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A Few Acres of Snow and the Critical Silence On The Biggest Flawed Game of 2011

21 March 2012 8 Comments

 

In mid-2011, A Few Acres of Snow was released to great critical response. It rapidly received a plethora of good reviews and, in short order, won the 2-player awards for the committee International Gamer’s Award and the voters’ choice Wargame Golden Geek award.

Of course, before these awards emerged, A Few Acres of Snow’s reputation began to be sullied. On 25 September 2011, Michael Fitz posted a thread on BoardGameGeek entitled “Can France Beat Britain’s ‘Settle Halifax, Besiege Louisbourg, Besiege Quebec’ Strategy?” This created quite a bit of uproar, resulting in a thread with over 867 comments as various people began to argue about whether the game was broken and what to do if it was, as well as numerous secondary threads discussing the same topic. Eventually Martin Wallace promised a fix, and on 30 December 2011, he provided one. Soon after, the main reviewers who denounced the so-called “Halifax Hammer” strategy as broken determined that A Few Acres of Snow remained just as broken as it was previously. Martin Wallace seemed to agree, acknowledging on 25 January 2012 that, “Yes, it is flawed. It is not something that can be fixed absolutely. The best way forward is to keep changing the rules, with scenarios, to present new challenges.” In a later interview for the Three Moves Ahead podcast, Wallace went a step farther, stating that his intended fixes were largely designed to ensure that less skilled players would still be able to enjoy the game; he also stated that two player games in themselves are fundamentally flawed such that players who try hard enough will ultimately break all of them.

While my feelings on this topic are fairly well known, particularly by those who read my work regularly, what surprises me is how little discussion A Few Acres of Snow’s flaws have generated amongst individuals who are arguably the top reviewers, critics, and pundits in the board game community. This is even more surprising given Martin Wallace’s comments. In most other media or art criticism communities, a prolific and well-respected artist releasing a work that was both initially applauded and later acknowledged as fundamentally flawed would result in quite a bit of discussion and articles. In the board game community? Almost none.

Why is this the case? Why is so interesting a topic not being discussed by those with the biggest podiums in the hobby? After some thought and discussion, I came to the conclusion that a major component of how the more prominent voices in the hobby determine what topics to discuss is how they perceive themselves. I sent out a survey based on this theory to a variety of bloggers, podcasters, and textual and video reviewers, and got an impressive array of responses. However, I now believe the reasons are more complex, and are related to a number of other, interlocking issues. These surveys still ended up being valuable, simply because the respondents provided thought-provoking answers to my questions. What I intended to be a single article about how a voice’s perception of their role affects what they write about is now going to be a number of articles covering a variety of topics that emerged as a result of these surveys.

The primary reason I think that we have seen such minimal discussion on the implications of the fundamental flaws of A Few Acres of Snow and Martin Wallace’s follow-up comments is simply a matter of incentives. The most popular reviews, both in thumbs for a site like BoardGameGeek and for views and comments on other sites, are highly positive reviews about the newest games. Since board gaming is a very consumer-driven hobby, players are constantly looking out for new games to provide them with both a new experience and a way to share the enthusiasm that comes from trying out a fun and exciting new game. Newer games, by nature of being unknown, allow consumers to create an idealized view of the enjoyment that can be derived from the game. Many consumers particularly appreciate reviews that effectively communicate to them that their original enthusiasm was well founded. Any reviewer or commentator who seeks to maximize their positive attention (and that is true of most of them, including yours truly) will tend to focus on the topic that provides them with the most attention: enthusiastic reviews of new games.

By the time the issues with A Few Acres of Snow came to the attention of the larger community, the game was well past the point where it was new enough to maintain the attention of the more prominent reviewers, who had already moved on to newer and hotter games. The fact that the fall of 2011 was a particularly exciting time for new board games did not help either, as most reviewers were already looking to the hot new Essen releases. The written reviews section on BoardGameGeek for A Few Acres of Snow bears this out, as all but two reviews of the game were posted before the balance issues were first observed. Reviews for A Few Acres of Snow on both Fortresse: Ameritrash and the Opinionated Gamers also appeared before the problems were observed. However, positive reviews certainly appeared after the initial problem surfaced, not to mention Top 10 Lists towards the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012 that credited A Few Acres of Snow as being one of the best designs of the year. So while the timing of the discovery did have an impact on the amount of discussion that took place in the wider review community, this is not the only explanation. Other factors also impacted why later discussions and reviews of A Few Acres of Snow only minimally touched on the game’s problems.

