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Monday, December 12, 2011

Through The Ages-Part III-Actions: Efficiency vs Expediency

I have started a forum for discussing this at the following site: http://gamesstrategyandtactics.freeforums.org/strategy-analysis-f6.html.

Through the Ages is game where players need to balance Expediency, the ability to create buildings/structures, with Efficiency, the ability to create the buildings using the fewest amount of resources.  there resources could be:
  • Actions, Civil and Military
  • Ore
  • Population
  • Science
This article will discuss Yellow, or Action, Cards.
Civil Action Advantage
Left to their own devices, having more Actions in TtA yields an advantage.  If nothing else, it provides 'options'.  First, it allows a player to expand the economy so more buildings may be constructed, population increases are relatively less expensive, and it provides a greater hand of civil cards.
Card Row: Cost in actions increases as the card enters play (on the Right) and decreases over time (as card moves left)
Plus, there is the card row to consider.  Even if two players perform the same actions, if one player has
an additional action it means they may take higher in the card row.  This can provide the player with more actions the ability to grab a card an extra round earlier or deny the card to their opponents.  Therefore, understanding how to generate more Civil Actions becomes critical.  It will also assist in the player generating a strategy about which cards to choose, and when to play them effectively.
Action/Resource Cards (Yellow)
Action cards are all the Yellow in TtA.  Action cards are used to transform "Actions" into some form of resource: Ore, Food, Science, etc.  For purposes of this blog, I will ref
er to them by their color: Yellow.
Advantages
Yellow Cards provide an immediate bonus to the player's resources as indicated on the card.  This allows a player to quickly gain some more resources, or more efficiently spend their existing resources, just when it is needed.

In many cases, the 'bonus' generated increases as the Age increases.  Thus, Age I cards do not generate as much of a benefit as Age A cards, Age II is better than Age I, etc.  The one exception is Culture generating Action cards: Work of Art.  Earlier Age Work of Art cards generate more culture than the later Ages.  However, this is when the players (usually) have fewer civil actions available, and therefore each civil action is "worth more".

Proper playing of Action cards may critically control the balance of the game.  For example, a properly executed "Ideal Building Site" can provide an increase in a player's Science output when resources are in short supply.  As we will see, getting this benefit earlier can have dire consequences for the opposition.
Disadvantages
Yellow cards have 3 disadvantages:
  • Yellow cards will increase the number of Civil Actions it takes to play a card or construct a building by 1 or 2 actions.
  • They cannot be played on the round taken from the card row, meaning the player must plan their for their future use.
  • They provide a "one-shot" bonus, meaning they are not reusable.
Rich Land: Example of
a 1-Action Card
"1-Action" Yellow Cards
This is because the Action card must be taken from the card row, and then another civil action must be used to play the Action card.  In some cases the action takes the place of another action (construct a building, build a portion of a wonder, etc).  Playing these cards increases the cost of building the card by 1 action and thus increases the "Action cost" of the building by 1.

"One-Action" Action cards are tied to specific actions, such as the Engineering Genius.  This reduces the cost to build a stage of a wonder, but in the process of playing the card it also builds a Stage of a Wonder.  The following are the One-Action cards.
Mineral Deposits: Example
of a 2-Action Card
"2-Action" Yellow Cards
A few Yellow cards directly increase a player's resources: Science, Culture, Ore, or Military Actions.  These Yellow cards provide a greater increase in the raw resources, but to use the resources to build a card requires an additional action beyond taking the card.

As example, the a player could use Mineral Deposits to build an additional Philosophy.  But this requires taking the Mineral Deposits card, playing the Mineral Deposit cards (increasing ore by 3), and then spending the 3 ore to build the Philosophy.  This requires a total of 3 actions.
How to Analyze Yellow Cards
Yellow cards provide players with the ability to get a card into play earlier than normal.  The trade off is a loss of actions.  For our analysis, any Yellow cards played will be counted against the construction of an object.  For Age A and Age I cards, this is a fair assumption for maximizing the number of turns a building, wonder, or other card is in play.  For Age II and Age III, the "ideal" shortest way to bring a card into play is to save up enough resources before the card is played.  Thus, Yellow cards will not be counted against the action cost to bring cards into play.
Table of Yellow Cards
The following table lists the Yellow Cards in the game:


Card
Age A
Age I
Age II
Age III
Work of Art
1
1
1
1
Engineering Genius
1
1
1
1
Revolutionary Idea
1
1
1
1
Patriotism
1
1
1
1
Ideal Building Site
2
1
1
2
Rich Land
2
1
1
-
Frugality
2
1
1
-
Mineral Deposits
-
2
2
2
Breakthrough
-
1
1
-
Bountiful Harvest
-
1
1
1
Efficient Upgrade
-
2
2
2
Wave of Nationalism
(Military Build-Up)
-
-
1
1
Endowment for the Arts
-
-
-
1
List of Yellow Cards by Age

Reality Check
This is one area where reality differs greatly from differs from the ideal scenario.  Cards rarely show up in order just on demand.  However, setting the rules for comparison in an ideal world means each card can be weighed relatively fairly against every other card.  As for the Age II and Age III supposition that enough resources exist to bring the card into play, it is certainly possible for a player to act with this intent.  Oftentimes there are better and more efficient ways to spend the actions, but again, it evens out the comparison rules under the absolute best conditions possible.
Conclusion
Yellow cards are critical for bringing other cards into player earlier.  They also offset a player's weak areas by providing a bonus to a certain attribute of the economy.  If lacking Science, a properly played Yellow card will boost Science just when it is needed.  Similarly, if the player's Ore production is lagging behind, Minerals deposits, or other relevant Yellow cards, may allow the player to complete the action(s) needed.

Planning to play Yellow Cards requires a bit of skill and timing.  If a Yellow card is taken and not used, it will disappear later in the game from the player's hand.  This results in a 'wasted' action, where a card was taken and not played.  More discussion on uses for actions is discussed in other sections, but for the most part Yellow cards will play a key role in some areas of analysis.
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