After discovering the empty "strategy" tab available in game, I decided to have a go at it. I write this after being #1 for a couple of months now but would love to hear some feedback nonetheless. This guide is aimed to players who are already familiar with game rules and scoring but want to start climbing the ELO ranks. Hope it helps:
Ok, you are now familiar with the rules; you watched the tutorial and played some games. Want to move to the next level? Follow these 7 guidelines
1- When possible, make the first sell
You may not be aware of it, but the moment the game begins, you are in a race: The race for selling first.
Selling first is good because it allows you to see the 5 pirogues earlier than your opponent. In the most basic scenario, this will enable you to pick the best pirogue first (usually the farm or the monkey mummy pirogue). Moreover, in other games, this also allows you to prepare a game plan while your opponent is in the dark. Are there pyramids or force move pirogues? Start planning when to make your next sell, so you get a lovely Ivory out of it.
How much should you push to make the first sale? There is no correct answer. Most high-ranked players are happy to use a character or a green tile for it, but others are ready to make a 0-points sale or take a high number of Corruption to sell first.
Just remember that if you were still unable to sell first, the game is far from over. Still, you now have an added urgency to make a sell to not lag behind your opponent and get access to the pirogues.
2- Come up with a game plan and stick with it
One of the game's beauties is that there are many pathways to win. Are you planning for a short but powerful Ivory sale? Or can you make a long sale with a lot of fish? You can even try exotic strategies such as going for many characters or focusing on Deben tiles. But do you know which method is never going to work? Trying all of those things at the same time.
In most games, you only will make about 2 to 3 sales. After the first moves, based on your initial tiles, the pirogues in play and the market distribution, you should already know your game strategy. Start planning which tiles you should go for and when would be the right time to make new sales, play a character or take some Corruption. Your objective should be that every tile you're taking plays a part in your game plan, and it will not just be one of many which will sit uselessly in your hand all game and end up as Corruption at the end.
3- Be aware, but not obsessed, about the Ivories
As soon as players understand the game scoring, Ivories shine like diamonds. Yes, the 3 scabbed Ivories are the most valuable tiles in the game, but focusing on them won't necessarily translate into winning the game. Inexperienced players can trade too much for a scarab Ivory. This could be by taking too much Corruption or giving away titles (such as Ebonies or Marbles) that will result in a more profitable sale because of a player's hand.
Despite the flashiness of the Ivories, in many games the Ivory sale does not end up being the most valuable one. The number of Ivory tiles is minimal, and it's tough to secure all 3 of them. A sale with 2 of the 2-scabbed goods is already more valuable than an Ivory sale with only 1 scarab tile. Finally, the 1-scarab tiles are more common and they have help in the form of the 2 farm pirogues, so sometimes a monster score its hiding under an unassuming hand with no Ivories or Ebonies. One of the greatest pleasures in the game is surprising an Ivory-obsessed player with a 70+ points tsunami of a wheat sale. And yes, they do happen
4- Be concerned, but not afraid, of Corruption
New players react to Corruption with two polar approaches: either avoid it like the plague or completely ignore it and gallivant all over the market with no consideration to their upcoming +10 count. The best way, as you can imagine, is in the middle.
For such a scary name, Corruption only means this: The player with less Corruption gets a Deben coin. After that, having 3 Corruption tiles less means an extra Deben. Being obsessed about having less Corruption and letting your opponent get better tiles may seem foolish at the end of the game when all your reward is a 3-point Deben. Of course, there are also many games when the Corruption Debens decide the winner, but don't equate Corruption with the final scoring. Always be aware of the Corruption tally and avoid digging your grave further if the difference is getting bigger and bigger. Still, there will always be plays in which taking the right tile regardless of a 1-2 Corruption cost is more than justified.
5- Don't hoard and keep selling
Any good merchant (Egyptian or not) would tell you that the best moment for selling is RIGHT NOW. Sobek it's no difference. Despite the heavy hint given by the game in the form of the Scribe Characters, some players still prefer to hoard tiles and hold on to a sale. While holding onto a sale is valid in particular situations (waiting to get a high-scabbed tile for a higher score), in most cases, you want to make a sale as soon as you can:
- Pirogues are limited. You want to make a sale while you are getting a pirogue on top of it. A pirogue you get is a pirogue you deny to your opponent.
