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funkdoc

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starting builds: the fundamentals
« on: January 23, 2014, 05:45:22 pm »
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choosing where to place your initial city (or, more often, cities) is one of the most important decisions in this game, yet there doesn't seem to be a lot of in-depth posting about this online. i still make my fair share of mistakes here but have improved greatly from even a month ago, so i can give you what i have learned thus far!

first off, there's the matter of whether to build 1 or 2 cities with a 1-capacity starting plant. i've seen people on BGG go "you can't power a second city and you're giving up the turn-order advantage from your lower-numbered plant, so why do it?"  yet if you watch good online players, you'll quickly notice that single builds are the exception and not the rule, regardless of starting plant. why?

the key is carving out enough of a cheap area that nobody else can possibly reach 5 cities if they start there!  a great example is the dirt-cheap red region in Germany, with the green & blue regions removed.  the standard build with the 03 plant here is Kassel + Dortmund, as you cross the expensive bridge to all the cheap stuff and get great expansion possibilities for Step 2 thanks to Kassel's multiple connections to yellow. if you merely single build in Kassel, someone else can do an opening triple build and steal most of your cheap red cities, forcing you into an expensive jump somewhere or other; taking Dortmund leaves less open territory and makes future jumps in red very cheap for you, killing the incentive for good opponents to do this. single building in Dortmund is not nearly as bad, but someone else will surely take Kassel and make it harder for you to expand out of red - this also means you'll get 6 cities instead of 7 during Step 1, potentially leaving you at the mercy of a stall.  the advantages of taking those two cities at once easily outweigh the worse turn order on the second turn, especially since Germany has no safe single builds at all unless you're late in the opening build order (in which case it's worthwhile with the 09 or 13).

in order for a single build to be "safe", it should lie in a central city that connects to two separate small clusters of cities in that region, and those clusters shouldn't offer enough territory themselves to be worth starting in.  the classic example on the USA map is Chicago, with Minneapolis/Duluth/Fargo behind it and St.Louis/Cincinnati/Knoxville in front of it. if the Northwest is not in play, all of these cities should be safely yours except for St. Louis if the Mid-South region is in play.  if the Northwest is in play, on the other hand, building in Chicago alone is no longer safe since another player can take Minneapolis + Omaha - in this case, the optimal Midwest build becomes Chicago + Minneapolis.  Washington, DC is also a strong single build on USA - at worst it's like the Dortmund single build except with much better expansion options, and it becomes even better when the Southeast is in play.  heck, even a single build in Savannah or Jacksonville can be good when the Northeast isn't in play since those are central cities as well.

you absolutely do NOT want to single build in an extremely cheap region which is also connected to other extremely cheap regions.  it's just too easy for multiple opponents to surround you and force you into jumps, which means you won't be able to keep up with them in money or territory.  think of the northern half of Italy, or Benelux in general!

so as mentioned before, the majority of good starting builds are double builds.  the most important aspect of a good double build, as suggested by the Germany example, is locking up a region or a multi-region cluster of 6-7 cities to yourself.  for a great example of the latter, we'll go back to Germany with Hamburg + Schwerin. when green & brown are in play, this build guarantees you the cheapest cities outside of the red/blue cluster; those cities are just disconnected enough from each other that nobody else should build there, but your two starting cities will give you the direct route to all of them.  another time where it's good to start in 2 different regions is when you're taking the only connection to one of those regions and it's expensive for anyone else to jump past you into that region.  Germany (yes, AGAIN, i know!) has a powerful one when blue & purple are in play but yellow is not, as you can take Stuttgart + the blue city just north of it (forget the name, sorry!).  nobody else will have a direct route into purple, and the blue city also has enough decently-priced connections in blue that players shouldn't build near you there either!  though this may seem unattractive since purple is easily the most expensive region in Germany, having that many cities to yourself means you'll never have to worry about getting blocked until Step 3.

these trans-regional builds are also the exception, however.  most good starting double builds will simply aim to claim a single region for yourself - when in doubt, go for the build that best "divides" the cities around you and makes it the most expensive for others to jump into your area.

finally for now, i would like to touch on the rare triple build!  i've never seen this discussed on BGG or this blog, but good online players will start with 3 cities in certain situations.  this is almost always done with the 03 plant since these builds are made in the cheapest areas, so money will be a challenge for the next few turns...but it can be very strong if you manage that well.

