Hello and welcome to Scorba's Tacticus Escalatus, a strategy guide for escalating games of five or more players.
I am normally an extremely lazy and often stoned individual. So why is it that I have taken the time and gone to the immense effort of writing this guide to escalating play? The answer is simply because I play alot of escalating games, and many of the players I encounter clearly have no idea how to play them. Poor play ruins games, handing the win to one player or other, and this irks me greatly. I have thus decided to give the site the benefit of my experience and wisdom in order to help these poor sorry souls, by writing this article on escalating play.
So kick back, roll a fat one and relax as you learn how to play the game the Scorba way.
The Golden Rule
Always remember the golden rule in escalating games, CONSERVE YOUR TROOPS. Conserve, conserve, conserve. Take easy cards. Do not attempt to break opponents continents. Do not attack opponents large stacks unless you intend to eliminate them. Do not become involved in pointless tit for tat battles. Every troop you have on the board makes you a less tempting target for elimination. Every troop you lose takes you closer to losing the game.
The Three Phases
In order to play escalating games well you must first understand the nature of the game. It is split into three phases. The Early Game, the Mid-Game and the End Game. You must learn to recognise when the game shifts between these phases, as each calls for different tactics.
The Early Game
What you do in the Early Game depends largely on your drop. If you have been dealt a strong presence in a small continent you should deploy and fortify everything you can to it. Take it as quickly as possible, as long as you can put up a reasonable defence afterwards. If you claim a continent, defend it. Deploy to its borders for the next two or three rounds. Once you have a good defence you can use its bonus to increase your influence in other areas of the map.
Do not become involved in a dog fight for a continent. If someone else deploys to the continent I have set my eyes on then I usually abandon my plans. Chewing through a six stack is likely to cost you six or more armies unless you get good dice. Even if you win the continent your defences will be weakened considerably and another player may take it from you, costing you even more armies. Remember, conserve your troops.
So what to do if you have not been lucky enough to get a good drop? Do not fear, all is not lost. A continent gives you an edge in an escalating game, nothing more. I usually do not take a card in my first turn unless I am going for a continent or all the players preceding me have taken one. Instead I deploy one army on each of the countries I deem most important to me. There is a threshold at which players will not attack you in order to get a card, and that magic number is four armies.
Do not deploy your armies to a small continent where another player has a strong presence. They may well try to take it regardless and your deployment will be wasted. Remember, conserve your troops.
Fortify your armies together as much as possible. This is quickly achieved in Unlimited fortification games. I do not like Unlimited. It speeds up the Early Game too much and removes the need for forward planning. Adjacent is dull as there are not many options available to you. I advise you to play Chained games, as this involves the most skill. A good Chained fortification at the right moment can swing a tight game.
Some players like to leave two or three armies on each territory for defence. This is poor tactics in my opinion. People will need to attack you in order to get cards. Why lose two or three armies when you could lose only one? Remember, conserve your troops. In addition, if you have two troops on six countries, this is an extra six armies that could have been added to your large stacks, which can be the difference between success and failure when trying to eliminate somebody. Also, how does it benefit you if the weakest player loses eight armies attacking your two stack in desperation to get a card? It does not, unless you are next to move and can eliminate them. Besides which, you want opponents to take your weakly held countries to open up as many lines of attack as possible for your large stacks in the End Game.
As I said above, do not waste your troops breaking an opponents continent. Remember, conserve your troops. What does it matter to you if someone holds a two bonus? It does not. Play your own game. Don't mess with somebody else just for the sake of it. The only winners if you try this are your other opponents.
Take the easiest card available to you, as long as it does not compromise your lines of attack for your large stacks. I will often deploy to a country solely because it is next to an opponents one stack.
Where you build your stacks is extremely important. If you hold a continent then your options are limited, as you will need to stack on its borders. If you do not hold one, then there are two good options. The first is in bottlenecks, as this will make it harder for opponents to move around the board making eliminations in the End Game. The second is in countries which border many others, giving you the best chance of getting an easy card and keeping open multiple lines of attack.
Always wait until you have five cards before making your first cash in, unless you need an injection of troops to secure a continent. You want as big a cash in as possible. Sometimes players avoid taking a card to push themselves lower down in the cash in order. On the occasions I have done this, I have generally regretted it as it left me a card behind my opponents which has often turned out to be disastrous in the End Game. I advise you to just go with the flow and take the small cash in. With luck you will be the first to cash in for a second time and this may allow you to eliminate an opponent.
There is a clear marker which usually heralds the transition to the Mid-Game. The first cash in. Sometimes a player may cash in early and the Early Game continues until the other players cash, but this is rare with good players.