One of these additional factors is that, to produce a truly critical take on a particular game, a reviewer would need to explore it in enough depth to be able to identify underlying problems, like those eventually discovered in A Few Acres of Snow. But the rewards for producing fast and effective takes on games discourage thorough exploration. Even if a reviewer did identify underlying structural problems, any negative review of a game would likely be controversial, and thus turn off potential readers. Why explore the game deeply to find potential flaws, when an initial enthusiastic review is likely to work much more effectively for a reviewer’s fan base? When you add to this the fact that the most prominent game reviewers tend to be constantly trying out and reviewing newer games, the likelihood of a particular game getting enough play to identify game balance issues is low.

Another reason, beyond simple ignorance of the game’s flaws, is denial that the issue was a problem in the first place. In many instances, this skepticism is reasonable. In my history of gaming, I can’t count the number of times I have heard claims that a game is broken by people I respected a lot less than the designer of said game, and the naysayers turned out to be wrong. Of course, commenters have been correct often enough that I have learned not to completely dismiss complaints about balance issues, but it is natural for those who are playing and enjoying a game to assume that those who are complaining are simply wrong. This is particularly true with fans of Martin Wallace because of the general level of divisiveness that has followed him, first with his conflict with Winsome games, and then with FRED Distribution. These conflicts make it easier for fans of Martin Wallace to dismiss those who are complaining about one of his games as another person with a particular axe to grind against him, and thus not actually relevant to the quality of his work.

Martin Wallace’s late December rules revisions initially seemed to resolve the issue for those who were less involved in analyzing A Few Acres of Snow’s mechanics, including me in Part 1 of my end of year list. At the time, I considered it fixed. However, the same community that originally identified that A Few Acres of Snow as broken was able to quickly prove that the fix was largely illusionary. Martin, to his credit, followed up with an acknowledgement that it was flawed and, less to his credit, with his statement that all two-player games are broken. Yet, despite this, there was still no discussion about the topic among the prominent voices in the board game community. On 25 February, Larry Levy of the Opinionated Gamers released an article about their annual Designer of the Year award, with Stefan Feld winning and Martin Wallace coming in second largely on the strength of A Few Acres of Snow. When I questioned him about this, he said, “I realize that there are some who think it’s broken and out of whack. But the game is played and greatly enjoyed by an awful lot of people. You can try to analyze why they like it despite what some feel is a dominant strategy, but I’d rather take their opinions at face value. When you combine that with the IGA award, it’s got to be one of the bigger titles of the year.”

While I generally find Larry’s criticism to be interesting, and value his contributions to the community, this sentence highlights what I believe is the next reason why we have not seen much discussion about the implications of A Few Acres of Snow and Mr. Wallace’s statements: a lack of willingness to subjectively judge whether a game is good or not in any criterion beyond whether people enjoy it. This also expresses itself in a similar lament about the game being fine if you just ignore the broken strategy. Both lines of thinking ignore the implications of giving a designer a pass for releasing an easily broken game. If the game continues to accumulate awards, climb the rankings, and enjoy good sales, what sort of message does this send to designers? That it is okay to release games that are initially pleasing and work as long as you do not attempt skilled play, because the customer base does not mind games that are ultimately broken? That effective play testing is not important? I like to think that Martin Wallace has learned some important lessons from this, but the lack of accountability does not bode well for the future of our hobby.

So, the primary reasons that we have seen so little discussion on the implications of the fatally flawed A Few Acres of Snow are: the way that board game consumers reward quickly produced enthusiastic reviews; the general tendency to not play games exhaustively enough to identify balance problems; an inclination to dismiss those who claim a game is broken and trust that prominent designers will not make a flawed design; and a general desire not to dismiss the enjoyment that players derive from the game. I also think a broader reason is related to the low level of development of board game articles in the review community. There are very few articles providing any sort of critical analysis of board games or the community as a whole, and without this infrastructure, there is little in place to create a real dialogue about the many interesting topics that A Few Acres of Snow and Martin Wallace’s comments bring to mind. We do see some of this sort of analysis scattered around the BGG blogs section, Fortress: Ameritrash, the Opinionated Gamers, and a few podcasts, but this is relatively small compared to the volume of discussion on board games as a whole.

I have a few theories about the current lack of critical infrastructure, some of which are related to the topics I noted above, but that is going to have to wait for my next article.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Ben (chally), John Broky, Joel Eddy, Larry Levy, Eric Martin, and Matt Thrower for their help in this article. It was great discussing this topic with them, and they really helped me crystallize my thoughts. The views expressed in this article are entirely my own, and while some of them will probably agree with my points and my ultimate conclusions, I suspect that some of them will have very different conclusions from me on why this has occurred and if it even matters.

 

~ Jesse James Dean

Jesse Dean
View all posts by Jesse Dean
Jesses website
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A Few Acres of Snow and the Critical Silence On The Biggest Flawed Game of 2011, 5.0 out of 5 based on 21 ratings

8 Comments »

  • eekamouse said:

    Awesome. “A voice in the wilderness”.

