Home > Strategy > Appearances and Showing Your Hand

Appearances and Showing Your Hand

Some of you might have seen this tweet the other day, and thought about what it means:

Appearances: I’m not talking about what each player looks like – I’m talking about how much of your strategy you show. Now, to some, this might be an obvious little bit of strategy: “Don’t let my opponent know what I’m going to do next.” Others might have never have thought about it.

In my games played after the above tweet was posted, I really kept track of how people reacted to my moves. I noticed that it’s very tough to win when you have a good start to the game – people start to attack you (with good reason) and if somebody happens to when somebody inevitably does pass you, it is extremely difficult to bounce back. But is it ok to limit yourself at the beginning of the game just to stay under the radar?

There’s a couple of clever ways that I’ve found to help keep a low profile throughout the game. Really, it boils down to consciously keeping quiet. A couple of examples:

  • Longest Road/Largest Army
    • I try not to hold these throughout the game. If I can make my winning move to grab one of these, I will. This is especially relevant for the largest army, as it’s a bit easier to hide. I’ll hold my 3rd knight for a while until I can end the game in one turn with it. It’s also a good strategy in games where the longest road isn’t being sought after. If I can hold 2 brick and 2 wood in my hand to extend my road from 3 to 5, chances are my opponents didn’t see it coming.
  • Development Cards
    • For some reason, people seem to not notice these until the very end of the game, when players start obviously fishing for a victory point or a knight to add to their army. I try and buy my 4 development cards in the “slumps” in the game, and then hold them until I need to reveal them. It’s a great little strategy, as players often assume that a card face down is a victory point, but in some cases, a road building card, knight, or well-used monopoly card could generate more than one point, catching your opponents by surprise.
  • City Development
    • The first point about city development is an encouragement to spread your cities. While it seems intuitive to set up your cities wherever you’re going to get the best income, maximizing your potential growth, it might not always be the most practical. A little anecdotal evidence:
      • In one of the last games I played, I had two wheat hexes: a 4 and a 6. I had my original two settlements on the opposite ends of my 6 of wheat (blocking anyone else from getting on there). These also were my first two cities. Can you guess where the robber spent most of its time? That’s right, it rarely left my 6 of wheat, and the whole time that I had 2 cities on it, I didn’t get to receive any wheat. My opponents weren’t being especially malicious or cruel, but instead saw that my 6 of wheat was a scary looking hex. If I got to receive my allotted income from it once or twice, I would surely surge ahead and win.
    • What is to be learned here? Don’t clump your cities – it looks bad, and your opponents will surely notice.
  • Game Piece Choice
    • This little bit of advice is borderline silly, but it’s one of those habits that I’ve carried forever and so it might as well be shared (whether for adhering to or mocking, both of which are encouraged). I noticed a long time ago that being red while playing Settlers of Catan is tough – everything you do looks like chicken pox on the board, and attracts a lot of attention. My solution: I am always white. White blends in with the spaces in between the hexes, and doesn’t look near as threatening as red or some other bold color. Silly? Yes. Try it if you’d like.

These are just a few subtle hints on manipulating your opponents to believe that you’re not doing as well as you really are. Some people (and I’ve heard this constantly when I play with people who don’t know me) think that this type of thinking is borderline maniacal, and at the very least mean. I don’t see it like that. Maybe you do. That’s fine.

So what of it? Do you have any strategies to keep the spotlight off of you?

  1. Miley
    07/03/2011 at 4:39 pm

    The problem with hoarding your development cards is that you can only play one per turn. If you save that road builder for later, and then you draw a knight, you can’t play them both the same turn.

    Besides, if you horde your cards too long people assume their victory points, which makes you look even more powerful.

  2. 07/03/2011 at 6:40 pm

    Good points. You are correct, but this just means that there needs to be a good amount of forethought – I wouldn’t want to be stuck needing to play 2 development cards to win while someone else is in striking distance (8 or 9 points). Holding Development Cards ARE all about looks, so holding that 3rd Knight if you can, or a Road Building if you can, gives the appearance that you have less points than you actually do, EVEN if your opponents count it as a VP.

  3. Eric
    15/06/2011 at 10:24 am

    I like the point on choosing white vs red as your color. I’ve used that before and it isn’t maniacal. There are hundreds of psychological studies on the effect of colors on people. One stat I’ve read that is reliable is that red cars get pulled over by cops many times more than other colors even though in the study their speeds were the same as other cars. (I think white was pulled over the least.) Red signifies danger.

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