I have a strategy for the board game Shadow Hunter. It can be roughly summarized as Git Em.
I played Shadow Hunter a few times this past week and the other players seemed surprised at the level of aggression I displayed in the game. The way the game works is you have hidden roles and identities for each player. You can either be a Shadow, a Hunter, or a Neutral. Generally Shadows win by killing all the Hunters, Hunters win by killing all the Shadows, and Neutrals have weird win conditions. In my five player games there were 2 Shadows, 2 Hunters, and 1 Neutral. Throughout the game you have opportunities to figure out which team or individual the other players are.
My fellow players seemed to really like the idea of playing it cagey. They would pass up opportunities to attack other players on the basis that they didn't know who they were attacking and thus the attack might make their situation worse rather than better. They usually waited until they knew exactly who to attack before getting aggressive.
I, on the other hand, came out swinging. I figured that since I was a Shadow and I had to kill 2 Hunters to win I should always be attacking somebody. If I kill the Neutral that is probably just fine, and if I kill my fellow Shadow that is bad, but if I attack a Hunter then all is well. That means that I am happy hitting 3 of my 4 possible targets so I might as well hit whoever I can whenever I can. I will of course try to figure out who the other players are but I don't need to wait to be sure before bashing some faces!
I won both games in part because of good luck, but in part simply because my aggressive strategy worked out. I did injure my ally in both games but I put far more damage onto the Hunters I was trying to kill and they ran out of hit points before I did. In a game with five players and no second place I think you usually want to favour high risk, high reward strategies. Especially if the other players are being really timid you will do very well by spreading out damage on everybody but yourself, and while occasionally you will kill your ally and lose badly most of the time you will win.
I like to think of it in extreme terms. If I do nothing then I stay even with everyone else and presumably have a 20% chance of victory. If I lay out an absurd beating and everyone else dies I am a heavy favourite to win, probably 80%+. (You might think it would be 100%, but the game has weird mechanics I am not getting into.) The closer I can swing the game towards that 80% win situation, the better off I am.
The unfortunate thing about this conclusion is that everyone should employ it. The neutral characters sometimes really don't want other people to die because of their weird mechanics but for all the Hunters and Shadows you generally want to attack all the time. If everyone does this then the game doesn't work all that well because everyone dies in an extreme hurry and there is little in the way of strategy. By the time you figure out who some of the other players are the game has ended one way or the other. It feels as though the game creators wanted to build a game where people spent time ferreting out their opponent's secrets and working out complex guesses about hidden information, but what the players should be doing if they want to win is just murdering anyone they can as fast as they can. That results in a game that is quick, random, and thoroughly uninteresting.
This sort of issue crops up all the time in games. Puerto Rico is a good example, where the game designer clearly had ideas about large scale production and shipping dominance, as evidenced by the design and cost of the Hospice, Large Warehouse, and Wharf. But instead what usually happens is one person builds all the production facilities and quickly ends the game with enormous Mayor phases and the Guild Hall. The optimal line of play is not actually one that makes the game enjoyable because it forces a narrow style of play that leaves much of the game in the dust.
The base set of Dominion is similar. There are all kinds of interesting cards to buy but most of them flat out aren't good enough to be worth it. It is far too common that the optimal line of play is to buy a single copy of the best Action card on the table and then just buy Silver - Gold - Province. What a snooze fest. Thankfully for Dominion the expansions are much better.
If you want a game to have any longevity and good replayability this is important. Clearly optimal play is going to be different from weak play, but it is important that optimal play incorporate all the major game elements and have good feel. For example, in Agricola an optimal player still wants to build some rooms, grow the family, and collect some of all the types of goods in the game. That player is going to do all the things, they are just going to do it more efficiently, and they are going to make lots of interesting choices in the process.
It is important that optimal play support both interesting decisions, varied lines of play, and allows for a high skill cap. Shadow Hunters fails on all three counts. Optimal play involves few decisions that have little effect, the same experience every time, and makes the game highly random.
It is too bad, because I like a lot of the lore and the ideas behind the game. I just can't get behind the final design.