    Thanks.

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  • Nick Bentley said:

    YES. There are few things in board gaming that bother me more than the Curse of the New, and the issue described here is a common manifestation of it. I remember a similar situation some years ago to do with The War of the Ring. Someone found a dominant strategy for the shadow side, which he called “DEW North”. As far as I know, no one has been able to refute it. Nonetheless it got little interest outside of the BGG WotR forum. (note: later editions of the game may have fixed the problem; I don’t know because I haven’t followed the game in recent years)

    Lately I’ve given much thought about how to provide a forum which encourages deep exploration of games, and which avoids the Curse of the New. Finally, last week, I hit on an idea that may have a chance of working. So in the last few days, I built the site, which is almost ready for it’s initial public rollout. You can see it here:

    http://www.boardgamestrategies.com/

    Basically, it’s a site just for strategy discussions. Users can submit single-author articles to a blog or can contribute to collaborative strategy articles on a wiki. I hope to make it exactly the kind of place where the DEW North strategy or the ‘Settle Halifax, Besiege Louisbourg, Besiege Quebec’ strategy can emerge and be discussed.

    We’ll see.

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  • luish said:

    I don´t know the reasons there are such a few dedicated and good game critics blogging out there. I am sure it is not because of a lack of potential readers. Maybe it´s because it takes a lot more energy and plays of the same game to get to know it deeply enough so one becomes able to think and see beyond a game´s highlights.

    About AFAoS, I am a fan of this game and I have some thoughts about this flaw issue.

    If it wasn´t for Yucata, where one can play dozens of tables of the same game simultaneously, maybe, and just maybe, one could have never had time in his life to get to know a problem with this game. I also believe there is a great difference between an online play and a presential play. Of course that game designers must respect the digital plataform, but I don´t feel one tenth of the tension playing online on Yucata compared to presential plays, because there isn´t the “social pressure” either the clock pressure factor that just makes us make silly mistakes.

    That said, there is a strange detail with all this that only reinforces this “digital playtesting theory”, but it is still hard to figure out what happenned. The Hammer strategy is a rather obvious one. When someone looks through the location deck searching for a way to get to Quebec, this is easily found. I don´t want to believe this game was not well playtested. So, we ask, how come such an easily seen and unbeatable strategy was not found before? Because it was only playtested with presential plays and, more important, only one play at a time, which brings a lot more tension to the decisions. Well, this is just my guess.

    And last, after fourty nine plays at Yucata, I have lost five plays in a row for the HH strategy and I could see it working and I was not capable to stop it. There is no spare room for luck there either. It´s very dissapointing indeed. I figure how mr. Wallace must have felt when he saw it himself.

    Anyway, I hope he doesn´t give up trying to find an effective change of the rules, but it seems he already did. Too bad. I´ve read, from foruns on BGG, that there are people out there trying very hard to find a solution and maybe there is one being baked (better than keep changing cenarios), but this demands a digital plataform for playtesting to be sure it is really working, but Yucata only accept author’s and authorized ideas and changes.

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  • lindelos said:

    Wonderful read.

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  • The Function of Criticism | nohighscores.com said:

    [...] head on this subject. He’s posting his own series of pieces about it, starting by wondering why the flawed A Few Acres of Snow got a free ride from reviewers. [...]

  • 2D6.org | Credibility And The Relationship Between Publisher and Commentator said:

    [...] my article A Few Acres of Snow and the Critical Silence On The Biggest Flawed Game of 2011, I talked about how the incentives of board game reviewing discouraged individual commentators from [...]

  • Albert Jones said:

    Reading this post (article) and the great stuff from Oliver Kiley has inspired me to make a video. I have spent a lot of time watching videos (often Dice Tower – not because their my favourite but they are prolific; a little Wil Wheaton; the dude who pretends to play with his wife”Jen” and makes a lot of mistakes). Their “comments” at the end are often pretty glib and fit the mold you describe above, and presumably for the reasons you stated above.

    I did come across a Taluva video (it did not have the most thumbs up – dice tower did even though it wasn’t as good) that include some strategy suggestions and when/why they work/don’t work for both winning and enjoyment.

    We need more of this and I plan to try at least one soon.

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  • Albert Jones said:

    A “Depth” comparison based on levels of Strategy and Tactics:
    Carcassonne vs. Taluva

    These games lend themselves to finding a way to measure depth as they are both tile-laying games that are considered ‘similar’, but will hopefully yield a different measure of depth under analysis. I have also played each of these games perhaps hundreds of times, almost always two-player, where both games shine brightest and the external factors of a social game are minimized.

    Both games give an advantage to the first player, with Taluva giving a larger advantage to the first player (unless you play a variant rule).

