29 Aug 2013

Why I Keep Winning at Bandu

Since there were no new games for me to try out this time at my table top group, I'm afraid there won't be any first time playing this week. Instead, I'm going to let myself be inspired by what happened when one of the other players decided to challenge me for a rematch in the stacking game, Bandu. I was introduced to the game within the last couple of months and have only played it a handful of times. I tend to win it, not because the other players aren't great stackers - in fact, I would say they are quite impressive in their ability to make the most insane combinations of blocks fit, probably even better than me. Still, I win in the end, not for my stacking abilities (which are pretty decent, don't get me wrong), but because of my very specific strategy. You see, I play the game like an asshole. 

The game is very simple to explain. You have a bunch of blocks in different sizes and shapes. The wood-coloured ones have natural, un-treated texture, and for the most part come in shapes that are very even. The red blocks have a tendency to be very uneven, the wood has also been treaty, giving them a glossy texture. The objective of the game varies with whatever version you choose to play. The one we do at my table top group is the survival mode. Basically the last tower standing wins the game.

The way we play this version is that we empty the two bags of blocks at the centre of the table, then we give 10 gems to each player. This is their currency, their way of acquiring blocks that they want, or paying out of taking blocks they don't want. Going around the table clockwise, each player chooses one of the blocks to put on auction. There are two types of auction:

1) Whoever has the highest bid wins the block
2) The block goes around the table, each player who doesn't want it, has to pay 1 more gem than the previous player to get out of it (meaning the person who put in on auction pays nothing, the person to the left pays 1, the one after that pays 2, and so on). If a player cannot pay their way out of taking an item, they have to take it.

The player chooses a block, declares which type of auction they are holding. Once that auction has been concluded it's the next person's turn and so on. A very important detail is that you can only have one block that touches the table, everything else has to be on top of one of the blocks you have already put down.

Here is where my asshole strategy comes in, and why it's been so efficient. My first turn I find the flattest and widest block out of the bunch and put it on auction. I'm willing to part with several gems to secure it (in one game I parted with half of my gems just on that block). This gives me a great starting point, and after that, whenever my turn is up, I will choose either the biggest, most uneven, and glossy block and pass it on (either that or I'll go with a slim object that simply hasn't stacking potential at all). Doing this will result in either one of two things:

1) The block will make a round around the table (meaning all my opponents have had to part with several of their gems just to get out of taking that block), and I'll take it myself and put it to the very side of my ground piece - leaving plenty of space to add other, more stackable blocks later on.
2) One of my opponents will take the block to avoid having to part with too many gems, leaving them with a shaky foundation for their tower.

Whichever my opponents choose, I have the advantage. Because gems and tower stability both are crucial towards the end of the game, and I will have one or the other, or sometimes both to keep me going when my opponents will be struggling.

There is only one time in the asshole strategy in this game, where you play nice, and that is in the three-person deadlock phase. Because whoever becomes first player when the third last player's tower collapses, has the advantage (unless the other player has more gems, then you really need to depend on your stacking abilities). By the three players turn to two, I will either have enough space to put unfortunate blocks without making it an issue, or I will have enough gems to pay my way out of taking those blocks and force them back on the other player.

Winning at Bandu, at least this particular objective of the game, is actually to hang onto as many of your gems as you can and build as few blocks as you can manage (apart from that first crucial one, which has to be flat, untreated and preferably wide enough to fit a couple of other blocks). And if you're the only player who uses the asshole strategy you are more or less guaranteed to win. The interesting part comes when other players decide to be assholes as well...

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