In general what do you recommend at the beginning of the game?
If you are an offensive player, Craig Reade wrote a good strategy page discussing starting in South America, which is a continent I like to start in, if I can. The basic elements of the strategy are:
- Don't play defensively. You'll get boxed in and die.
- You don't want to gain the continent, but lose the game because it cost you too much to take it. That said, if you are not holding onto the entire continent early, you'll find yourself in an indefensible position, surrounded by foes and your turns will be numbered.
- Grab some North American territories during initial placement - especially Central America. North America is likely to be the next area you'll be heading into, so any territories you can grab now, go for it. Plus Central America makes a great early buffer against attack.
- Don't play defensively.
- Ideally, plan on having gained a second continent before your Australian opponent starts their offensive push.
- Don't allow yourself to get trapped.
If you can hold both of the Americas, you're in excellent position: 2 continents with 13 territories and only 3 access points. Sweet.
Not sure if I mentioned this, but you don't want to play defensively ;-)
I'd warn against the common tactic of trying to take Australia. Frequently, its seen as an overly defensible position, leading to an 'early-leader', situation, which itself spawns a coalition effort to break you down or at worst, lock you in Australia. If you're going to shoot for an early continent, I recommend South America or Africa; and don't do it turn 1, do it turn 2 or 3. The reason for that being that the first person to take any continent is going to attract hate; don't let it be you.
Beginners usually concentrate on the continent bonuses, but they're actually not all that important. A few key tactical points to remeber:
always make an attack every turn to gain a card. Other than that, you don't want to attack unless there's a good reason
always strive to NOT be the strongest player, or the weakest. They're the targets.
THE key tactic is wiping out another player to gain their cards giving you 5+ to immediately turn in for a set and keep going. Always keep track of how many cards everyone has.
Turn order is very important. You want to try to arrange things so that the player that moves before you can't wipe out the weakest player and needs to attack the strongest player instead. Note that who is weak and who is strong can shift rapidly.
Beyond this, everything depends on the play style of your opponents. If someone has a preference for a particular continent, use that in your negotiations -- get something from them in return for 'allowing' them to have their pet area, while convincing the other players to attack the player with the continent bonus as they're winning.
I highly recommend taking a strong area that you intend to make yours, and a number of satellite areas that are either easy to defend by themselves (eg: Australia), or that are relatively proximal to your strong area.
For example, starting with South America, grab a few locations in North America, Africa and Europe. This will make it more difficult for your opponents to capture those continents, and will give you some support when you go to take them yourself.
I have always played against the same circle of friends and family in the past, and I normally win. My experience is limited to their playing styles, though.
I start in Australia (against popular advice, it seems), and then progress from there conservatively. I will never weaken my front by going for that extra territory at all cost. Breach out to Japan, and then north. Strengthen the access point to North America, and then head for Africa.
Don't forget the power of diplomacy! Don't anger the guy who controls or is trying to control North America - leave that till later. My experience is that the game ends in a big war between East and West, me being East (for no other reason that the game plays to my liking that way).
If you look at the continents and compare the number of borders vs reward, Australia is the easiest, but the next step from there is Asia, which is one of the hardest continents to hold. The next best is North America. With a reward of 5, but only 3 borders to defend, this is - in my opinion - always the best option. It's easy to expand into South America, and with Asia and Europe usually fragmented, it's relatively easy to attack one country to gain a card while you consolidate.
One last piece of advice, leave 2 armies on Central America, even after taking South America. If someone happens to break into one border, this is usually enough to prevent them from breaking your continent bonuses.
I'd go for one of the larger continents (Europe or Asia), myself. I won't take it early, because there will be one or two or three holdouts. But it's easy to be forgotten in the mix as attention is focused elsewhere (on the smaller continents). But once I'm ready to "blitz" and wipe out the last holdouts, I'll have a LARGE continent, and will be hard to stop.
Probably the most important advice for early on in the game, as well as later, is be flexible. Depending on the number of players, initial layout and what other players do, it may be advantages to seek a small continent, a large continent or just sit on the wall and wait it out, only collecting +3.
For example, if there are several players of equal strength, likely leading a long game (even with increasing cards), you will likely need a continent. Or, if there are five or more players, you will likely do better without defending a continent but focusing on positioning to attack a weak players when the card bonuses get high enough.
Europe is rarely a good idea - even if you start out strong there initially - it is just too exposed. North America on the other hand can work, but only if you take your time to clear it out.
Create conditions where other players will have an incentive to attack each other.
In games of increasing card values, make sure you always have a line of attack in all directions. This is also one of the problems of defending large continents - can force you to spread your armies, making a quick strike difficult.
We have found some interesting stats at Arms Race - http://armsrace.co
Even though people here seem to disregard the tactics of taking a continent and trying to hold it, here are the stats that we have seen, out of the thousand of 4-people games played:
The first person to hold a continent has 35% chances of winning the game. And it goes up to 40% if that continent is Australia
And indeed, people tend to go after Australia most of the time (break down of first continent held):
- Australia: 53%
- South America: 37%
- Africa: 8%
- Europe: 2%
Personnaly, I think Europe is a lot underestimate, but it's a great continent to start with if you can win it early, 3-4 turn. Why?
- the bonus for unit pretty high
- at the start, people tend to forget about you and will elave you in peace, that can gain you 1 or even 2 turn to get control of the continent if you play it right
- the number of territories is interesting, you don't need a lot more to get the 12 teritories bonus
- 4 border to defend seems high but 3 are connected, meaning you can easily move 1 unit from one to the other at the fortify phase
- and finally, one of the thing people tend to forget, is that you have access to 3 more continents, huge one. Meaning you can control yours and prevent others from controlling big continents.