    1. Depth – “layering of heuristics” – being able to identify where it went wrong

    Carcassonne – at the end of the game, it is often clear what city or farm was key to the game. This helps to evolve the meta-game where farms are fought over fiercely, and then later almost ignored in battles over large cities, and then back to small cities and farm wars again.

    Carcassonne – there are definitely heuristic layers not perceived or acknowledged by new players. Adding tiles to another player’s city to either a) make it too large to complete, or b) make it impossible to complete is a move most new players would never see. Not closing your own city, but carrying it forward a turn is a dangerous, but rewarding strategy (particularly with the old rules where the ‘football’ cities are only worth 2 points not 4). There are even moves where you space your roads out to make them easier to complete if challenged (a move found in Go a lot).

    Taluva – at the end of the game, it is often a race to get your hutss completed first, having accomplished the more difficult task of getting temples or towers out first. One person, often the first player, has a slight lead on the other. Figuring out where that lead came from is usually hard to identify. If the first player is leading it may partially be due to being first. If a player had to switch strategies, was going towers and then switched to temples, it can be a little more obvious where the delay was.

    Taluva – there are definitely heuristic layers not perceived or acknowledged by new players. Adding a single hut so that the other player cannot erupt a volcano and get to the third level is a low cost move that can waste a whole series of moves they made to make the third level possible. Most new players try to position a hut to try to also gain from level three, but that requires at least two moves, if it works at all, while blocking only uses one move and then you can go back to your own strategic horizon elsewhere. Most new players also try to save their huts, while experienced players are often destroying huts that have served their purpose rather than build up near their opponent.

    board state(Taluva slightly ahead)
    Carcassonne – created as you play = good number of choices where to place the tile
    Taluva – created as you play = almost universal placement L1, less options L2 and L3

    legal moves (Carcassonne)
    Carcassonne – 3-4 choices per turn with Meeple: no placement & a) farm/cathedral;
    b) farm/road/city; c) farm/city; farm/road
    Taluva – Must place at least one:a) many places – one hut; b) few places – more than one hut; c) rarely hut/temple; hut/tower; hut/tower/temple

    Choices (Even)
    Carcassonne – must pick up a random tile – no choices there
    Taluva – must pick up a random tile – no choices there

    Decisions (Carcassonne) – see goal trees later in the post
    Carcassonne – 1. Points 2. Meeple Placement 3. Tile Placement
    Taluva – 1. Build all of 2 from 3 pieces: hut, temple, tower 2. Tile Placement

    I don’t think I have exhausted the heuristic layers, or feedback mechanisms. While both have similar heuristic layers, Carcassonne seems to have a better feedback mechanism.

    2. Tactics – “look ahead”

    This is the easiest comparison as both games clearly have this element and it is the most accessible part of each game to players of any level of experience.

    Carcassonne – Even before a player understands “stealing” cities/roads/farms etc., they already recognize that cities jutting out from the board are easier to complete than those found within the board, and that getting to a farm “first” is advantageous.

    Taluva – Even before a player understands “blocking”, they already recognize that certain patterns are safer than others from opponents, while other patterns are easier to create a third level, and being next to a variety of land types is better than being next to a bunch of volcanoes (although later, that may lead to better level two opportunities. Also, a double land type makes a settlement quickly; key eruptions destroy a potential temple quickly, etc.

    I think these are fairly even. Taluva is a little harder to predict because of the 3-D element and the potential for lost huts over time; while Carcassonne has a wider variety of pieces and paths to points meaning more decision making over which is the optimal choice. I am going to give them even scores here.

    4) Strategic Efficacy – the power to produce an effect on the game board state

    Both games have the players creating the game board anew each and every game; a very fun, interesting and satisfying game mechanic. After each game, the players can look over the entire board and indentify unique patterns to that board; holes in the board; location of pieces (clumping, strung out in a line, disjointed, etc.); location of key events (level 3 or even 4, a very large farm that was missed or fought over, a particularly large city or pattern of cities); key plays can be recalled and seen in an overall perspective (see the section on “depth” and heuristics).

    I have personally divided strategic efficacy into 4 parts, though think there are more variations I have not thought of now:
    a) length of game control – can you end the game quickly and/or drag it out?
    b) conflict control – can you force conflict and/or make it not happen?
    c) social game control – can you change the game through deals, co-operative play, treaties, ganging up, revenge, etc.?
    d) exclusive ownership control – can you continue to use/play/control a piece after its initial “play” or placement?

