Monday, April 30, 2012

WBC: A Few Acres of Snow

The World Boardgaming Championships have posted their event previews for this year. The very first thing I looked for was the write up for A Few Acres of Snow. I haven't rigorously proven to myself yet that the game is unbalanced but my gut feeling at the moment is the British should win every game between two top tier players. I really like the game and have been considering making it my WBC team game this year but it would really all come down to how sides are determined. Bidding with victory points (like for seat in Puerto Rico) doesn't feel like it would work. I've commented half-jokingly that I'd gladly give the French infinite points because the British will just win with military. Bidding with starting gold could work. Certainly with infinite bucks the French should win easily. (They can buy governor to remove all money making aspects from their deck and win with a raiding/military strategy pretty easily I would think.) Money could work as a bidding mechanism but I would need a lot of testing (outside of Yucata since I doubt it would implement such bidding) to find the right amount to bid.

It turns out neither of those methods will be used. Bidding for sides will be done in terms of a completely new concept. They're adding a new free action to the game where you can draw a card and then discard a card as a free action. Bidding is the number of times you can use this free action in the game. You cannot force a reshuffle in this manner.

First of all, what does this actually do? Well, in small numbers this helps smooth out the French draws a little. One of the worst feelings is when your trader card is the last card in your deck after a reshuffle. You end up holding on to a lot of fur cards with nothing useful to do with them. You could discard them but that means you're making less money this time through your deck. Getting to cycle down to the trader a couple of times in a game could be really powerful. I don't know that it's good enough to let the French win but it would stop some of the blowouts that can happen.

With a medium number of actions this keeps the French from getting blitzed out. One of the ways the French can lose Quebec is to have the British win the fight in Louisbourg and then attack Quebec before the French have had a chance to draw their military cards again. This new action keeps that from happening by allowing the French to cycle into all their military cards when they need them. (They may need to pay attention and preemptively cycle a turn earlier to force a reshuffle to get them back into their deck, but it should still work.) It's actually impossible for the British to take a fortified Quebec if the French have Siege/Regular/Leader in hand. The British can still win by attacking, forcing the French to play those cards, withdrawing, and attacking again before the French draw them all again. With enough of these bonus actions that won't work either and Quebec becomes impenetrable.

With a large number of uses this lets the French accelerate to game end very quickly. The fastest end for the French is probably to put all their disks into play. That means you have to either buy a settler card (risky if the British is attacking) or play your single Quebec card 8 times while surviving. Cycling through your deck 8 times is very hard in the real game. With all these bonus cycling actions? You can draw Quebec every single turn. Consider the following game plan:

turn 1 - cycle into Quebec + Port Royal, disk Port Royal, cycle enough to reshuffle. (3 or 4 cycles)
turn 2 - cycle into Quebec + Louisbourg, disk Louisbourg, buy home support, cycle to reshuffle (3 or 4 cycles)
turn 3 - cycle into Quebec + Gaspe + trader + 2 or 3 furs (depending on where home support comes up), disk Gaspe, trader for 4 or 6 bucks, cycle to reshuffle (at most 4 cycles, only 2 if home support comes up early)

Repeat until turn 8 when the game is over. You have an extra action every turn which could be to buy or play a military card. (You start with the one regular, remember.) Eventually you do need to settle 2 more locations (you only have 6 disk targets to start and 8 disks to play) but that adds at most 3 cycles total. All told the upper bound for number of cycles needed with this plan is 4+4+4+2+4+2+5+4=29 cycles. I'm not even sure the home support helps. It lets you make 6 or 8 bucks instead of 4 each turn that you make money but costs you 5 bucks and an action. You may be better off just using those extra actions on military cards to stop the British. Or actually, getting your coureurs de bois and ambushing every single turn could be wise. Yes! Actually, you need to raid out Halifax every turn to make sure he can never launch an attack on Louisbourg!

What is the best the British could do in 8 turns? They get 15 actions total and start with 12 bucks. They absolutely must take Louisbourg. The French can easily throw Port Royal, Regular Infantry, and Montreal on that fight for a total strength of 6. So the British need 8 to throw on the pile themselves. They absolutely must buy a raid blocker, settle Halifax, and launch an attack from Halifax. They need to buy two regular infantry. They need to make the money to afford those infantry. That's 8 actions. Throwing 4 more boats on the pile is another 4 actions for a total of 12. If the French so much as buy one more regular infantry it'll take 3 more actions to overcome that extra strength. That's 15 actions right there at which point the French have ended the game and the British can't launch an attack on Quebec. And has glossed over the fact the British have two dead cards (Pemaquid and St Mary's) and probably can't put those 15 actions together smoothly.

I'm pretty convinced a bid of 0 is a guaranteed British win and a bid of 29 is a guaranteed French win. There has to either be a bid which makes for a fair game or a breakpoint where the British win on one side and the French win on the other. The trick then will be to find the right number to bid for the tournament!

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I bet most games you'll get away with a really low number and still get to be England.