best way to execute Plan A involves planning on including the red dot to play your tactic in addition to all the dots you need for your war.

Putting It All Together

So now we understand the value of strength.  The question is, how do you get there?  There are a few key cards to make this strategy work.

First, you NEED red dots.  And you need to deny red dots to others.  So high on the list, for me, is Constitutional Monarchy.  Spend those actions making that happen.  It is just worth it.  Next on the list are the age II/III military techs.  Just because you have Constitutional Monarchy doesn’t mean you can ignore Strategy or Military Theory.  Picking them up denies those reds to your opponents.  Playing them gives you a massive army build-up after a war.

The top of the list, however, is Air Forces.  This card is still as good as it ever was, even with the re-balancing.  You also obviously need to either have the Age II or III military techs matching your chosen tactic.

There are ways to shore up your weaknesses if you are unable to pull it all together.  Winston Churchil has the ability to make up stone and science.  Albert Einstein can keep you topped up with the science needed, provided you can find a Computers card.  Yellow cards abound to help make up the stone issues.

One thing to keep in mind is that while having food so you can keep increasing your population and shoving them into the military is nice, it isn’t needed.  You’ll just need enough white dots to fire everyone and the red dots to  move them over in the second to last turn.  There have been many games where I’ve ended with 1 farmer and a priest or two, with everyone else conscripted into the army.

In conclusion, strength is even more important in the new version of Through the Ages than the previous edition.  You will want to get your strength to 80 to 90 and declare a war on the penultimate turn to maximize your points.  It’s not really fun, and it feels a little dirty.  But it is how you win.  Or at least, how you should be planning on winning.

About Sceadeau D'Tela

Sceadeau is one of the most feared tournament boardgamers around. He won the coveted Siegelman at Euroquest in 2009 and finished 2nd in the race for the Boardgame Players’ Association’s Caesar award last year. He’s also been a member of the winning team in the team competitions at both Euroquest and WBC. While Agricola is probably the game Sceadeau is most well-known for (and he does lead the all-time Laurel count in Agricola by almost 50%), he has also been amassing very impressive finishes at Through The Ages – the other most “shark-filled” event every year at WBC. He’s made the final table in 4 of the past 5 years so when he tells you the secret to the new version, it makes sense to listen! - Randy

A Quick Guide to Online Agricola

– Randy Buehler

The most popular place to play Agricola on the web is at boiteajeux.net. Games are typically played asynchronously, which means you check in a couple of times per day and see if it’s your turn yet. Since most people are in more than a couple of games at a time, it’s probably your turn in a couple of them. Overall, games can take anywhere from a few days to a few months to finish, and there’s nothing stopping you from playing games in real-time if you have a group that’s all online at the same time.

The biggest drawback to Boiteajeux is that not all the cards are included. Some cards were left out because they were tricky to implement (especially for asynch play), though almost all the cards from the E, I, and K decks do exist (aka – the decks that come with the game) and you could play for quite a while before even realizing anything was left out. Here’s a complete list of the cards from that are missing:

19 – Gypsy’s Crock
34 – Basket
38 – Madonna Statue
40 – Mini Pasture
58 – Animal Yard
68 – Harrow
70 – Punner
73 – Guest
97 – Slaughterhouse
117 – Greenhouse
125 – Broom
138 – Reed Hut*
339 – Pelts

Occupations
164 (4+) – Master Forester
169 (4+) – Storyteller
178 (4+) – Hut Builder
179 (1+) – Merchant
196 (1+) – Mushroom Collector
198 (3+) – Ratcatcher*
207 (1+) – Stablehand
208 (1+) – Stable Master
215 (4+) – Tenant Farmer
216 (4+) – Animal Keeper
223 (3+) – Harvest Helper
230 (4+) – Clay Digger
234 (3+) – Wood Buyer
237 (4+) – Juggler
239 (4+) – Corn Profiteer
251 (4+) – Reed Buyer
255 (4+) – Stone Buyer
260 (4+) – Taster*
261 (4+) – Outrider
263 (1+) – Fence Builder
269 (4+) – Acrobat
273 (4+) – Basin Maker
284 (1+) – Wood Distributor
289 (4+) – Countryman
299 (3+) – Slaughterman
301 (1+) – Wood Carver
307 (4+) – Animal Breeder
308 (4+) – Foreman
312 (1+) – Fence Overseer