    Carcassone – aside from creating the board as you play
    a) length of game control – the game end is pre-determined by the 72 tiles and cannot be sped up or slowed down – no efficacy
    b) conflict control – no certain way to stop an opponent from trying to sneak into a city or farm, although controlling with plus two more meeples than them discourages interaction; some tile placements can make cities inaccessible to farming, while some tile placements make sharing a city/farm easier/more attractive – overall some efficacy here
    c) social control – the control over if a game is cut-throat or you work separately on your own cities and roads, etc. is mostly social; not challenging the other play, may lead to his not challenging you, and challenging often, my lead to him challenging back, but the strategic horizon should control challenging behaviour more than what the opponent does or doesn’t do – very little efficacy here
    d) exclusive ownership control – IF you place a meeple on a tile you have quite a bit of ownership of both that tile, and any tile connected then, or in the future; you also have the choice of closing early or later and/or staring new somewhere else vey often in the game. To lose control, the other player must establish control nearby, and then survive at least one turn before he can join the two areas. You have several choices in cutting him off: complete his part city/road, physically make connection impossible, physically make connection more difficult requiring more pieces than before, etc. – there is a lot of efficacy here

    Overall – a score of 0 + 0.5 + 0.1 + 1 = 1.6/4 (40%)

    Taluva – aside from creating the board as you play
    a) length of game control – the game depends on the depletion of pieces, or the inability to continue playing, therefore you have some control over its length (could get out all huts very early and then lose because you cannot play); you could also try to drag the game out with a lot of single huts; but, overall, the game’s length is fairly easy to determine, the amount of time left is calculable, and if you want to win, it is hard to go ‘faster’ or ‘slower’ except that faster = larger risk of running out of huts before you have the more difficult piece out, and slower = conservative placement of huts until you are sure you’ll get one harder piece out (see strategy 3 for another alternative). Overall, some efficacy here.
    b) conflict control – the fact your opponent cannot erupt and destroy an entire settlement means you can prevent some conflict and actions (a good blocking strategy); also, the arrangement of tiles can also prevent eruptions (which is why towers are so difficult), safe play is rarely the best play, but it can control interaction. You cannot force an opponent to interact against you and no interaction is possible, so there isn’t firm control here. Overall, some efficacy here.
    c) social game control – again, the tit-for-tat nature of eruptions and blocking creates interesting meta-game situations, but generally, the social game is relatively unimportant to this game. Very little efficacy here.
    d) exclusive ownership control – taluva is different in that you must place both a tile and at least one piece (unlike Caracassone’s place a tile and perhaps one, and only one, piece); and that you can place the piece(s) on places far removed from the tile, essentially enacting two tactical moves at disaparate areas of the board, rather than always on the tile you laid (allowing Carcassone fewer ‘good’ double strategy moves). Heuristically, I think they balance out, however when it comes to exclusive ownership, Taluva jumps ahead:
    a) Caracassone – you can own a part of the tile you lay, the other parts are open to either player, and that ownership can be taken away. All the action takes place locally.
    b) Taluva – you can own the tile you lay, or any open tile. If it is lost, you always have at least one tile nearby the area which is now enhanced a level and therefore more desirable (ie/being killed is not always a bad thing) AND the other player cannot take over ownership (just subtract your ownership) unless he is also positioned nearby. Next, if you don’t lay on your tile, you can place the tile in such a way that it is in your own sphere of influence and makes his taking ownership of it a real disadvantage. Finally, you can extend your ownership from one tile, to 1-4 surrounding tiles, making a small area control into a rather large area control in one move. (Carcassonne, you can only ever increased your controlled area by one tile/one city – except in the case of cloisters – but the “control” of the surrounding area there is nearly negligible).
    Overall, Taluva has sphere’s of influence, direct control, the ability to end control (mosty), and the ability to create a landscape advantageous to your own strategy (going up or across) through the placement of tiles and pieces. A lot of efficacy here.

    Overall – a score of 0.2 + 0.5 + 0.1 + 1.2 = 2/4 (50%)

    Taluva edges out Carcassonne as having more Strategic Efficacy.

    3. Strategic Horizon – setting a long-term pathway to the winning conditions

    Carcassonne – The long-term goal is points from a) cities, b) roads, c) cloisters, d) farms. Each has a cost in terms of the lost meeple time, the points you might gain, and the ease of completion.

    a) Cities – as a strategic horizon in and of itself (not farms)
    (old rules) – need three tiles to be worth it: min: 3, max: 9, average: 4.5
    – double points make it a more valuable point source than roads
    – easier to make un-complete-able than a road (especially in base game)
    – in expansions gain value through trade goods and cathedral triple points
    b) Roads – two tiles is enough, often better as a secondary objective as are found on city tiles – smallest points (expansion adds some value)
    easiest to complete, often left empty by opponent when placing a city tile
    – a good secondary goal, but not a main strategy(allocate 1-2 meeples only)
    c) Cloisters – a tactical opportunity rather than a strategic horizon
    – at worst, 8 turns, but sometimes a small number of turns, even immediately
    – gain 9 points, therefore, if you are doing all the surrounding equal to a road
    (1 point each)
    – very easy to make un-complete-able
    – roads and cities of yours can help but more potential for incomplete objects
    d) Farming – as a strategic horizon
    – Once they are placed they’re gone – huge investment
    – (old rules) – min: 0 points, potential: 4 x each city you dominate
    – fairly easy to steal unless you waste time blocking
    – two point cities become very valuable (now 6 pnts)
    e) blocking your opponents moves – no meeple time necessary
    – only pnts of opportunity, no other point gains, but keeps pnts close
    – wasted time if they complete – roads are often used in this manner

