Top 5 Multiplayer Strategy Tips

As everyone knows, a multiplayer game is a completely different animal from a two-player or solitaire game.  In a two-player game everything is zero-sum: a gain for me is a loss for my opponent and vice versa. Strategy typically revolves around finding (in Game Theory terms) dominant strategies that will lead to victory.  In other words, each time you are presented with a choice, finding the alternative that maximizes your utility.  In layman’s terms, finding the choice that strictly is better than all the other choices.

Typically, in multiplayer everyone is your adversary, but they also can be your friends.  This dynamic makes strategy in a multiplayer game more of a mixed strategy.  In others words, there may not be a single dominant strategy, rather strategies are also a gamble based on the choices made by the other players.  No strategy is inherently always going to be maximal.  As such, in a multiplayer game you must “read and play” your opponents more than just analyzing the board situation.

What follows are my Top 5 Multiplayer Strategy Tips that are applicable to any and all competitive multiplayer games.  Please note that I am not talking about cooperative games (e.g. Pandemic, Ghost Stories, T.I.M.E Stories, Grizzled, etc.) or multi-person solitaire (e.g. Race for the Galaxy) but rather truly multiplayer games where one player’s actions directly impact another player.  It can be a typical strategy game where you take something directly from an opponent (e.g. Risk) or a game where you fight for resources and territory (e.g. Settlers of Cataan) or even where the only interaction might be drafting a card from a shared hand (e.g. Among the Stars).

#1 Hide in Second Place

Okay, this one should be obvious to most casual and serious gamers.  Basically, you can read this tip as “Do not race into first place too early.”  If you sprint out to a clear lead, everyone else starts gunning for you.  If you put up the first City in Settlers of Cataan, expect that Bandit/Baron/or whatever you call it to be placed on your most productive hex.  Capture the North American continent in Risk?  Watch the attacks on Fortress America commence.  And don’t even think about building that biggest fleet in Enemy in Sight!  Your masts are going to get blown apart by every other player in the game!  Have tons of health in Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards?  You won’t for much longer as every spell gets thrown your way!

So what is a keen player to do?  Stay in second place and keep your quest for victory hidden.  Grab a Special Card in Settlers and try for a Victory Point, or maybe keep your long road just one segment less than the guy with the Longest Road.  In games with a lot of victory points awarded at the end (e.g. Among the Stars), do not build space station blocks that have immediate points, rather build the ones with points counted at the end–such a sneaky way to grab victory from 2nd or even 3rd place.

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Keep these beauties hidden so your opponents can only guess at how many victory points you have.

#2 John the Weaker Opponents

When my brother and I were kids, during holidays we always got in a long game of Risk with our uncles.  Uncle Bruce was clever and tough to beat, but uncle John always used a particular and quite powerful strategy.  He would convince one of our younger cousins that either my brother or I were winning the game.  He would argue that if the weaker player didn’t do something about me or my brother, no one else could.  So after a bit of logic, intimidation, and persuasion, my younger cousin Bruce Jr. would launch suicidal attacks against my troops.  Bruce Jr. couldn’t beat me, but he did weaken me enough for Uncle John to win.

Johning your opponent means to convince a weaker opponent to attack another opponent–thus weakening the stronger one and making your “emerge from second place to win the game” strategy pay off.  It is a very effective strategy that you can use in most multiplayer games where opponents can either pick their targets (e.g. Epic Spell Wars, Enemy in Sight, Dune, Seasons) or in games where geography allows for players to attack a multiple number of “near” opponents (e.g. El Grande, Risk, Eclipse, Kemet, Smallworld), to interfere with “near” opponents by denying them resources (e.g. Settlers, The Golden City), or by making resources more expensive (e.g. Power Grid).  Note that Johning can also be used in card “drafting” games by trying to get other players to deny cards to the “leader” or true target of your Johning strategy.  Try to John players in 7 Wonders so that you can draft a useful card while they draft a card that your key opponent needs.

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Who should those Amazons attack?  If you are the Skeletons, John that Amazon player and make him go after the Humans–convince him that clearly the Humans need some paring back!

