Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Through The Ages - Part XXIV - Strategy: Managing Your Hand

Managing the Hand

Managing your hand is a major consideration in Through The Ages.  The Military hand is relatively easy to manage, the only decision is which cards to discard.  However, in the Civil cards, there are are several considerations.

The Card Row is across the top
First is the Hand size limit.  At the beginning of the game, and most likely until the third turn, every player will have equal hand size.

Second is managing card balance in the hand size.  In particular, to avoid ending up in Science Lock.

Hand Size Limit

A player's hand size equals the player's civil actions, with a few exceptions based on Leaders and Wonders.  For most players this will equal four or five cards, even after Pyramids or Hannibal are in play.  The special technologies Code of Laws can also generate an early card slot.

Governments dictate Civil Actions
which drives Hand Size
About midpoint in the game players will begin learning better governments, which will increase the hand size.  Prior to that point, players are subject to a very constricted hand size.  This is compounded by a limited Science Output.

Special Case Leaders

A few leaders, such as Isaac Newton and Michelangelo, affect the number of actions a player may take in a turn, but they do not impact hand size.  As such, they are out of discussion for most of this article.

Science Lock

Breakthrough requires the
Science, but generates a
decent amount in return.
One ailment, particularly among new players, is the so called "Science Lock".  A player chooses too many technologies and then does not have the science to play them.  If too many cards are kept in hand, the problem is the player cannot choose a card they critically need.  In many cases, I would say it is better to forgo taking a card completely rather than taking a card which will cause Science Lock.

The main reason for this is the player is now at the mercy of the other players.  Whereas a well chosen "Breakthrough" or "Revolutionary Idea" would provide enough Science Points to get the cards in play, most experienced players will take these cards for 2 actions if it prevents another player from escaping Science Lock.  Furthermore, many players will begin initiating military Raids which force the player to either divert resources to build the military, or destroy science facilities.

The aim of these players is to force the player to enter the next Age with a handful of cards and now means of getting them into play.  When everyone else is able to begin taking the Level II artillery, the Science Lock player is struggling to still get rid of the Level I technologies, and the other players are moving on to better things.

Escaping Death Spiral

Rev. Idea would provide
escape from Science
Lock, but only if there
is room in hand to take it.
If left unchecked, Science Lock quickly leads to a Death Spiral.  The player cannot build new technologies, which means better units and production.  The other players will rapidly outpace them, and the player is left defending their homeland with Warriors while everyone else has Tanks.

When the game enters a new Age, the cards from two Ages past are discarded.  This may seem to provide a player an "out" from Science Lock, but in reality it is too far gone by that time.  The other players' economies and military have taken off to a point unreachable by the Locked player.

An Alternate Veiwpoint

Another way of viewing Science Lock is if the player must discard cards when an Age expires, each of those cards represents a loss of at least one Action Point.  This is because the player had to choose the card in the first place, but the player gains no direct benefit from it.  For a Science Locked player, this usually means three or four cards will be lost, effectively putting the player a full turn behind everyone else.

End Game Hand Management

Towards the end of the game a different situation will occur.  Players may not have enough Science to play cards, but keeping a card out of another player's hand will prevent them from playing the card.  In this case the player doesn't have to worry as much about Science Lock.  In fact, taking all these cards will accelerate the end of the game, giving the other player's less time to get cards into play.

This is one of the main reasons the last Age of the game takes only half the number of rounds as the first Age.  By this time the players have built a science economy to get cards into play and are willing to fill their hands with cards to speed up the end of the game.  In most cases, longer games benefit those who are behind in culture the opportunity to catch up.  If in the lead it is best for the player to end the game as quickly as possible.

A Good Balance

Code of Laws gives
a Civil Action, and
a card increase
Justice System replaces
Code of Laws, but learning
both requires 13 Science,
Is that Worth it?
 How many cards should a player have in their hand?  I tend to believe no more than half of the cards in a player's hand should be technology cards.  Furthermore, the player should always leave one card slot open.  In this way the player could still take a leader card and play it in the same round, emptying the players hand.  Only if the player can foresee no useful cards in the card row should the player consider filling their hand with an extra Yellow Card or two.

Lastly, choose cards wisely.  Selecting an Age I technology and then choosing an Age II technology of the same type is wasteful.  If the player manages to get Age II tech into play, the Age I technology is simply sitting there taking up space.  If the player puts the Age I card into play and later "upgrades" to the same Age II card, it represents a great expenditure of Science for little gain.  This is particularly true of Blue Technologies which replace the previous Blue Tech of the same type.
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