    Overall – you have 36 tiles to play with. If you set your self the goal of 1 point a tile, you should have 36 points at the end. If you just play your own game, and let your opponent play theirs, with no real interaction, you will lose with 36 points. With a lot of interaction, 36 is a respectable score but in no way a guarantee of winning. This type of strategic planning is a red herring.

    The 36 tiles however, tells you that cloisters are a waste of time, as they suck out meeples for too long, some almost a third of the game, for little reward. Road strategies also net too few points. Cities at least let you aim for 2 points a tile, and they mitigate any tiles used for other purposes to keep you above 1 point. Farms need 9 cities to get you 1 point a tile if sought exclusively, plus any city points you made (if the other player made the 9 cities they’d probably have 40 points).

    Point comparison: How to get to 9 points?

    Roads – need 9 tiles – often some are others, often requires several meeples
    Cities – need 4.5 tiles – often can be done with one or two cities, 1-2 meeples
    Cloisters – need main tile, plus 7 after placement (some yours, some not)
    Farms – need 1 tile, but connectivity to a large space
    Blocking a city from closing – need 1-2 tiles to minus often 9 points or so

    General strategic horizon – allocate meeples (7)

    1) Balanced Strategy:
    2-3: roads until mid game and then transition 1-2: farms
    2-3: start cities
    1-2: support cities, later support a farm, tactical opportunities
    1: always keep for tactical opportunities (can often grab 3 points or even 9 off cloister, also, if meeple-less, opponent can take huge advantage)

    This strategy has some corollaries:
    a) must not get involved in an escalating farm war,
    b) but must instead must use a meeple to simulate a challenge to get the opponent overextended (hopefully early) into farming,
    c) block city completion for heavily invested farmer, take full advantage of lack of meeples (a whole other discussion of how to do), and
    d) be aware of opponent often having no better move than trying to block your points and get your meeples trapped to re-balance the game.

    2) Farming Strategy:
    3: Farming with small cities works as it is low investment of meeples in cities, returned immediately, and so can heavily invest in the farm. Can use roads to block a run-away game by the opponent.
    1-2: roads, can transition to farms if needed (leave one for a long straight road)
    1-2: challenge the cities of opponent where not on your farm to make it bigger and tie up his meeples to defend
    1: Keep one meeple for moments of opportunity.

    3) Competitive Strategy:
    2-3: Challenge every city with either blocking to trap a meeple (best done as early as you can – less valuable in the late-game) or try to steal, or at least tie.
    1: one road only, when you there is little advantage in using as a blocker
    2: cities, keeping them small (ideally 3-4) and getting your meeples back quickly’
    transition one or two to farming in second half of the game and/or support challenge on farms
    1-2: meeples of opportunity that is kept always to edge you ahead of the opponent

    This strategy has you winning by a small margin, so every small margin matters, but, your meeple management matters more. Don’t get dragged into heavily investing your meeples in any one place – meaning leaving points lying around that your meeple advantage should allow you to claim later more often than your opponent.

    I would love to know if there are other Strategic Horizons out there for Caracassonne? My measure is 3 large ones, with many tactical variations. The strategic horizon must be set-up fairly quickly as your meeples can all be on the board by the 7th move of 36 if you are not careful and you are then committed.

    Taluva – the long-term goal is to get all your pieces out of your hand :
    a) huts; b) temples; c) towers; d) before the other player does
    In two-player games, the chances of the tiles running out almost nill.

    a) huts – Level 1: min. place one, but can often expand 2-5 Level 2: often only expand 2, rarely 4 Level 3: rarely expand huts
    – a single is invulnerable, after that you want a row over different levels, or large to be safe
    – huts are rarely your first concern as a large settlement makes starting new ones harder for yourself
    b) temples – one tile to start the settlement, and then one more can be enough to get a row of three, often need 3 tiles though
    – your opponent erupting within a settlement with a temple is an advantage to you, starts a settlement
    – You can complete 3 temples with about 6 tiles minimum, but more often closer to 12-15 tiles
    c) towers – placing alone, it takes a minimum of 6 tiles, positioned well, to make one tower
    – your opponent can place one hut on L1 and grab L3, (often blocked easily)
    – You need only complete 2, but it requires a lot more “look ahead” than temples
    d) blocking your opponent – one tile can often really disrupt the carefully laid plans of an opponent
    – using a hut to block, means the tile can be used to build up somewhere else
    – Volcanoes give a small measure of blocking if surround an opponent (risky)

    General Strategic Horizon – which two pieces to get rid of?

