Board games are undergoing a bit of a renaissance. No, seriously - like a $200 million renaissance, and like every good renaissance, this one also has a Rome, an epicenter: BoardGameGeek. Every rating system has its flaws of course, and each one should be tailored to one’s own personal preferences. That said, BoardGameGeek is generally a reasonable place to start.

First, it’s important to determine what kind of board games one likes. Some people really like simple, easy to understand party games. These are games that involve enough luck that it’s generally fun to re-play, and a simple enough rule-set that it can be understood despite more than a few alcoholic beverages. Popular ones include Codenames (the number 1 party game on BoardGameGeek), Love Letter (which also won a ton of awards), and Exploding Kittens. These are all fine, casual games to play for a relaxed evening. They generally don’t take too much time, anyone can pick it up, and it doesn’t require much skill.

And that’s fine. But for the most part, these aren’t the kinds of games that I enjoy. Being a nerd, I enjoy games that have strategic depth (and thus have replay value). The game must have a minimal element of luck (not none - this isn’t chess), and ideally it should have multiple optimal strategies - none of which are very clear upon first or second play. These games generally take longer, require a bit of focus, but can be very rewarding if you have a group of nerdy, dedicated friends, as I am fortunate enough to have.


How to Play Acquire

This section is a general overview of the rules of Acquire. If you are already well versed with the game, feel free to skip down into the strategy section.

Acquire is ranked fairly low - and this says more about how much my preferences diverge relative to BGG than anything else, because it’s a game that has aged tremendously well. The aim of the game is to get the most money, like monopoly. Everyone starts with $6000 cash, and that’s it. Unlike monopoly, there is no ‘free’ cash - you don’t just get to run around “Go” and get an easy $200. In this way, there is no unearned inflation.

Each player has a set of six tiles, similar to Scrabble. You do not show the contents of your hand to other players, but you do display any stock or cash you have openly. Every turn consists of the following three actions:

1) Place a tile 2) Buy up to three shares of a hotel on the board 3) Pick up a tile to replace the tile in step 1

Each tile represents a hotel, and when tiles are placed adjacent to each other, they form a chain (where diagonals don’t count). The board itself is 9 by 12, labeled from 1A to 12I. So if a player had placed 8J, and you place 7J, you can found a chain (assuming 8J was not already part of a hotel chain). There are 7 hotel chains possible, each of which have their own potential growth curve. Some hotels are very expensive and lucrative, and some are cheaper. The reward for founding a chain is 1 free share of that hotel chain. So one way of growing your money is, very naturally, making the chain you invest in larger.

This, however, means your money is illiquid and locked up into investments. So how do you free up the money to get more cash? That’s where hotel mergers come into play. Imagine there were two hotels - one called Festival, which spans tiles 1A through 1C, and a a second hotel quite close by, called Imperial, which is on tiles 3A and 4A. What happens if someone were to play 2A? You guessed it - a merger.

In a merger, the smaller hotel merges into the larger hotel. The primary and secondary shareholders of a hotel chain (the player with the most and the second most number of shares) of the smaller hotel get a cash bonus, and this is the primary way to get new cash in the game. The share holders of the larger hotel do not get any cash, because they were already rewarded by their hotel growing larger, and thus their shares increasing in value. Giving them cash on top of this would be a double-reward.

In this example, the smaller Imperial (2 tiles) would be liquidated and merged into the larger Festival (3 tiles). During a merger, the merge-maker (the player who placed 2A, in this case) goes first, and then the merger takes place in clockwise order. There are three possible actions in a merger (after the primary and secondary bonuses are given out):

1) Sell the shares in the smaller hotel, in this case Imperial 2) Convert Imperial shares into Festival at a 2:1 ratio (single shares cannot be converted) 3) Keep the shares, in hopes that Imperial will be re-founded at a future date

Of course, a player can choose to mix and match - for example, if Sasha had 12 shares of Imperial, she can choose to keep 3, convert 4 into 2 shares of Festival, and sell the remaining 5. But why does the order matter? There are only 25 shares of any hotel chain, and if there are no more Festival shares left, then future mergers cannot convert into Festival! They can still sell or keep the shares, however.

When merging, if the two chains are the same length, the merge-maker gets to decide which hotel gets merged. If there is a merger of more than two hotels, the smallest hotels go first (and get to convert into the larger hotel first).

If a chain reaches 11 tiles in size, then it is considered safe - meaning it can never be merged into another hotel, and will remain on the board until the end of the game. So when does the game end? If a single hotel chain reaches a size of 41 tiles or more, OR all the chains on the board are safe (even if it’s just one), the game is considered over.

