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In San Juan, is the Crane card useless?

I haven't found it useful at all. My conclusions about it are:

Pros

  • Allows you to build a high cost building for less cards.

Cons

  • Lose abilities of over-built building
  • Lose points of over-built building
  • Lose pace with others, slower to reach 12

Is the Crane card ever a useful build?

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In my experience the only card that matters in San Juan is the Silver Mines. If you build those, you win. From that perspective, the Crane doesn't matter. Haven't played in awhile, though. –  Apreche Jul 20 '11 at 12:18

5 Answers 5

The crane can be very useful when you don't want to finish the game.

Remember: the one who builds his/her 12th building isn't the winner. This action only ends the game. If you have 11 houses and are not in a position of wining, it could be useful to build one more without finishing the game.


EDIT

Also, using a crane can help you building a big house in two steps, no need to have seven cards in the hand at one time.

An interresting effect linked to the use of the crane is that you can use the builder's privilege twice on the same card. Let's say you want to build something that is worth 6. You are the builder. Build some building that's worth 3, pay it 2. Next turn, choose the builder, expand your 3-building to your 6-building, pay 2 instead of 3. The total cost of the building was 4 instead of 6. Add to that some additionnal cards that reduce the price, you can even have a free 6-cards!!!

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Have you ever used this to win? –  McLeopold Jun 3 '11 at 3:32
    
Not personnaly, but I saw someone using it (not at the end of the game, this guy was good at anticipation). I first thought he didn't know how to play. Then I lost... –  Oltarus Jun 3 '11 at 8:19

While I do realize that Crane is not useless in theory for the obvious reasons (Oltarus mentions them), I do believe that it is totally useless in practice because:

The game ends at 12 buildings, and you can only build one at most each turn. Furthermore, each time you build your opponent(s) will also have the chance to do the same. This means that if you are not gaining the same amount of VPs (on average) as your opponents each time anyone plays the Builder, you are falling behind. Given that almost all the big VP producers (including the overpowered Guild Hall) totally depend or at least work better when you have a large number of buildings, it follows that Crane is not the best for your VP total.

Also, since Builder will be selected almost in every turn, players not using Crane will be constantly moving towards ending the game (and improving their board while they do so). Using Crane requires you to sacrifice one building opportunity (for the Crane itself) and play with less buildings than your opponents (an additional 1 building less each time you opt to use the Crane), which means that you get less building abilities to work with. But you do want to use the Crane (why build it otherwise), resulting in what is a death spiral to my eyes.

I have never even considered using Crane when playing against seasoned gamers -- it was obvious to me that they would end the game with many more VPs than me while I would still be at 9-10 buildings at most. I have used Crane successfully against much weaker opponents, but that doesn't mean the card is good (I would have won using anything, really).

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The crane is intended to be a building upgrade in addition to your normal build. Sure, if you mistake the crane's upgrade power for your regular build then you never see it played by the winning player in a review of 300,000+ online games but if you use it like the building phase version of trading post, aqueduct, prefecture, or gold mine, it can occasionally be useful. It still costs you a card out of your hand to use if you overbuild a building with a same cost building or you have to pay the difference if it is a higher cost building. It is about 80% as effective as the chapel for converting cards into VPs but it lets you get a different building power if the old building wasn't working out for you.

The crane, like most 2 cost cards, works best when used in combination with other cards, namely the smithy, quarry or carpenter. You can then upgrade your building one level for no cost and with the quarry and carpenter together you can come out 1 card ahead. Its harder than using the well or market stand to get an extra card but its doable. What the crane is best for, and the only way it can help you win, is late in the game to replace old buildings with monuments or a value 6 building. You can squeeze out a slightly higher vp/card ratio and lets you burn extra cards in your hand that you would be stuck holding at the end of the game. Again, the chapel is a better card overall but the crane can be situationally better if you have the right cards in your hand later and you were forced to play something lackluster earlier in the game like the gold mine, black market or sugar mill. Its better to throw down something than nothing if you don't have anything good to play because you can hope to fix it later with the crane. A lost build is something you almost never make up.

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Pretty useless, yes. I don't think I've ever seen someone build it and win and I don't think I've ever built it. Just as an experiment, I tried building it a couple times in the Android implementation of San Juan (Condado) and lost both games. It's somewhat rare for me to lose to that implementation, so yes, useless.

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I think that Crane is a very situational card. I don't use it much, but there are few places where it can be useful:

  • Like Oltarus said, you can use it to pay for a high-cost building (like Guild Hall) in two steps. (And if you have Carpenter, you got a draw to use on your building on next turn ;)
  • If for some reason during a game you play a Guild Hall but don't have a lot of building productions, you can start replacing some of violet building with production ones for a discounted price.
  • And last, suppose a turn where some opponent built his 12th building, so the game will end now and he is just a few points ahead you (maybe 1 or 2?), then you can place some monument or some other high VP card, and then be able to get ahead again (or at least tie and hope to win on tie-breakers).

It's not a card that you will use a lot (I don't use it very often too), but I think that it can help you in some spots.

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