- Holding onto your tiles puts you at risk of a Thief getting away with your Ivory or green tile
- If you have 6 or more tiles and your opponent has a character, always assume it's a Scribe. Play accordingly.
6- Characters are seasoning, goods are ingredients
Characters can vary wildly in usefulness and are part of the luck-based component of the game. While the Merchant or the Architect have the power to sometimes win a game on their own, it's uncommon that a Vizier or a Courtesan makes a significant impact. While characters are always welcome in hand, it's essential to understand that sales (and thus, goods tiles) win games, while characters have a supporting role. Characters are also suitable for skipping a turn and forcing your opponent to take a tile that will allow you to take that Ivory or refill the market. Don't be afraid to use them as part of a sale when necessary.
7- Don't forget about dem Debens!
Finally, this is advice for intermediate and even experienced players. As players get more familiar with the scoring system, they might be tempted to ignore the humble Deben tiles. Deben tiles are sometimes overlooked because of the random component (every seasoned player has a horror story about only getting 3s!). But same as Ivories and Corruption, it's always good to have an eye on the Deben situation across the board. Remember that for all the effort of making a 3-point cow sale, a lucky Deben can give you 9 points. It would be tough to win a game based solely on Debens, but in close games, Debens are unappreciated tie-breakers. That said, not every Deben tile should be converted into a coin.
Pro-gamer move: check the logs!!
If the lines are getting blurred between playing for fun and really caring about that ELO too much, the last piece of advice would be to start paying close attention to the game logs on the bottom right. A close following of the records can tell you the most info about your opponent's hand and their possible next moves. Don't get too distracted by it, especially on real-time games, or this could mean a loss by running out of time!
Appendix 1: Pirogues
The most valuable pirogue is the pirogue you need at that specific moment. More than that, taking a pirogue means taking advantage of its power AND denying it to your opponent. That being said, we can divide the types of pirogues into 3, ordered from most to least valuable.
The special pirogues
A good Monkey Mummy play is GG. As: in the right circumstances, a successful monkey grab means the game is already over. You get your Corruption reset, and you have more tiles to make more sales; what's there not to like. But while powerful on its own, the allure of the monkey mummy tempts players to gamble and maximize returns by getting a lot of Corruption and then hoping to claim it either as one of the 5 pirogues or with the Architect Character. This is the epitome of a high-risk/high-reward strategy. The opponent can easily read your intention and claim it (even if recovering only 1 tile) to leave you stuck with 7 Corruption tiles. However, no one can take that smile off your face when it pays off.
2- The Farms
If the Monkey Mummy is relative and risky, the Farms' pirogues are safe and reliable. You get a +6 on a 3-tiles sale, but if you can make more sales of the same goods, the return value escalates. A very common first-choice pirogue.
3- The Pyramids
The pyramids, AKA grab-a-free-Ivory, are very useful pirogues as it allows you to redirect the Ankh. If you see that the Pyramids are on the list and your opponent can make a sale, play every move under the assumption that your opponent can claim it and escape from any trap you have been carefully preparing until then
4- Force Moves
The Forced Move pirogues are the most complex special pirogues to play. On many occasions, players will choose the Deben pirogues over them. They still have a time and a moment. Their best feature is that the next move cannot be avoided with a sale or a character play, so your next play is secured. Don't see the force move pirogues as a way to fill your opponent with Corruption which he may be able to reduce or even turn to their advantage with a character. The best use of the Force Move is, well... to force a move to get a tile you want.
The Deben pirogues
5- +2 Deben
Worst case scenario, you get a 5; best, you get a whopping +11. Statistics say this is the best bang for your buck with the Deben pirogues….
6- 7 Deben
… until you get fed up of getting 3+2 for 5 games in a row, in which case a +7 is as dull and straightforward as a pirogue can be
8- Higher of 2 pirogues
Only when you are told to choose the higher pirogue between two 3-Deben pirogues, you will understand why this is the worst Deben pirogue of all.
The Corruption pirogues
9 &10- -2 & -1 pirogues
These should be your last option. Keep in mind that 3 Corruption=1 Deben. The Deben pirogues give you better odds of getting a higher Deben than average, so those should be taken first. That being said, don't neglect the Corruption pirogues. Their Corruption can't be removed, and again, it's better to get a pirogue back than nothing at all.