Johning is a strategy that you should use much like voting in Chicago: do it early and often.

#3 Do Not Leave the Table for a Slice of Salami

When we were playing those childhood games of Risk, I learned a very hard lesson: never, ever leave the table to get something to eat.  I come from an Italian family and we always had multiple sticks of salami around at each holiday. The temptation of grabbing a few slices would pull me away from the Risk board often.  And what awaited me when I returned…a new alliance among two or more players hellbent on destroying my empire!  Of course, some members of this new alliance appear to have been victims of Johning, but that wouldn’t make their troops fight any less effectively.

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What the?!?  I left the table to get a slice of salami and now my Fortress Europa is under attack from all sides!  I fear an alliance has been made against me!

The moral of the story is that if you leave the table, other players can plot against you.  I recommend stacking up the food and drink within easy reach of wherever you are seated.  Oh, and develop a strong bladder.

#4 Run with the Pack/Dodge the Pack

Some games are set up to reward players who follow the same strategy and punish the lone wolves.  For example, in Eminent Domain if you try a Produce/Trade strategy by yourself, you will not win.  If no one else is leading Produce/Trade, you cannot follow.  Thus, you will have to do all the work yourself by consistently leading Produce/Trade.  Meanwhile, the other players who are all leading AND following a Warfare strategy are smoking you like a cheap cigar!   Running with the Pack will not insure that you win, but you certainly will not come in last.

Drafting games follow the opposite rule: Dodge the Pack.  Because drafting forces players to focus on accumulating one or two types of resources, each player has to ignore/pass along the resources that they do not want.  For example, how many times have I played 7 Wonders and seen the Scientific structures keep circulating?  If no one wants them, you can be sure that you can grab them all!

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So many scientific cards getting passed to me.  What to do, what to do?  I think its time for some scientific discoveries!

#5 Limit the Strongest Opponent

I know that when I sit down to play a strategic game that my brother Stew, the West Point Graduate, is going to play to win.  He likes strategy games, he is good at strategy, and he is ruthless.  Thus, I look for ways to keep him in check.  This can be overt, such as not trading cards with him in Settlers or drafting cards that he wants in games like 7 Wonders or Among the Stars.  Or it can be covert, like when I try to John the other players into hemming in Stew in Smallworld or Eclipse.  The point is to not let Stew run amok over the weaker players. Stew already would consider me to be his strongest opponent, so I can’t expect help from him.  Thus, returning the favor is the best strategy to pursue.  Sure, sometimes we end up negating each other and somebody else wins, but better the occasional loss than the beat down that an unchecked Stew can unleash.

As an example, when I play Dune (or the Fantasy Flight copy, Rex) and I have to pick a traitor at the start of the game, I always pick one from Stew’s leaders.  Why?  Because I know that if I have to battle Stew, he is going to be prepared with a weapon, defense, good leader, etc.  I will need the traitor to turn the battle my way.  Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that he has taken a traitor from among my leaders too!

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Hmmm, 4 possible traitors.  Stew playing the Bene Gesserit?  My only choice is to make Princess Irulan my traitor.

Conclusion

I hope these tips help you win more of your multiplayer games.  Remember, the main difference between multiplayer and 2-player games is that in the former you must remember to also consider the other players and their strategies.  John them, focus on the top player, run/dodge the pack, hide in 2nd place, and never ever leave the table for a slice of salami.

 

Recent Games: Big Book of Madness, Monarch,7 Wonders Duel, Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards, King of New York, Tiny Epic Galaxies

Recently, the Toledo Tuesdays Gaming Club has had time for some serious gaming!  Here is a selection of some of the most recent sessions.

Big Book of Madness

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The start of the game.  It was all downhill after this point!

We got in a game of Big Book of Madness (You can find my review of it here).  It’s a cooperative game where each player is a novice spellcaster and together they must defeat the monsters that spill out of an opened book of madness.  We have played it a few times, and we know that it is a hard game to win.  But this time we really got on the receiving end of the hard knocks and couldn’t recover.

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By the second turn we were already suffering from our inability to get rid of the curses before they inflicted their pain on us.

