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psteinx
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November 2005
TTR Guide - USA Map, 2 Player Tue, 15 May 2007 16:36
Index:
1) TTR Overall Introduction, Gameplay, Etiquette
2) USA Map, 2 Players
3) USA Map, 3-5 Players
4) Europe Map - 2 - 5 Players


A) Introduction
The US map is the mostly commonly played map in TTR. To be considered a really good TTR player, you must know how to play this map well, in 2 player mode.

This guide assumes you are familiar with the rules and the basic flow of the game. Play at least 10 games or so before trying to digest this.

Also, you can learn a lot by watching good players play. TTR has an excellent 'Observe' function. Try observing some 2 player games by players with a 1600+ overall rating. Many tops don't really want to PLAY someone who is just learning the game, but they often leave their games open so that beginners can freely WATCH.

B) Strategy Introduction
There are 3 ways to score points on this map: destination tickets, route points (i.e. 15 points for playing a 6 long route) and the 10 point bonus for having the longest continuous route. Beginners generally overvalue destination tickets and undervalue route points and the longest bonus.

Most of the time, when 2 good players play, the winner will be the one who earned the Longest Bonus, and who played multiple 6 long routes along the way. While good destination tickets can be helpful, they are not usually essential.

IN PARTICULAR, beginning players frequently draw additional destination tickets as they play. Experts do so only rarely - generally only when they are in desperate straits. The advantage of extra points from making the destination tickets is generally outweighed by the cost of one turn to draw for destination tickets and additional turns spent trying to make that connection, often via short routes that earn few points.

C) Speed
Before we get into strategy specifics, be aware of this. The most important resource you have available to you in TTR is not your destination tickets, color cards, trains, or anything else - it is your turns. You only have a limited number of turns to play before the game is over. If you waste turns, your opponent will play out quickly and you will usually lose.

Remember that the game ends one turn after either player is left with 2 or less trains. Players start with 45, so the game ends one turn after a player has played at least 43 trains total. Good players will not accumulate excess, unuseable color cards. You start with 4, and can draw 2 per turn. Good players will almost always play out with the minimum number of draws (20 draws X 2 = 40 + the original 4 = 44), and will play long routes, usually allowing them to lay down those 43-44 cards on 10-11 routes. So they play out in about 20 + (10 or 11) = 30-31 turns. That is the ticking clock you are competing against. Moreover, you will need to draw your own color cards - probably 20 times as well. So realistically, you only have about 10-11 turns to do all your key placements in the game. Don't waste them.

C) Route Points
When I first played, I barely noticed the route points. More points are earned for longer routes, but those routes also burn up more color cards, so it's a wash, right? WRONG.
                   Turns to 
Length   Points   Draw & Play    Points/Turn

1          1          1.5           0.67
2          2          2.0           1.00
3          4          2.5           1.60 
4          7          3.0           2.33
5         10          3.5           2.86
6         15          4.0           3.75

The chart shows how many turns it takes to draw the necessary cards (assuming 2 per turn) and play them.

Short routes are very unproductive. You need to concentrate on playing 6s to win. You will of course need SOME shorter routes to connect your destination cities, but focus your attention on the long routes.


D) Longest
The player with the longest continuous route gets a +10 bonus at the end. Initially, this seems relatively minor. You typically end a game with 90-130 points, so 10 points is not that big a deal, right?

Wrong.

Assuming you keep two destination tickets, you will likely earn roughly 18-34 points off those tickets (assuming you complete them). So the swing between a player with good/lucky tickets and one without is perhaps 16 points or so.

But if the player with weaker tickets gets +10 for longest, that almost closes the gap. The remaining points come from route points. And typically, the player who earns longest will have the most route points (and vice-versa, of course).

Usually, when good players play, longest is earned by playing several of the northern 6-long routes, connecting them up properly, and then tying them in to your destination tickets. By playing more 6s than your opponents, you will finish faster, probably earn the longest bonus, and probably have a significantly larger number of route points, outstripping any (normal-sized) tickets point deficit.

But can't your opponent beat out your longest bonus and route points by having 3 (instead of 2) good destination tickets, or drawing additional destination tickets?

Rarely. Generally, completing additional destination tickets requires playing more short routes (2s, 3s, and 4s), drawing more tickets (costing you a turn for the draw), and giving up longest. For a typical destination ticket (8-12 points or so), the extra points you earn will not make up for these other factors.