A player does not have to declare the game to be over, however! If it is more advantageous to continue playing, a player may elect to simply ignore this fact. When a player does eventually declare the game to be over, that player can finish his or her turn - including buying up to 3 shares. At the end of the game, all hotels are liquidated, and primary / secondary bonuses are given out. All shares that can be sold (i.e. if a hotel exists on the board) are sold at market value, and the player with the most money wins!

Some edge cases for bonuses include the following: if only one player has shares in a hotel, this player gets both primary and secondary bonuses. If there is a tie for primary shareholder, the primary and secondary bonuses are summed and divided evenly among the players. Round down to the nearest 100 for all ties. In the case of a tie for secondary, only the secondary bonus is divided among the tied players.

If all of this sounds tedious, check out this cool spreadsheet calculator some friends and I made - just fill in the green squares!

Strategy of Acquire

There are two overarching strategies in the game, and victory usually requires a mix of both.

1) Equity - Get primary ownership in the safe hotels - the largest ones that will stick around through the end of the game. The earlier and cheaper you can get these shares, the better.

2) Cash flow - Get as many merger liquidations as possible. These liquidations will make you cash flush and fuel buying more expensive ventures where you can out-compete your opponents.

Because there is a maximum number of hotel chains that can be founded, seven, there will inevitably come a point in the game where all the chains are on the board, and the game will grind to a halt until a merger happens. During this period, all chain-forming tiles are illegal and un-playable. It is very foolish to think you can win primary shareholder counts all or even most of the hotels. Pick your battles wisely - if you try and invest in all the hotels, you will inevitably end up cash poor during this phase, and your opponents who have chosen few hotels to invest in will simply out-compete you in all of them.

Most advanced players don’t immediately buy shares upon founding a hotel simply because they founded it. During the early game, it’s very difficult to predict which hotel chain will be the dominant one, or even which one will get merged. The caveat, of course, is you possess the merger tiles in your hand. Generally, if the player is advanced, their buying into a hotel chain signifies they have tiles to either merge or expand it significantly. You should read your opponent carefully, as if they are a novice, they may often buy simply for the sake of buying.

This is a rather obvious tip, but always buy only as much as to ensure the minimum number of shares needed to achieve primary or secondary. For example, since there are 25 shares of any hotel, the maximum number of shares needed to achieve primary is 13. But this is also the least optimal. Think of it this way - while you were busy spending basically 4 full turns’ worth of buys to get your 13, your opponents were could have gotten primary in two hotels in that time. In other words, engaging in a one versus one race with an opponent is very expensive due to the opportunity cost. If you see your opponents doing so, you should let them proceed (unless, of course, you can win).

Let’s take another example - if there are four people competing for a hotel, where you have 9, and the others have 7, 5, and 3 respectively, there is only 1 share of that hotel remaining! Even if your opponent with 7 bought that remaining share, you would still retain your primary. So, obviously, you should not waste your buys on this hotel - unless you think it’s going to merge, and converting your 10 into 5 is advantageous for you. But for the sake of primary ownership of this chain, you have already won.

Keeping track of the remaining shares of any hotel chain is very important. Before you start racing for a hotel, you must consider if you can even win to begin with. Imagine there’s a hotel with 13 shares remaining, and you have 3 and your opponent has 4. Can you win? Assuming you buy 3, there are 10 remaining and you will have 6. Then your opponent buys 3 and is left with 7. Then you buy 3 and have 9, and there is 1 share left. So even if your opponent buys it, he will only have 8! So you can indeed race this opponent…

Assuming, of course, that another player doesn’t buy the last 3 to prevent you from getting primary! Get used to thinking about your opponent’s moves in all aspects. Imagine you, perceived to be in second place, were racing someone perceived to be in third place. It would make sense for the current first place player to spite you and prevent you from getting primary ownership in that hotel, right? So you should factor the risk of that when racing someone. If this first place player is too busy fighting fronts of his own, then maybe he will allow you to take primary of the hotel… But then again, maybe not.

Picking which hotel to found is a tricky subject, particularly early in the game. Founding a hotel near the middle of the board gives it significantly higher probability that it will be safe throughout the game, versus founding it in a corner of the board. Beyond simple positioning, keep in mind the cost of the hotels. Merging lower cost hotels are great to convert shares into a more expensive hotel and get primary ownership, rather than paying the upfront cost of the more expensive shares. Conversely, merging expensive hotels is great for being cash-flush, but not usually to get primary ownership in the cheaper hotel. So carefully determine based on the tiles in your hand which hotel to establish.