In short, we seemed incapable of getting 4 of any element together to banish a curse.  Thus, the curses kept hitting us, and most seemed to drop Madness cards into our decks (see the picture above).

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My hand just before the end of the game: full of madness and weak element cards.

By about Turn 3, Bob and Neal were drawing loads of Madness cards.  Without many playable cards, it became tougher and tougher to banish curses.

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The end of the game…it came quick!

By turn 4, we had already run through the entire Madness deck and lost the game.  Particularly nasty were the multi-element curses (as seen above under the #2 spot) that kept adding additional elements to the other curses.

I highly recommend Big Book of Madness, because if you want a tough game to win, try it out!

Monarch

We tried out a new game that Stewart got for Christmas: Monarch.

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The box cover of Monarch

In Monarch, each player tries to earn the most victory points by acquiring different titles and objects (represented on cards) related to the monarchy.

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The basic layout of Monarch.  The 9 fields/villages, apples (red tokens), gold, and titles/objects.  I have a Pomeranian in the foreground.  Note that I am getting spanked!  I have 1 object while my brother (in the background) already has 5.

Each player must harvest apples from fields and use them to upgrade fields and villages.  Apples also are used to force villages to pay taxes (the gold coins) which are used to acquire cards–and it those objects that have varying victory points.  The game also has a faction mechanic and a few other subtleties.

It was the first time that we played it and Stew beat the rest of us down pretty good.  Bob and I competed for resources and also seemed to waste time upgrading villages only to have Stew upgrade them last and switch them to his faction.  The game was fun and with some more plays I am sure we will figure out exactly how to maximize our strategies.

7 Wonders Duel

Stew and I got in a couple games of 7 Wonders Duel.

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7 Wonders Duel with the new Pantheon expansion!

We played a couple games with the new Pantheon expansion.  For those who haven’t tried Pantheon yet, it adds 5 different Mythologies to the game (Mesopotamian, Phoenician, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian).  You can recruit Gods to lend their special powers to your side.  Most interestingly, when you recruit a God you do not have to burn one of the discovery cards.  This can change the turn order so it adds a new tactical wrinkle to 7 Wonders Duel.

Stew won both times, typically by pursuing a strategy of collecting Civilian buildings.  I got really close to a Scientific instant win in our second game, but came up just short.

Stew really loves this game, as it is on his Top 10 list (Stew’s Top 10 Games click here), so anyone looking for a two-player game should check it out.

Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Rumble at Castle Tentakill

I got the new Rumble at Castle Tentakill expansion to Epic Spell Wars and was burning up to try it out.

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Lee dealing out the cards.  Castle Tentakill standing ominously in the middle of the table

Rumble at Castle Tentakill introduces two new mechanics.  First, now some delivery spells are Creatures. Creatures have a chance of staying in play from turn to turn.  They also can jump in front of damage, sacrificing themselves so that you don’t get hurt.  Second, the standee now has a purpose!  Certain spells move the standee to a player (or take it from another player).  Other spells give you bonuses if you have the Standee while some spells inflict more pain on the player who has the Standee.

We got in a few turns but unfortunately we had to end the game before the finish.

King of New York: Power Up!

I also received the new expansion Power Up! for King of New York.

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King of New York with the new Power Up! evolution cards

We played a three-player game.  I was the Sheriff (in the foreground above).  The new Power Up! evolution cards added a twist.  Now when you roll 3 hearts you can draw 2 evolution cards and choose 1 to add to your hand.  Each monster has its own set, so in this expansion choosing which monster to play actually can make a difference.

Anyway, I played the Sheriff and I quickly got into Manhattan.  I slapped both Stew and Bob mercilessly turn after turn.  I eventually got driven off, but by this time everyone was quite banged up and when I left Manhattan Stew had to enter it.  This set of a cycle whereby Bob eliminated Stew, and then I eliminated Bob to win the game!

I can’t emphasize how fun King of New York is.  If you haven’t played it, run out and get a copy and give it a try as soon as possible.  You won’t regret it.

Tiny Epic Galaxies

Stew and I got in a game of Tiny Epic Galaxies.

