Hey, that’s my strategy! (part 2)

If the water copies the appearance of the sky, does the sky care? Besides, the sky looks pretty good, so isn’t it great that the water can look good too? If I single-handedly drink all the beer and then try to write a blog post, does anybody really notice? Can I write an entire post where every sentence is a question?

For the answers to these, and other pressing questions, keep reading as I go substantially off-topic – because after all, isn’t knowing how and when to go off-topic the most important part of copying a strategy from someone else?

Ok, so the whole every sentence being a question thing was starting to grate a little. In fact it’s an approach which I would strongly recommend to all competing bloggers…

An important point to consider when gaming is that there are many situations, just like this one, where you actually want people to copy you. In Race for the Galaxy you can benefit from an opponent gaining powers in the same phases as you, thus making them more likely to pick the phases you want. In Terra Mystica, when you expand into a new area of the map, you might well want an opponent to come with you to provide power leech and avoid having to build “sad trading posts.” On the other hand, there are a number of games that I would call “be in the minority games,” where it pays to be doing something different from your opponents. Seven Wonders is probably the most significant example. Because it can be either good or bad to have someone copying you, it is important to manage your immitability according to your circumstances.

Of course there are psychological aspects to this in all games, but personally I’m not very good at dealing with these, so I wouldn’t try to replicate my approach in this area! What I do often consider are the ways in which my behaviour can materially affect my opponents’ ability to copy me. This could include which cards I pass on in Seven Wonders or whether or not I try to cut off my opponent in Terra Mystica to prevent them from following me. Try to push your opponents towards the strategies you would like them to follow, particularly when you think there is a close-cut decision for them to make and you might be able to tip the balance with relatively little effort. Of course, most of this is not applicable in two-player games, where the effects will generally be the same for both of you.

I also promised to address the question of what to say to annoy your opponents when shamelessly copying their strategies. There are two equally valid routes to take in this case, but it is important to pick one and stick to it, rather than to try mixing the two.

The first is to claim to have come up with it yourself, and if you are challenged on this simply lie outright. Do not back down under any circumstances – flat denial of the truth is your path to success, and confident full-on lies will work much better than trying to worm your way through with half-truths and things that are technically true but misleading. This strategy is one that I came up with entirely by myself, and to my knowledge there are no previous examples of its use.

The second is to deliberately put forward invalid reasoning about why you are doing well. Attribute your success to things entirely unrelated to the strategy you are copying, such as decisions you took that you now realise were mistakes, or moves you made that got in the way of the person you are trying to annoy.

One final point is that, however strong the temptation to explain to everyone how clever you are may be, it is important not to reveal your strategies in advance! This may sound very obvious, and indeed the idea that you shouldn’t just directly tell someone what you are going to do is obvious. What is less obvious and sometimes neglected is to think about the amount of information you give away with your play. If you have an important surprise move to pull out, try to keep it concealed as long as possible, and not make it too obvious what you are up to. An excellent example of this was used against me in Agricola recently, where one of my opponents deliberately held off on playing the Brushwood Collector (who allows you to build rooms without reed) until the last possible moment, in order to cause me to waste effort trying to starve them of reed.

Next time I am going to write an amazingly good blog post – I just didn’t want to give away what I was up to yet.

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I am a physicist who lives in Nottingham and I have been boardgaming for the last 10 years. My favourite boardgame is Agricola. I also enjoy playing the Yetis in Terra Mystica, hence the profile pic. I should also credit Sophie for drawing most of the cartoons that feature in the blog. Without her, there would be no grumpy oxen.

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