Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Thieve and keep thieving

Last night I played my second 2 player game of Terraforming Mars against Naked Man.  I won, and it was an absolute rout - the score was 104 to 64, partly on the back of me getting 3 milestones and the first 2 awards, leaving only the last and most expensive award for Naked Man to collect.  We both felt throughout the game that I was ahead but I honestly had no concept of just how big the lead was until the final score landed.

We were both musing on how exactly I won by so much.  There were two things that really stood out, one of which was Naked Man focusing too hard on a single strategy, the other of which was just me getting a ton of punish cards.  Naked Man went for a heavy space strategy, starting with titanium income from his corporation and adding on a ton of additional titanium income throughout the game.  He ended up at 6 titanium per turn, and that is way too much.  Most of the time you can just count titanium as being worth 3 bucks each, and as long as you find enough space cards to spend it on that is accurate.  Unfortunately for him we got fewer space cards than we rated to and so he had 30 titanium sitting in front of him by game end.  It was pretending to be worth 90 bucks but nobody was buying the act.

This is an important lesson.  There isn't really much of a 'space/titanium strategy' exactly.  If you go all in on titanium you will likely end up with far too much and it will be thoroughly wasted.  The first chunks of titanium are pretty good, and can reasonably be thought of as being worth 3 bucks.  However, as you stack more of it the chances that you will have to sink it into a weak card just to use it up rises, as does the smaller chance that it will be wasted completely.

The punish cards in Terraforming Mars can make dabbling in lots of things a risky business.  When you do that you are basically opening yourself up to every punish card out there.  However, going all in on titanium or steel is a different sort of problem because you risk having a stack of resources you can't profitably use.  I think in 2 player dabbling is probably best because you will get to snag half of the punish cards if you want to, and you only get through half the deck anyway so many punish cards won't even appear.  Going all in on a resource just means your opponent has a huge incentive to hate draft your payoff cards, no matter what sort those might be.

I got lucky getting some of the punish cards like Hackers to steal his income, but a couple of them got passed to me.  I think I dropped seven total punish cards, and all of them got full value.  It doesn't seem that exciting to take a card that costs you a net 0 but takes 4 bucks from your opponent but long run that squeeze on their output is brutal.  Terraforming Mars, like many games, has lots of big plays that are exciting and swingy, but it seems even more effective to take a continuous stream of small plays that are strict benefits to your situation.

So in short, you definitely need to avoid going too hard into a single resource when you can't guarantee a good use for it, and in the 2p game the punish cards are just amazing and you have to draft them highly.

One thing I found really funny is that because I had never read the rulebook I didn't know what the default game was actually like.  In the base game everyone starts with one production of every resource, and in the game I was playing that rule is taken out.  My impression right now is that this makes the game worse, largely because of punish cards.  If everyone has a bit of everything you can actually aim your punish cards at the people you think are winning instead of just hitting the only person who happens to have the thing you are punishing.  Plant strategies become more tenable because everybody is going to have some plants so meteors that blow up plants will often get aimed at people who aren't focusing hard on plants instead of always hitting the plant person. 

Keeping that extra production in the game will certainly speed the game up but I have no issue with that, and I would really like to try it out and see if my thinking on punish cards works out the way I want it to.


  1. It makes the games significantly faster. It ostensibly chops a turn off of the game, but it turns out that when everyone knows the game is a turn shorter they stop making engine plays and just focus on scoring quick points. Quick points are what causes the game to end faster so it snowballs a fair bit.

    I think part of it may also be some of the particularly egregious engine cards are taken out of the deck with those rules too. I think a fair number of the attack cards are too?

    1. I would want to continue to play with the full deck, I think. But yeah, I would definitely expect the game to finish really fast. It often just ambles along until suddenly everyone starts scoring like crazy and then it ends all of a sudden, and that would definitely happen earlier.

  2. I had no idea that the standard game started everyone out with production. I didn't learn on the standard game, and I've only played once without the full deck of cards (though maybe I should have when teaching last weekend).

  3. I have a counter anecdote.

    Tonight I played Kate and won 119 to 74.

    I once again ended up in Titanium, producing 24 credits worth each turn. I did not have enough. At one point in the late game, I had 4 space cards costing 73 after the draft that I could have purchased. I extended the game so that I could produce more Titanium and pick up a bunch more points.

    Our game last week was very unusual in the lack of space cards. I'm not sure definitive conclusions can be drawn from it.

    Like you, I knew I was winning, but was surprised by how much I ended up winning by.

    Our post game analysis suggested that I drew better cards. I also got three punish cards before she got any and that hurt her a lot.

    I think income differential is more critical. I got passed a card on T2 that was worth 7 income a turn for the rest of the game due to my set-up, and that was huge early on. I really tried to concentrate on income. In the game against you, a lot of my early cards did nothing, they just got me points, but I was trying a science strategy as well and needed them out (if I remember correctly). My game was flawed all over.

    I'm a fan of having multiple attack paths, but don't dabble all game. Keep yourself open to what's coming, then narrow it down and focus on what's working.

    1. So I guess my question would be are you drafting? If so, was Kate counterdrafting the space cards? In a 2 player game with someone going heavy titanium the other player should just be taking every space card and binning them.

    2. In the early going in the game in the original post our incomes were quite similar, if you count the titanium for full value. I was getting income from terraform rating though, and yours was titanium, so I was getting ahead big time in points. To address Nick's question, in the game with me and Matt I counterdrafted space cards hard, but I also had a small amount of titanium production so I wasn't binning them, I was playing them.

    3. Kate had a small amount of titanium, but I opened most of the space cards I needed, or drew them through alternate methods (a key strategy in 2-man).

      At one point, a key Jovian card passed back and forth between us because neither of us had any others and knew the other would hate them if we took it. Then I drew 5 Jovian cards off the top over the course of the game and ended up in it.

    4. Also, you can't hate everything! Sometimes there are really good cards that I'd gladly hate from her if she let me at them by hating me first.

  4. Obviously you can't hate everything but my experience in two player games is that almost everyone doesn't hate enough. People too frequently look at how good a thing is for them and don't think enough about net benefits of different actions.

    Especially in a game like the one being described, where you've heavily indexed into titanium, having both players hate has to be good for the other player. They can still pay full price for space cards if they have nothing else to do, the titanium player can't use their titanium for anything else.