    1) Huts & Temples

    The easiest and most often sought strategy of new players.
    a) Create one hut quickly, ideally with a L2 in the middle of two L1’s on each side; add temple;
    b) cut out the one hut touching the temple, ideally placing two huts on the other half of the tile (L2) and then another temple.
    c) The third temple often has to be elsewhere and is built off the back of a double land tile.
    d) race to get all your huts our by uniting your settlements and growing upwards

    2) Huts & Towers

    A harder strategy horizon, requiring a fair bit more tactical ‘look ahead’
    a) Create one hut quickly, ideally with a L2 in the middle of two L1’s on each side; (often add the temple too)
    b) cut out the one hut touching the temple, ideally placing two huts on the other half of the tile (L2)
    c) this time, don’t place a second temple (if you have one), but instead begin building upwards to L3 and place the temple such that the opponent cannot
    d) start your level three by adding a hut near the opponent’s settlement and then as you kill his huts with eruptions,
    e) you keep on the edges to sneak into a L3 spot from a single hut (the singles also help prevent his blocking your going up by forcing where eruptions can and cannot happen)
    f) in the race for huts at the end, you have access to a number of L3 and L2 locations.

    3) Temples & Towers

    A strategy I use when the other player is inexperienced. Since huts have to be used to build towards Temples, and at least one must be played each move towards a Tower, this strategy is very counter-intuitive.
    a) use huts to block eruptions and the expansion of the opponent, while using the tiles to build up to the towers (keep a lot of singles so they cannot be erupted over) – ignore all chances to expand unless invulnerable
    b) if an opportunity presents itself (a very safe row of three, or a double land type tile) you may make the row of three for a temple, but you have no time yet to put out a temple as your tiles are needed to be building up
    c) after the 2 Towers are out, place any temples you have pre-prepared; then use the Towers as the start of small settlements spread over several levels

    4) Blocking Strategy

    Blocking is really only ever a tactical decision of opportunity, or a nice secondary action. The decision:
    a) when the placement of a piece helps your strategy, is if the tile should be used to block or should you begin setting up good end-game expansions for the final race of hut placements and/or be building up for getter later huts
    b) when the tile is being used to help your strategy, should the piece block or should you expand to deplete your supply of huts

    The optimal decision depends on whether you are how many tiles it will take to overcome your block; does it ultimately give them higher levels to expand into in the end-game race; does it prevent or delay a temple or a tower (obviously, preventing a tower is both easier to do and always a great tactical move).

    Overall Carcassonne and Taluva have three over-arching strategic horizons, with no huge advantage to either, except in Carcassone, there is more choice and decision making within the stategies and the tactical decisions of opportunity are more varied and sometimes harder for new players to see or successfully pull off. A slight edge to Carcassone.

    5) Layers of Uncertainty

    a) randomness of outcome:
    (Taluva slightly closer to the Euro system than Carcassonne)
    Carcassonne – commit to a city/road/ cloister/farm and then hope it gets completed – only the city penalizes if incomplete
    (farm debatable)
    – the luck of the tiles can be important if know there are three left, count on getting one, and don’t
    Taluva – commit to a hut (sort of), commit to building up (sort of), less dependence on tile luck, more strategic, little randomness of outcome
    b) randomness of opportunity:
    (Carcassonne has more decisions after the tile draw)
    Carcassonne – there are a wide number of opportunities with the tiles:
    i) cloister in a snug little corner
    ii) that piece that just fits
    iii) the corner road is always a great way to join a farm, or score three points
    iv) end road pieces score easily
    There are a lot of things trying to pull your meeples onto the board and you off your strategic horizon
    Taluva – there are less opportunities with tiles: a) double land type b) expand a bit larger, Since the tiles are so modular, it matters less
    c) randomness of players(Taluva more deduction)
    Carcassonne – there is some deductive planning, particularly with cloisters near where an opponent is building, or fear of being made un-complete-able
    Taluva – there is much deductive planning against or for eruptions and L3 positioning