Sometimes, it makes sense to even found a hotel that your opponent already has primary ownership in - especially if you can found it in a horrible place where it will never merge or grow larger. This prevents them from re-founding it in the middle of the board and ride those successive primary bonus mergers to victory.

Generally, I’ve found towards the beginning of the game you should err towards strategy 2, and as the game switches to late game, go with strategy 1. When you switch of course depends on the number of open squares that are available to found hotels and the likelihood of such a thing happening. If you find yourself to be winning, focus on ending the game as soon as possible - prevent tiles from being chain founders by connecting them to existing chains, etc.

Players often will hoard merger tiles only to not play them as a way of blocking their opponents from getting significant cash infusions - a sound strategy that you should adopt as well. When ‘waiting’ for a merger, make a quick estimate as to who would benefit if this merger occurred. If you or you and one other are the only ones, odds are good that another player has the merger tile and is simply blocking the move from occurring. Factor this into your considerations and change your strategy accordingly.

Lastly, do not count on being able to play a founding or merging tile as a founding or merging tile, particularly if you are playing a larger six player game. With six players, there is a lot more chaos, and if there has been a long period of lack of hotel founding preceding a turn where you instigated a merger, there will almost certainly be a chain founded on the immediate next turn after you. Take this into account as a cost of making the merger when you decide to do so.

Micro-optimizations generally lose out to macro-optimizations, unless it’s a very close game. In other words, worrying about whether you should invest in this 20 tile hotel because it might grow to 21 and you could net $300 is not a great use of your time, unless you are near the very end of the game and there is nothing to buy. Focus more on which hotels to invest and what mergers are more likely. Keep track of which races you can win, and which ones are lost causes. This will greatly ease your worry when a player does decide to race you. It also makes the decision of which chain to forfeit if necessary and which chain to keep at all costs.

And resist the urge to found a hotel simply because you can.

Avalon: The Resistance

How to Play Avalon

Avalon is a game very similar to Mafia; there are two factions - the good guys (the citizens of Camelot) and the bad (minions of Mordred). The bad people know who the other bad people are, but most of the good people don’t know who the bad people are (or who the other good people are).

There are a couple special characters, however, who have extra information:

Merlin - Merlin knows the identity of all the bad people (and by deduction, all the good people).

Assassin - The assassin is a bad guy who tries to guess the identity of Merlin at the end of the game. If the assassin guesses correctly, regardless of how great the good guys were doing, the bad guys win. The point is to make sure Merlin is not too obvious. Note that Merlin does not know he is the assassin, just that he is a bad guy.

Percival - Percival is a good guy who knows who Merlin and Morgana (a bad character described below) are - but he doesn’t know who is who! The point of Percival is to find out who Merlin is as quickly as possible and then try and pretend to be Merlin, thus taking on the blame and ideally being the target for the assassin.

Morgana - A bad girl who pretends to be Merlin to Percival’s eyes. Note that Merlin does not know she is Morgana per se, just that she is a bad person.

Mordred - A bad person whose special power allows him to be hidden from even Merlin; the other bad players know that he is bad, however, and he knows the identity of the other bad players. (Makes it easier for the bad people to win).

Oberon - A stupid bad player who Merlin knows is bad but the other bad players don’t, and he doesn’t know who the other bad players are either! (Makes it harder for the bad team to win, since they cannot coordinate with him).

Lastly, there is the non-special character, the generic good guy who has absolutely no information whatsoever. He’s usually called the villager or some such.

Generally, I only add Mordred or Oberon if one side is winning far too much or if we are playing an especially large game. You can also have a slight mix of roles between the last two, where Merlin doesn’t know the identity of Oberon, which provides a slightly less powerful nerf for the bad team.

The goal of the game for the good team is to get at least 3 passing ‘missions’. A mission consists of simply voting anonymously. A good person must vote YES on the mission, and a bad person can vote either NO or YES. For most missions, a single NO vote means that the mission failed, and the bad guys won that particular mission. So the goal is to assemble a mission consisting of nothing but good players.

The challenge, obviously, is deciding which team to assemble. Each mission round consists of a different number of people required for the mission (usually progressing up), and by the end the requirement will be to assemble a perfect team on the fifth mission.

