Friday, April 25, 2008

Notre Dame: Cubes

There's one final resource to discuss in Notre Dame, and that is cubes. Cubes are a tricky beast to analyze as there's no clear penalty for not having enough of them. With dollars if you run out you can see what you weren't able to bribe. If you get plagued you lose immediate VPs. When you run out of cubes you just have to move some cubes around. In fact, most games even if you were to pick up max cubes you'd still have to move some around at some point, so it's not a game-losing penalty by any stretch of the imagination. Often there's not even any downside to having to move cubes around but sometimes it can be crippling. So, what do cubes do, and how many do we really need?

Cubes have a couple purposes. They...

  • Allow the geometric progression of the bank, cube-house, and VP-house to function.
  • Let you drive further in your car.
  • Operate the hospital and park on an on-going basis.
  • Allow you to score VPs by bribing some phase specific guys, especially the phase C guys.

The first group is often expendable. Once you use the bank 3-4 times you don't really need to go back, so the cubes you have sitting there are just waiting to be moved. This can be when you run out of cubes and move one on your standard action or by one of the moving bribes, but a strong strategy often seems to me to be to get 3 cubes into the cube house or bank and then move them out to somewhere else.

The second group is tricky, and often depends on how many other players are driving in their cars. It's pretty easy to get into a situation where your car is stranded if you ever move a cube out of this square. This not only wastes the rest of the cubes in the car square, it also makes the car card uselss. Once you abandon the car, though, you can freely move the rest of the cubes out.

The third group is mission critical. You can very rarely afford to move cubes out of either the hospital or the park. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but generally speaking once you put a cube in either square you should plan on it staying there. The go-in action of killing a rat is mediocre, those squares are good because of the staying ability they have. The hospital is practically must-have for 2-3 cubes and the park wants an even number.

The fourth group is critical to winning many games. There are three different scoring guys in phase C and you want to consider at least one of them with your cube placement over the course of the game. The three are 1 VP per occupied square, 3 VP per triple occupied square, and 1 VP per cube in your most populated square. Because of the triple occupied guy I tend to try to have 3 guys in the hospital. 2 will sometimes suffice if you work at killing rats in other ways, but the third guy in is worth 3 VPs, so might as well put him in there and worry less about rats as well. (There's also a 2 VP per doubleton guy in phase B who can be big VPs as well.)

Cubes can also be removed from the game a couple of different ways. If you get plagued you lose a cube from the most populated square as well as the 2 VPs. You can get this cube back, but it goes to your bad pile so it's a non-trivial process. Losing from your most populated square can be ok (if you've finished using the square) but often it's brutal. Losing cube 4 from the park is depressing, and losing a cube from the hospital makes you cry. The second way is by going to Notre Dame. At the end of the phase all cubes in Notre Dame are recycled back to bad piles. This is a necessary evil as going to Notre Dame is often how you win, but it is something to keep in mind. Someone who goes to ND early without also picking up some cubes is in trouble as they'll then only have 3 cubes to work with.

How do you get cubes you may be asking. Exactly the same ways as you get gold, oddly enough, with one extra way. That way is the Bishop, one of the guys you can bribe in phase A. He lets you take a cube from your bad section and put it onto any empty square on the board, activating that square. This guy is awesome. Not only does he give you a free cube, he puts it into play and gives you a free action. Even if your best spot is to guesthouse for a cube it still beats bribing the monk, I think, because it gets the cube into play where it can do things and that's worth losing a VP early game. You should always plan for the bishop and try to leave a good square open, bishoping into the hospital or park on turn 2 is amazing.

So, how many cubes do you need? You start the game with 4 and there's a hard limit of 14, so you can only ever pick up 10 plus the number of times you get plagued/go to Notre Dame. If you're trying to maximize the triples card you want all 14 cubes, to try to arrange in 5 groups of 3. (Along with Balki you get 15.) However, that's a little extreme. Putting the 4th in the park seems better at that point, as it'll also boost the max cubes guy as well. More cubes is better, because any stragglers you can leave behind over the course of the game in otherwise empty squares are worth 1 VP.

I think you need three in the hospital. You need to deal with 28 rats over the course of the game and 3 cubes in the hospital is a great start to accomplishing that goal as well as being worth the 3 VPs for a triple. Most people want to load up the park (and I think they're right) so you're looking at wanting at least 2 and probably 4 guys in the park. I had 8 in the park one game and it was as awesome as it sounds. (12 VPs for taking the max cubes guy in phase C!) As well, you need likely 2 guys for Notre Dame, 3 for whatever section you're working on right now (bank/cube house/car/VP house) and one or two to move around on mediocre actions. Minimum then, you're looking at wanting 2+3+4+3+2=14 guys. Note because a couple will recycle from ND and because by game end you don't really need the 3 for whatever you're working on this isn't the maximum that you could have, but it's close. With some forethought and planning you can generally turn most of your extra cubes into VPs with the phase C bribes, so having the extra guys rarely hurts.

Remember, this is a game of finite actions, so getting max cubes does come with the lost opportunity cost of being able to do other things with your time, but you can often turn those extra cubes into enough VPs to make them worthwhile. You can always get away with less (if you only have 5 or 6 cubes you just don't park) and you won't feel like you're losing, but you probably are. On the other hand if you can't bribe or if you get plagued you see the direct result of the misplanning and you feel bad about it.