How you play the Mid-Game depends on how you are faring in the game. If you are strong then you should concentrate your armies in up to three stacks. I generally think three is too many and usually go for one or two (the once famous Big Pile of Scorba (TM)). If you are weak then you should scatter your armies around the map to make yourself as hard to eliminate as possible. It is something of a dilema when deciding how to place your armies. Sure, having four six stacks dotted around makes you harder to eliminate but they are of limited use if someone fumbles a kill and you have to cross the map at speed to pick up the baton and finish them off, where as a twenty four stack gives you a fighting chance of achieving this.
The Mid-Game is dominated by jostling for position. You should constantly be aware of the players relative strengths and how many cards they are holding, looking for weak players that you can eliminate in the End Game. Position your armies ready to do this, and/or to prevent your other opponents from doing so. It may be worth taking out an opponents smaller stack, say a five stack, to achieve better positioning, though I rarely do this as it makes you both easier to eliminate.
Be extremely careful to keep your large stacks lines of attack open when taking cards. You do not want to have your stacks caught behind the lines at a critical moment. There is nothing worse than having the armies to win a game only to have them unable to attack. Armies behind the lines have an offensive capacity of zero and their only purpose is to make you harder to eliminate.
Be aware of who you are attacking when taking a card. If you take the last of an opponents countries in an area then you are making them that much easier to eliminate. This can lose you the game.
It sometimes occurs that a player is so weak, whether through poor play, atrociously bad luck or being the victim of someone else's stupidity, that they are worth eliminating in the Mid-Game. See the paragraph on eliminations in the End Game section for notes on deciding whether it is worth going for or not.
The End Game
The End Game usually begins at the twenty cash in, though it can be earlier or later depending on circumstances. Generally speaking, the more countries there are on a map and the less players there are in a game, the longer the Mid-Game as there is a greater troops to cards ratio.
The End Game is all about cold blooded murder, baby. Kill the weaker players! Kill them! Kill them!
Do not worry about protecting your continent in the End Game. Positioning yourself for eliminations is king.
Be aware of the cost versus reward when eliminating players. There is little point chewing through a hundred armies just to get a thirty cash in. In one game I had over three hundred armies on the board and one of my opponents eliminated me. His reward? Three cards netting him a paltry seventy five cash in. Sheer lunacy. He was then surprised when our other opponent, who had nearly four hundred armies sat on Bangkok, went on a world tour wiping him off the map. Fool!
If you cannot eliminate a weak player, the next best thing is to protect them. Position your armies to block opponents movements around the board. A good blocking move has won me many, many games.
If all players play well then the End Game can descend into Deadlock, where all players have too many armies on the board to be worth eliminating or weaker players are protected by blocks. So what can you do if your game goes into Deadlock? The answer is your options are extremely limited. Any direct action on your part loses you the game. All you can do is continue to take easy cards and hope the player who procedes you loses patience and goes stir crazy, attempting to eliminate someone leaving you with some easy cards. Deadlock can be extremely dull and tedious so I advise you to put a round limit on. I go for twenty rounds as if nothing interesting has happened by then, then it probably won't.
Be aware of who you are playing against. I'm sure we've all played against some fool who does something completely irrational, taking you both out of the game. Very irritating when it happens to you. But there are some things you can do to limit their impact on your game.
If a poor player holds a continent, do not build on its borders. They are likely to think you are preparing to attack them and make a pre-emptive strike against you. Build on neutral ground as far away from them as possible.
Holding a continent can actually be a disadvantage when playing against poor players. They may use their cash ins in the Mid-Game to attempt to break you, costing you more armies than you have got from its bonus. It might be better to play without a continent.
Three and Four Player Games
Most of what I have said holds true for three and four player games. However, there is a problem with such games. If everyone plays well then the game will inevitably result in Deadlock. Be warned, good strategy cannot win you such a game but poor strategy, yours or someone elses, can lose you it. The only reason I play these games now is that it is quicker to get a speed game organised.
So there we have it, Scorba's Tacticus Escalatus. I hope I have improved the game of novices and perhaps even given experienced players food for thought.
For myself, writing this article has been an enlightening experience and I think it will improve my game. While I have known what I have written for many years some of it was subconscious. Writing the Tacticus has transformed vague conception into clear thought.
Mwahahahaha! Now everyone will play like me. Is that a Big Pile of Koolbak I see on my borders? OMFG!
What's that? Is that a truly enormous spliff I hear calling my name? I think it is. Laters.
Taking an enemy on the battlefield is like a hawk taking a bird. Though it enters into the midst of a thousand of them, it pays no attention to any bird other than the one it has first marked.