It *IS* possible to lose longest and still win. If you have long initial destination tickets (say, LA-NY, LA-Seattle) - your route may not allow you to conveniently keep a long continuous route, but you can still grab some 6s and complete long destination tickets. But it is rare for any normal combination of east coast tickets to beat a good player playing in the center or the west, completing longest and piling up route points. (There are other ways to win with getting longest, including blocking big tickets of your opponent, but again, these other methods are somewhat rare.) Off-hand, I'd say that among good players, the player who gets longest wins at least 60% of the time, and perhaps more.


E) Drawing tickets
So, when should you go beyond two tickets (either keeping 3 initially, or drawing more later)?

For initial tickets, I keep 3 perhaps 15-20% of the time. Usually, I do this when the 3rd ticket requires no more than 2 additional route placements, and ideally, those route placements are good ones I'd like to make anyways (6s or 5s). For instance, given Tor-Mia, Mon-NO, Mon-Atl, it makes sense to keep all 3. You can connect the 3 locations at the bottom with the 5 blues and 6 reds, and at the top, you will need to go to Mon regardless, and going through Tor is about as fast as going through NY.

On the other hand, given Tor-Mia, Mon-NO, and NY-Dal, I would drop the third ticket. NY-Dal will likely require one additional play to NY, that you would not have made for connecting to Tor and Mon. And in the South, you probably have to make two additional plays (Hou-NO, Hou-Dal). All 3 of these extra routes are short ones (2, 2, and 1). If you DID keep NY-Dal, you'd spend 2.5 turns drawing those extra 5 colors you'd use for the routes, and 3 turns playing them, for a total of 5.5 turns earning 5 route points and 11 destination points - 5.5 turns for 16 points. You could spend that time more profitably drawing for and playing an extra 6 route (4 turns for 15 points). Moreover, in making those short connections for NY-Dal, you'd slow yourself down and significantly hurt your chances to get the longest route bonus. The only way it would make sense keeping NY-Dal would be if you planned on drawing for additional destination tickets - the connections to NY, Hou and Dal would be helpful. But you'd need to get pretty lucky with your ticket drawing to beat out a player playing fast and grabbing 6s and longest.

In general, I do not recommend drawing additional tickets early in the game. This makes it obvious to your opponent that you will not be competing for longest (which, in turn, allows your opponent to optimize his/her play a bit), and furthermore, you don't know what colors you will draw, how many locos you will have, and where your opponent is playing.

Play your route, trying to grab 6s, leave open the possibility of competing for longest, and interfere with/block your opponent.

Towards the end of the game, you face a decision point. When there are about 4 turns left, evaluate whether you can still compete for longest. If so, it's best to keep on playing. If not, evaluate whether you can win without longest. Add up your current route points and those you are likely to achieve, along with your destination points, and compare to your opponent's likely total. There may be some doubt about your opponent's score - you don't know what his/her destination tickets are. When in doubt, assume your opponent has low destination tickets, and try to finish without drawing additional destination tickets. But if it is clear that you are beaten (or very likely so), then it is better to draw additional destination tickets with 3-4 turns left than with 1 turn left (more time to complete additional routes).

You will need to repeat this calculation each additional turn until the game is over.

Even though it is easier to complete additional destination tickets if you draw with 3-4 turns left rather than with 1, good players will generally wait until the very end to draw additional tickets. That's because good players are usually in contention for longest until the end, and won't draw for additional tickets until it's clear that they've lost longest, or that opponent has such strong destination tickets that they'll lose even WITH longest (this latter situation is particularly rare).


F) Blocking (and avoiding blocks)
As beginners improve to intermediate skill, and intermediate players improve to advanced skill, blocking becomes more important.

Beginners are sometimes reluctant to block - thinking that it's unsportsmanlike. In a home game, this may or may not be the case (depends on the dynamic of the players - blocking your 7 year old daughter may very well be unsportsmanlike). But among strong on-line TTR players, blocking is part of the game, and offense is rarely taken at blocking in 2 player games (in multi-player games, things are a bit more nuanced, as there can be a perception that players are ganging up on the blocking victim).

Blocking is simply defensive play - just as there is defensive play in other games and other sports.