    6) Goal Trees – sort of

    Carcassonne –
    1. Get Victory Points: a) within the game b) end game
    B. End Game Scores: i) farmer dominates ii) roads/cloisters what expected (1 pt)
    iii) cities get half of their hoped for value (1 pt)
    A. Within Game: i) farmer = 0 points iii) City = best points (2 pt)
    ii) road = 1 point, often a quick 2 or 3 ii) cloister – 9 pts
    III. City pieces a) start a new city b) add to an unoccupied city
    c) add to your own city d) try to join a city
    II. Roads a) good for blocking cities b) good for joining farms
    c) good for surrounding cloisters d) can protect farms
    e) can set up to later try to join into a city, or block a city
    II. Cloisters a) is there time? b) is there a convenient spot?
    c) block a city d) try to join a farm
    I. Farm a) is it worth it? b) is it late game enough?
    c) is it easy/hard to join if he goes there? d) can I add cities
    e) will he add/complete more cities f) protectable?
    2. Place a Meeple I) where are the most points now
    II) where do I expect there to be the most points on completion
    III) which is safer and more likely to be completed
    IV) can I afford to use this meeple based on strategic horizon
    3. Draw a tile: w) place where I control x) place to share control
    y) place to gain control z) place to tie up meeple or pts

    Taluva

    1. Build all of 2 of the 3 types of buildings: a) tower b) temple c) huts
    a) Expand Tower: i) get three tiles high ii) don’t lose connectivity
    b) Expand Temple: i) get settlement of three tiles ii) don’t get killed
    iii) place with the potential to erupt and build again soon
    c) Expand Huts: i) the higher the better ii) the more the better
    iii) do not connect to temples or towers too early
    iv) do not give up your un-kill-ability lightly
    v) do not run out too quickly
    c) Build Huts: i) already touching multiple same land types?
    ii) near or touching L3 or potential L3?
    iii) where opponent is trying to build upwards?
    iv) near safe expansion, versus near the action?
    2. Draw a tile: w) for immediate deployment of a piece
    x) for later or potential deployment of a piece
    y) for building up to L3 and i) block ii) place iii) just build up
    z) to prevent my opponent from building up, or horizontally

    7) Complexity = variety and breadth

    Variety both games have no variety in their set-up conditions
    Carcassonne – 24 distinct tiles, total 72 much more distinct
    Taluva – 25 distinct tiles, 48 total much more uniform
    Both have similarly sized strategic spaces (mostly closed paths to victory)
    Both have fairly simple rules, low complexity of their goal trees, and low breadth.
    Note: see some great images of all the tiles in Carcassonne being used, with no road or city leading off the page: http://norvig.com/carcassonne.html

    Both of these games are, I think, quite deep, but they lack the breadth of games with a fat rule book, a wide variety of winning conditions, and long set-up time (not to mention more layers making them more fun, whereas with these two, more players is not more fun).

    Overall, I will leave out the layers of uncertainty and levels of complexity as they balance in these two games almost perfectly 1:1.

    Final Scores:

    Depth (Heuristics) – slight edge to Carcassonne – both rank highly
    Tactics (Look-aheads) – even – both rank medium
    Strategic Efficacy – slight edge to Taluva – both rank low
    Strategic Horizons – advantage Carcassonne – both low/medium
    Layers of Uncertainty – slight edge to Taluva – both low
    Goal Trees – advantage Carcassone – both low
    Complexity & Breadth – even – both rank low
    The winner of depth seems to Carcassonne 3:2, based on the criteria heuristics, tactics, strategic efficacy and strategic horizons.

    Carcassonne – a deep lake, but not very wide. Depth score of 3/5 (60%)
    Taluva – a little less deep lake, also not very wide. Depth score of 2.5/5 (50%)

    A final note:

    Carcassonne has a wealth of expansions. Except for Inns & Cloisters, Builders & Traders, few have become popular with enthusiasts. Clearly, these two make the game “deeper” (at least that is my first impression), but a subject for later analysis. The others tend to add luck, or clunky heuristics.

    Taluva has no official expansions. Alternative rules, however, make the game a lot deeper (at least at first glance).
    1) an end goal where you have to deplete all three pieces, while always being able to make a legal move = less end goal decisions, but more mid-game strategies and some control over the length of the game that could be useful to winning.

    2) adding a second set (or even third), to make the game longer, encourages people to suspend making a strategy decision between temples and towers until the game has progressed to almost mid-game (doing both when you can until a path becomes clear after the accretion of small tactical advantages pushes you in one direction or another); a greater variety of final board designs, opportunities for interaction, places for the second player to pull ahead of the first player.

    3) adding a rule that the second player gets one more move if the first player goes out first, making it a tie if both players go out on their last turn to cancel the advantage of going first – this sort of tie happens a lot with experienced players I have found (anecdotally).

    Future Project – which is “deeper”? Race for the Galaxy (RftG) or Puerto Rico?
    While this may seem like an exercise in futility, as they are so similar, my hope is that through careful analysis of actual games that have a lot of parity it will become easier to give an actual measure of “deepness” to a game with a score or leveling process for games that are dissimilar.

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