A player’s proposal does not have to be accepted, however. Each round, there is a designated ‘King’ who proposes a team. The players all then vote on the proposed team. If it gets a strict majority of approval votes, the team goes on the mission. Otherwise, the King token gets passed to the next player in a clockwise order, and he or she tries to propose a team. If a mission proposal is rejected five times in a single mission, the bad guys win the game. This rejection counter resets after each mission. So, each mission, the good guys have five chances to assemble a team. If they cannot even come to an agreement within five attempts, the bad team automatically wins. These approval / disapproval mission votes are not anonymous, and must be cast at the same time.

With some player counts (the board will tell you), occasionally the fourth mission will require two failures from the bad guys to fail - so the bad team will try and put two bad team members on that team. There will always be more good players than bad, naturally. So for a five person game, there will be 3 good and 2 bad. For a six person game, there will be 4 good and 2 bad. For a seven person game, 4 good and 3 bad, and so on and so forth.

Strategy of Avalon

As much as you may think your intuition is best, do not rely on it. This game does have a strategy, and you should use the signals that people provide. Although there will be a great deal of accusations and defenses happening, most of this is for show - either to mislead Merlin by the bad guys or by Merlin to mislead the Assassin. If you are a generic good guy, do not pay attention to this, and do not have a strong opinion either way. You will likely be mislead by the bad guys.

The bad team generally wins when they sow enough chaos and doubt to convince one good player that either one of them are good or that another one of the good players are actually bad. Adding to the chaos with your accusations only helps the bad team win.

So what signals do we have? Team proposals, votes on each proposal, and obviously the results of each mission. Most beginner players tend to focus on this third one to the exclusion of all else, which is a huge mistake. Take a five player game as an example - this has 2 bad players (one of whom is the assassin), Merlin, and possibly Percival or Morgana. Depending on the configuration of the game, there are between 3 and 4 people of the 5 who have extra information. Especially in early rounds, when you have no information, it’s important to get as much information as possible.

By letting at least three proposals go through before approving in the first round, you’ve guaranteed that at least one person with special information has made a proposal, regardless of the configuration of the game. As much as people will profess (often loudly) to not read into their proposals, and that this is just the first round, and that they just picked randomly - they are lying. No one picks randomly. Get as many proposals as possible before sending a mission, especially in early rounds.

This logically translates to hearing out at least 5 proposals before approving one of them, rather than leaping to approve the very first team that was proposed. Keeping a mental note of who proposed a team with whom is very important - along with how they voted. One common strategy employed by a good person (or a bad person trying to feign innocence) - is to propose a team they don’t really want to pass, and then down vote their own proposal in hopes of seeming honest and tricking bad team members into voting for it and revealing themselves. In these cases, it’s important to not talk before the vote (ruining the bait), and rather talk afterwards.

The reason taking notes of who voted what way and who proposed what team is banned is because if everyone played rationally, the good guys would always win. Looking for deviations from the rational play is very important to determine who are the bad guys. Otherwise, Merlin has no basis for making accusations (other than revealing that he is indeed Merlin), and the good guys will get assassinated every single time. So as a good character, you want to play rationally, making Merlin’s job much easier.

It’s important to not take any signal in a void; take a player’s proposal, vote, and the mission outcome in combination as a larger clue. If a player proposed a team, voted for it, and the mission failed, some degree of suspicion is thrown on him or her. If a player did not propose a team, voted against it, but was part of the mission and the mission failed, then obviously that player should not be held to blame for the mission. Likely, some other player was responsible for the failure - and the blame should fall on anyone who voted for that mission.

Now, obviously, as a bad player, you want to guise your irrational actions under rational guises. As a bad player you have a variety of rational excuses for explaining why you voted the way you did.

Let’s take the scenario described above, where you voted for a team that you were not a part of, and that mission failed, rightly placing suspicion on you. What can you say? One very valid excuse for voting that way is to take advantage of the rotation order. In case it isn’t clear by now, the first player to propose a team has very little power, and the last place player to propose a team has a lot of power simply because if their proposal is not adhered to, the bad players win the game. Bad players will never out themselves by voting down on a fifth proposal, so naturally everyone will vote to approve. You could argue that if that King’s proposal went through, then next round, you would be fifth, and you have exactly the right idea of who to pick, thus winning the good team (of which you are assuredly a part) the game. You could even couple that by throwing suspicion on the player who would have been fifth if that team did not go through, and argue that this player is actually a bad team member, and it’s vital to ensure he or she not get the fifth position.