In fact, among strong players, absolute blocks that prevent your opponent from reaching their destination are relatively rare. This is partly because good players also have counter-blocking strategies (defense against the blocking defense).

To play and defend against the blocking game, you must be familiar with the available tickets in the game (there are only 30 destination tickets), so that you can guess where your opponent might be heading, and know what guesses your opponent may make about your own route. For instance, there are only 2 destination tickets for Vancouver. Because Vancouver is not a very useful waypoint, a good player knows that if his/her opponent connects to Vancouver, the opponent very likely has either Van-Mon, or Van-Santa Fe. Those are both big tickets (20 and 13 points, respectively), and can be blocked (Van-Mon in particular).

Therefore, if you have Van-Mon, avoid connecting to Van until you are in a difficult to block position. With Van-Mon, it is useful to start with the key routes that connect those cities (6 grays and 6 whites). But before you make your final connections to Van on the left and Mon on the right, consider the game position. If your opponent has already played the 6 blacks, then it will likely be costly for them to also grab the 5 blacks to Mon. Therefore, in that situation, connect to Van first - your exposed side (Mon) is less vulnerable because those 5 blacks will be costly/difficult for your opponent to grab. If your opponent has not played blacks yet, then consider avoiding a direct connection to either Van or Mon. Instead, after playing the 6 grays and 6 whites, play the 6 yellows. With 6 whites AND 6 yellows, it is almost impossible for your opponent to block you out of Van. But grabbing those 3 6-long routes does not mean that you have Van-Mon for certain (there are many other instances where it would be useful to grab those 3), so your opponent is unlikely to make a shot-in-the-dark block of Mon.

In general, to avoid blocks, camouflage what your destination tickets are and keep your options open, at least until you're in a position where you are essentially unblockable.

Avoid playing unconnected routes on opposite sides of the board. If you play 6 yellows (Seattle-Helena), then 2 greens on NY-Pittsburgh, your opponent will strongly suspect you have Seattle-NY, a big, blockable ticket.

It's ok to play close unconnected routes, especially when there are two or more good ways to connect them. It is common to play 6 orange as a first move, then 6 gray as a second move. There are 3 different ways to connect these routes, and even if there is 1 in particular that you plan to use, your opponent is unlikely to guess which and block effectively.

You may note that I have written quite a bit about defending against blocks, but relatively little about actually blocking. Blocking your opponent is often more useful as a threat than an actual action. A pure block - grabbing a route that you don't need for yourself and are unlikely to connect to, purely to try to block your opponent out of his/her destination city, is a difficult move to execute well. You need a near certainty of what their tickets are, and those tix need to be large ones (to justify the effort), and you need to be able to follow through as your opponent tries to work around the block.

It's more common, and more useful, to interfere with your opponent. This basically means grabbing routes that are LIKELY (but not certain) to be useful to your opponent, but that are also useful to you.

The routes that are most likely to be useful to both you and your opponents are generally the 6s - especially the oranges, blacks, and grays, and, to a lesser extent, the yellows, greens, and whites. Even if you don't need these to connect your destinations, they are worth a lot of route points, will help you earn longest, and MAY be routes that your opponent needs.

If you have all the colors to grab one of these routes without using locos, it's generally best to grab them early. The oranges are valuable enough to justify burning a loco or two on. And if you see your opponent start in a particular area, grab any routes in that area that you can use as quickly as possible. If your opponent starts with 6 black, consider grabbing 6 green if you can connect them to your final route, even if you don't really NEED the green (for instance, if your tickets are Den-EP, Dul-EP.

Sometimes, after an interference play or two, your opponent will be forced to route around you in a way that reveals their likely tickets, and makes an outright block possible. Say your opponent plays 6 yellow. You play 6 orange. Your opponent plays 4 blue (Helena-Winn). You play 6 grays. Your opponent plays 4 black (Winn-Dul). Your opponent appears to be trying hard to cross from east to west. Consider shifting your focus away from completing your own tickets to further interference, and perhaps a total block - grab the 6 purples. If your opponent plays the 3 reds (to Dul-Chi), consider blocking Chi-Pitt. Then again, you may not need to gamble on the total block. Even with inferior destination tickets, you may win on the strength of more route points and the longest bonus.



[Mis à jour le: Thu, 22 October 2009 15:50]

      
    
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