first, i should mention the best situations to do this.  the most popular triple build online is also the most obvious one: all 3 "cities" in Paris!  i am only a fan of this move if purple & brown are both open, though i have seen some players use it even if one of those regions is gone.  it also happens a lot in Germany when red & blue are open, as someone can take 3 cities somewhere in that whole cheap cluster.  the last one i have seen is the most interesting one to me and a move i never would have considered before playing online: Savannah + Atlanta + Birmingham when the Northeast is not open. you can only afford this build if you pay $3 or $4 for the 03, but it gives you a uniquely powerful map position compared to the other builds mentioned.

as mentioned before, the main challenge with this type of move is building up your money and plants over the next few turns.  in maps besides France this is easier since the 13 plant is the ideal fit for you on turn 2; you can start with 2 spots in Paris + another city in France, but the big jump in cost just cripples your plant buys too much to be worth it.  if you make this build in a 4-player non-France game, the 13 will not be available when you go up to bid on turn 2, so just put the 10 up for auction and pass if someone else wants it (or happily take it at cost if nobody else wants it).  if you're in a 3-player game and cannot even bid for the 10 on turn 2, i would not make this build to begin with since you will be forced to either pass or take an awful plant then.  in a 6-player game where the 13 will be taken as a starting plant, i still like this build since map position becomes even more important and you should have something decent on the market for turn 2.

anyway, once you get your 13 or 10, hang back until another decent plant shows up. i would go for something like the 16 or another green plant if you can try it - otherwise, just have patience until you build up some money and start to drop in the turn order.  an exceptionally dry early market will likely keep you from winning, so be sure to pay attention to the plants in the futures market before deciding on your build!

that's about it for now...i'd like to put together a list of optimal starting builds for various maps and map configs, but that would take a lot longer than this!

AdamH

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Re: starting builds: the fundamentals
« Reply #1 on: January 24, 2014, 01:30:01 pm »
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I remember a 4-player game on the Korea map I played once. I saw the four cities with no connection cost between them and decided I wanted them, so I was willing to go up to $8 for the 04 plant ($2 to buy my coal for that round, leaving $40 for the cities). It was sort of in a bottleneck on the map as well so even if people built right around me I still had relatively cheap outs both ways and when step 2 hit I was in a great spot to expand (everyone else around me would just want to rush into the cities I already built in). Lucky for me, the 15 plant dropped right after on the next turn and nobody else was in a position to pay that much for it (plus I got the 04 plant for $4, which had to have been a mistake by my opponents) so I was actually able to power 4 cities on turn 2 and still have amazing board position. I won that game pretty easily.

This is an extreme case, yes, but it touches on something similar to situations you've talked about here. There are times when people will build three cities on the first turn of the game and sacrifice their initiative to get a good board position. Things that make this a good idea include: cheap connection costs in a place you want to build, and knowing that a decent plant is going to drop for you next turn so the turn order doesn't bite you.

On another note, I'm thrilled that someone other than me is writing about Power Grid. I think I want to put one or more of these on the blog page. Is there one in particular that you think we can shoot for to do first? Should I assume that most of your experience comes from two-player games?
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trashplant

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Re: starting builds: the fundamentals
« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2014, 05:23:15 am »
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I have also searched some online for a discussion about starting builds and choosing cities. You guys have brought up a lot of interesting strats and thoughts when it comes to the different plants (the maninmotion plant summary is awesome btw), but regarding city builds there is still need for some discussion. So Im trying to revive this thread a bit!

I think this might be the harder part of the game. It has been mentioned that turn order is key and so on, and we all know how the plants work as turn order tiebrakers. But since the amount of cities is the main determiner of turn order, it has an even bigger impact if you change up you build and double or triple build on the first turn.

My friends and I usually play 5-6 player games. In general I preferr to start with the 03/04, grab a city in a cheap area and then try to land a big plant on the second turn. This has put me in a great position most of the times, but it seems like as our power grid skills has increased this does not work out as good anymore. Lately there has been more "battling" on the map in our games, blocking and stalling has been more common.

Funkdoc, you touched on some interesting things that I have been thinking about. Unfortunately I have not had the chance to try these things in actual power grid games. But I have been thinking about...
- If the future market looks a little slow (in a 5-6p game), maybe it is a good idea to still grab the 03/04 but still triple build on the first turn in a cheap area. Then try to settle for a market mover on the second turn, Im thinking 15/16/18 or 09/10/12 as backups (11 is probably taken...)
- If you decide to double or triple build on the first turn, is it best to try to block off a decently cheap area which you then can expand into? Or is it worth going for cities with no or low connection costs? Im thinking about maybe the Essen area on the Germany map or maybe Savannah on the US map.

It is hard to simplify these kind of strategy thoughts into just a few examples, but thats what makes power grid such a good game... Maybe some kind of city list focusing on the early game (like the plant list on maninmotion...) is needed?  :D
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