This is a fine strategy, and most bad players will have to do this at some point; however, it’s important to keep your story straight as a bad team player. If you do this, you cannot flip later in the game and suddenly think that this player you accused so blatantly is now good. In fact, you cannot make any statements or votes that would even imply that. Thus, keeping your own story straight becomes of vital importance.

As the assassin, you are obviously always on the lookout for who votes too well. Every good guy will make mistakes and accidentally trust one of the bad players, if you have been doing your job and acting rationally. To foster this, it’s often far more advantageous to pass the early missions (particularly the first mission). Passing the first mission, if it had a bad guy on it, has a huge advantage of making the second mission’s rational choice simply the first mission participants (who have a proven mission track record) plus the proposer, guaranteeing a bad guy on a second team.

To counter this, most Merlins will, especially early in the game, try and fake trust in one of the bad guys or vote imperfectly. Still, this is generally very hard to pull off, and in clutch moments you will see Merlin come through with magically correct teams based on no votes or proposals. This is the sign you need to look for. As Merlin, try and base your accusations as much as possible in the actual votes and proposals the bad guys make, and accuse later in the game rather than earlier. Early accusations will hone in bad guys on you.

If you play with Percival and Morgana (don’t play one without the other), there are a couple easy tips for Percival. Merlin obviously knows who the bad people are, which means two things:

1) Merlin would never (usually, unless they’re doing some hail-mary reverse psychology trick to throw off the bad people - which is never a good idea) accuse you of being bad

2) Merlin would never propose and then vote for a team with Morgana on it, whereas Morgana might accidentally trust Merlin

If you see either of the above two happening, you know very quickly who is Merlin and who is Morgana.

As Morgana, your goal is not only to win missions but really to see which player is Percival. Look out for who seems to be making eye contact to you or trusting you over others - especially when they don’t have a good reason to - and see where they take their cues from. Often times, a bad Percival will reveal who Merlin is, and that’s your real goal. Remember, Merlin cannot reliably try and throw you off of this by pretending to be Percival since Merlin does not know that you are Morgana, only that you are a bad team member.

The biggest difficulty for the bad team is to make sure (for most missions) not more than one bad member is on that team. It’s very hard to coordinate which bad team member will vote down - the game does not allow for secret codes agreed upon before hand. If you are going to coordinate, you must do it out in the open (“I think this will fail”, followed by eye contact with your fellow bad person, for example) where it is observable by all. For this reason, unless you are playing with an advanced group of players, generally bad players avoid lumping themselves with other bad players. This is something to look out for as a good team member, and be wary of as a bad team member. Coordination is far harder than most novices assume, as the worst case outcome is multiple NO votes on a mission.

Generally, most people will insist that they are just a villager with no extra information. This is the only safe character to really purport to be, and everyone should default to asserting this. If this is the case, then there are several logical corollaries that follow.

1) Since you have no extra information, all you can say for certain is that a team with you on it has a higher chance of passing, since you are good, and including you is good. So as a generic good guy who knows nothing, you should vote for teams that contain you.

2) Being on the team and proposing the team is nearly always strictly better than just being on the team. So if someone proposes you, but you may get to propose after them (in the same mission), you should down vote their team. That way, when it comes to you, you can propose the same team if you really believe it, and you get to be leader.

3) People ahead of you in the voting order are unlikely to vote for your team. If you want to propose a team and have it actually go on a mission (instead of just proposing to give a signal to other players), you should propose players that are either behind you in proposal order or (if you are playing with more than five people) players that are not in the proposal order this round.

4) When in doubt, seek more information. Because remember, you’re just a harmless little villager who has no idea what’s going on (even though 80% of you are not and are just lying).

Remember that deviations from these three are not necessarily signs that they are bad, just that they have extra information and are not a ‘generic good villager’ as they claim to be. So pay attention to deviations - they are the biggest and only clue as to people’s real identities.

Another strategy a bad team could employ is to determine earlier in the game which team member will “bite the bullet” and simply be framed. This team member will then fail as many missions as possible before being written off as an obvious bad team member. During this entire time, another bad team member will try and foster trust by accusing the one who will bite the bullet of indeed being bad in the first place. This way, after one or two failures, this other bad teammate will have earned the trust of good players - or ideally - forced Merlin to expose himself. Thus, either the bad team members will get three quick failures or Merlin will have to overextend himself.

This strategy usually only works for larger games with more than two bad players; in smaller games it becomes very obvious early on, and generally doesn’t work as well - particularly since the first mission in smaller games only has two people on it.