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The situation early in the game.  I am in the foreground with the red units and Stew is on the left with the green units.

Well, this game turned out to be a nightmare.  You can check out my review (click here for TEG review) of TEG to see why.  In short, probably a game to be avoided unless you want to play it solitaire, in which case it is fun enough.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  See you next time!

 

 

Birthday Games: Mysterium, T.I.M.E. Stories, Epic Spell Wars, The Grizzled, Eclipse, and Power Grid expansion board (Quebec & Baden-Wuerttemberg)

Well, yours truly the host of this blog had a birthday recently.  All my friends and family bought me a bunch of games.  So take a look at the photo of the gifts:

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My birthday haul of games!

So…which game or expansion should I play first?  Drop a comment on the blog/Facebook/Twitter and let me know your opinion.

Oh, the kitten is called Nigel and he was a birthday present from my wife.  He loves to play too!

Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre

 

What Did we Play?

Okay, remember when you were a kid?  I know, I know, that was a long time ago, but let’s try.  You totally liked to play board games and you thought that you could make up your own games.  I know my brother and I thought this way.

So we grabbed some paper, some cardboard, some markers, etc, and made up a bunch of games that we thought were really cool!  And one of those games was a wizard spell battle!  Does anybody remember the Monster Maker (sometimes it was the Hero Maker)?  It looked like your sister’s Fashion Maker game, you know, the one with the set of flaps hinged on the left.  You could change the top, the middle, and/or the bottom flap by flipping the sheets of paper to make the outfit/monster/hero of your dreams.

Well, all of us played around with a similar idea for a wizard battle.  What if we could customize a spell in the same way?  Well, the geniuses at Cryptozoic behind Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre (EPSWotBW:DaMS) actually did just that!

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Check out the art!  This game just looks cool!

How do you know that this game is going to be totally rad?  It says so on the back of the box!  “Are you Rad enough for gnarly wizard on wizard magical combat?”  “Do you have the Balls to totally melt a dude’s face…with Magic?!?”  “Rip your opponents a new one with INSANE spell combos!”  Combine these bold proclamations with the cool retro art and you just know that this game is totally rad!

The TTGC (About) recommends that you try out Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards!  Why?  Because it is a blast to play!  The promise of the box is fulfilled by the contents.  Basically, each player is a wizard with 20 hit points.  Here are a couple examples.  The characters do not have special abilities, it is merely chrome.

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Two examples of wizards.  I think you can see the tongue in cheek nature of Epic Spell Wars.

Each player has a hand of 8 cards.  During a round each player chooses up to 3 spell cards and creates a unique spell.  There are 3 spell components: Source, Quality, and Delivery.  Players can utilize up to 1 card of each component (you can choose to not include 1 or 2 of the components).  The delivery cards also include an initiative number with more powerful delivery cards going slower than weaker cards.  Wizards who created spells with only 1 component go first in the round, wizards with two components go next and then wizards with a complete 3 component spell go last.  turn order within those three groups is by the delivery initiative number or at random if a delivery component is missing.

Basically, each player creates a spell and hurls it at his/her opponents.  Here is an example of a spell.

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Pam and Hecuba’s Explodifying Testikill

After all the wizards cast their spells, each player draws back to 8 cards and the next round begins.  The game is played until only a single player remains.  The winning player gets a “Last Man Standing” token and all the other players get a “Dead Wizard” card, which could offer help in the next game.  All players discard their hands and a new game begins.  The first player to get 2 Last Man Standing tokens is the winner.

There is a bit more to the game than this, including Treasure cards, spell elements, combinations, wild cards, etc, but I will let you discover for yourself how all that works after you get a copy of Epic Spell Wars and turn your opponents into bubbling piles of blood and bone with INSANE spells!  For the more tactical players, there is a good deal of timing strategy, especially sacrificing components for speed.  When everyone’s hit points are getting low, it might be better to cast a quick weak spell than load up a slow Gorenado!  Whaaaaaat?  The game is not only fun and cool, but also has a bit of depth and strategy to it.  How rad is that!?!

Trust me, you will have fun playing Epic Spell wars.  Now get out there are start Melting Faces with Magic!